Dory Was Almost Not In 'Finding Nemo'; Learn How Ellen's Talk Show Helped Cast 'Finding Dory'

The initial versions of the Finding Nemo story didn't even feature a fish named Dory. Find out how Ellen DeGeneres' appearance on television changed everything, and learn how Modern Family and DeGeneres' talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show has helped with the casting of the sequel Finding Dory.

Note: the following report is compiled from roundtable interviews, presentations with Pixar creative leads and a one-on-one interview with director Andrew Stanton and producer Lindsey Collins.

finding nemo gill

Finding Ellen: Dory Was Originally Planned as Gill

When Stanton originally created the character of Dory for Finding Nemo, Marlin's sidekick for the adventure was initially a male fish named Gill.

She actually wasn't based on anybody specifically. She kind of came through steps. I know that I wanted a guide to bring the father through the ocean. And I in my typical dumb, male fashion thought it should just be a guy. And so I had him named Gill. And it was this guy Gill which ended up being Gill in the tank in the dentist's office. And it just wasn't working. And then I read about short term memory loss is three seconds in all goldfish. And I thought that was hilarious and then I thought, well, wait a minute, what if I gave that to the character 'cause then they'd be caught in the moment all the time. And the only thing that ever existed at that time, we're talking 1999, was short term memory guys get on SNL with Tom Hanks. And it was a skit that like it's a certain way to play it where you just kept repeating the moment again and again. And that was not working. It was just getting annoying after a couple sequences.

And the moment when Stanton found Dory was when he had DeGeneres' sitcom The Ellen Show playing in the background.

I had it on in the side of the room while I was trying to tackle this. And I heard her change the subject five times in one sentence. And I was like that's the way to play it.  She was hilarious. And then I said, why not female? Why can't it be a platonic relationship? I mean, why can't it be that manner? And then, for the first time after about three or four months, I was out of writer's block and I knew I, don't write for her, don't write for her, 'cause what if she says no? Nobody's gonna, what if she's not what anybody wants? But I couldn't ignore it. And so it was through these steps that it came to be.

On the next page you can learn how DeGeneres' talk show played an unexpected role in casting the film, and a lot more.


Ellen's Rise to Fame

DeGeneres' career has blown up since the original Finding Nemo, and over the years she has jokingly pleaded for a sequel on her talk show.

I called her to tell her, okay, we're gonna finally make one. She was like 'I was just kidding.' Just to sort of yank my chain. But the world changed so much. When I worked with her, she was between projects. She was kind of under the radar. And she was planning to do this talk show by the time the movie came out. And the two coincided perfectly for her. She has a lot of personal affection for Dory. It's very special to her for many, many reasons. And she became Oprah. I mean, then she's queen of the world.

Stanton wondered if her success would make things different this time around, but found the whole process was pretty much the same.

And I did wonder, like, is she gonna be different? And she, in our first session together, she came into the same stage with the same people that we've, same engineer, everything that we had had last time we worked in 2003. And she came by herself. Drove herself. Walked in and it was we both were just a little bit more older, but that was it. And when we just, it was like we picked up where we left off. And it was great. It was same thing with Albert [Brooks]. It was great.

Diane Keaton on ellen

How Ellen's Talk Show Helped in the Casting of Finding Dory

While trying to cast new characters, Pixar will typically cut together an actor's voice against another person's voice from separate shows and try to create a fake a conversation between them so that the filmmakers can hear what they might possibly sound like together. But Collins admits that The Ellen DeGeneres Show has made that process easier on this film.

Ellen has interviewed everybody, so we're like what does Ellen sound like next to Ty Burrell? And you'd be like whoop, here goes the interview. Let's just listen to them. There was literally everybody in the world against her. It was the easiest casting session in a way. So that's why watching her with Diane Keaton there was no question. Everybody's like, well it has to be Diane Keaton. I mean, if you've ever watched them, those interviews together, they're so funny. And Eugene [Levy] and so it was like it was this weird kind of easy casting session for that reason. I think we had the movie cast really early actually. Really fast.

A bunch of the stars of Finding Dory had roles on Modern Family and Stanton admits that's not by accident.

Isn't that funny how you can go back and you can see a lot of cast members like you can tell what was on TV at the time of the casting of like Bug's Life and Toy Story. And we're very much products of the show's we're watching at the time. You can't ignore that like, for me, there's this term like the camera loves somebody, but I think the microphone also loves certain people's voices. There's some people that are just voices you just listen to and they just carry all the range and all this interesting stuff to it.  And that you can see is the common denominator, whether they came from the same show or not.