'Finding Nemo' Turns 20: Ellen DeGeneres on Voicing Dory and Getting Laughs in Recording Booth (Flashback)

The comedian explains to ET how 'Toy Story' affected her and recalls making the directors laugh in the recording booth.

Finding Nemo’s enduring legacy just keeps swimming 20 years later, thanks in part to the popularity of Ellen DeGeneres and her scene-stealing performance as Dory, who immediately became a fan-favorite Disney character when Pixar's fifth movie splashed into theaters.

"This is weird, because it's really hard for me to watch myself whenever I do anything, but this isn't really watching myself. It's just like hearing myself, which is even worse. You know when you hear yourself on tape?" the comedian joked to ET leading up to the movie’s release on May 30, 2003. "It's gonna be torture now that I think about it. What am I thinking?"

Continuing the great tradition of Disney’s animated movie sidekicks -- Jiminy Cricket, Genie, and Timon & Pumbaa, to name a few -- DeGeneres was tapped to voice the goodhearted, yet forgetful to a fault Blue Regal Tang fish in Pixar’s love letter to the ocean two decades ago. "It's positive. It's not violent. It's not negative," DeGeneres explained at the time. "And yet, I appreciate it and adults appreciate it because it's so clever… It really is a movie that every age group can appreciate on different levels."

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The movie’s environment was already an ambitious undertaking for the film's directors (WALL-E’s Andrew Stanton and Coco’s Lee Unkrich) from a technical standpoint. Meanwhile, they also had the difficult task of trying to remain professional as the veteran stand-up comic adlibbed in the recording booth.

"My goal would be to make them laugh and I would go and go and go," the Emmy winner recounted. "I could see that they were trying to stop laughing, because they would be in front of me and then, finally, they would just lose it."

That said, she was all praise when it came to her collaboration with Finding Nemo’s production team. She recalled how the directors would help guide her performance, which sometimes added up to 90 takes of particular lines, with nostalgic descriptions like, "It's almost like you're a kid and when you want a bicycle…"

"I think you have to be a really good director to explain certain lines when you're trying to get inflections, because it really is all voice. I really didn't think about that going in," DeGeneres said. "Your voice is the only thing you have to get emotion across and every single tiny nuance is important."

After working on the movie for three years -- a standard timeline for big-budget animated features -- DeGeneres emotionally prepared herself to see the final film, remembering how affected she was after watching Pixar’s first movie, Toy Story. "I started caring about toys. You believe they're real," she recalled. "It's gonna be weird to see me as a fish and get invested."

While Finding Nemo followed Marlin (Albert Brooks) as he tried to locate his son (Alexander Gould), the movie’s sequel, Finding Dory, focused on Dory’s search for her parents, a story thread planted 13 years earlier in Nemo. Upon the follow-up's debut in 2016, DeGeneres told ET that the original movie was a beacon of professional hope, as it came after the cancelation of her groundbreaking sitcom

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"I hadn't worked at all," DeGeneres told ET. "People don't realize that, because it took three years to do Finding Nemo. In the time that [The Ellen Show] was canceled, while I was doing nothing, Stanton had heard my voice on TV and how rambling I was and how I never stayed on topic, and he wrote Dory with me in mind."

DeGeneres explained that Dory's motto, "just keep swimming," was a philosophy that she's applied to her own journey.

"By the time Nemo was coming out, I had just gotten [The Ellen DeGeneres Show], but during that time nothing had happened," DeGeneres said. "So 'just keep swimming' certainly applies to me and to a lot of people out there."

Finding Nemo and Finding Dory stream on Disney+.