NEW YORK — Watching Portia de Rossi, one of Hollywood's most high-profile lesbians, playing Joely Richardson's self-assured girlfriend on Nip/Tuck, you might think she was just being herself.
You'd be wrong.
"I hate gratuitous sex scenes. I'm a prude, I really am," says de Rossi, 34. "I related to (Richardson's) character so much more than my own. She was having a really hard time with her sexuality, and it was difficult for her to tell people she was gay. To hear her struggle like that was very emotional for me."
In real life, de Rossi has been in a relationship with Ellen DeGeneres for the past three years. She did have a few qualms about playing a lesbian for the first time on the FX series (tonight, 10 p.m. ET/PT).
"My relationship with Ellen is so public, and I thought, 'Am I going to play a romantic lead again?' I had that one moment of, 'Does this mean I'll be typecast as a lesbian?' And (Ellen) turned to me and said, 'So what?' And I thought, 'Oh, yeah, right, so what?' " says de Rossi. "I was offered romantic lead roles, and I turned them down because the lesbian seemed more interesting to me."
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On Nip/Tuck, the series' two plastic surgeons refer to her by a choice assortment of homophobic slurs, something new for de Rossi. "It's so crazy because I never faced any kind of discrimination. Here, it's all scripted, but it still stings," she says. "It was a very interesting thing for me to experience. I'd walk away at the end of the day not feeling very good."
Going under the knife to feel better isn't something she'd do. "It's hard to be against it when you need it," she says. "I've never really thought about it, honestly. It certainly wouldn't be right now," says de Rossi, who's the epitome of city chic in a tan Dolce & Gabbana coat, paired with a matching brown Birkin bag and a champagne-colored cashmere turtleneck.
The Australian actress, who became shockingly thin during her 1998-2002 stint on the series Ally McBeal and later admitted to having anorexia, looks healthy today during a lunch of french fries, a tuna sandwich and Coke.
She says she stays in shape by competitively riding horses, going to the barn about three days a week. "People ask me how I recovered from my eating disorder, and I have to say that horses really helped me. It shifted my focus and got me out to nature," she says. "It was a passion and interest that was completely outside myself. It made me lighten up on everything."
And, adds de Rossi, "It's great to muck out a stall every once in a while."
Contrary to tabloid reports, she and DeGeneres are still very much together; they live in Los Angeles with their dog, Wolf, and three cats. De Rossi calls their union "lovely. We manage to have a very normal, very happy life together. We've created it."
Still, DeGeneres has made headlines lately, most recently for continuing her syndicated talk show during the writers' strike. And last month, the couple dealt with controversy over a dog adoption gone wrong and DeGeneres' emotional reaction.
"We're just two people who tried to do the right thing by a gorgeous little dog (Iggy). It became about us breaking a contract and about Ellen's level of emotion. It wasn't about that. It was about the right home for that dog and just to make sure that dog was happy and safe and healthy," she says with a sigh.
Ultimately, says de Rossi, "the thing I hope that Iggy has done is make people more aware that there are a lot of animals that need to be adopted and that adoption is the best choice you can make."
She hasn't yet made up her mind about a family with DeGeneres. On Nip/Tuck, de Rossi is the single mother of a troubled young woman. On the home front, however, she's torn about having kids.
"It depends when you ask us. A few months ago, we were thinking about it. I wouldn't want to say never, but at this point, it's not something I think we're going to do," she says. "But there are times when I think I'd be really selfish to not adopt a child so we'd share our life with somebody, a little child that really needs a home."