It needs to be said: Portia de Rossi can be one hell of a bitch. As powerhouse lawyer Nelle Porter on Ally McBeal, she was as icy as a Frappuccino and just as evil. As bratty daughter and incurable shopaholic Lindsay Bluth Funke on Arrested Development, she is so buzz-killing that it's hard to blame David Cross, as her epically nerdy husband, for not wanting to sleep with her.

Which is why, when she arrives for a cup of coffee at a Hollywood café, effortlessly incognito in destroyed jeans, black turtleneck, and smoky seventies-style sunglasses, it's not all that surprising that she comes across as a little hardened.

"Oh, I don't have any fans," she says, answering a gentle query about Arrested Development's burgeoning cult status. "Personally? I don't have any," she adds, snapping her cell phone shut.

Perhaps you can't blame her for the defensive posturing. As one half of the most public lesbian coupling in America, De Rossi has never been so exposed. For the "private to a fault" De Rossi, the attention is uncomfortable.

"The first time I was paparazzi'd I thought I was being investigated for an insurance claim," she says, smiling at her own naïveté. "I just don't share a lot of my life with close friends, much less strangers."

Still, on the wedding finger of her left hand she wears the platinum Tiffany ring that the New York Post says she bought for herself and partner Ellen DeGeneres as symbols of their love. When De Rossi is quizzed about the meaning of the thick but simple rounded band, the granite façade crumbles and she becomes positively girlish.

"Well, I don't know..." she responds coyly. "I mean, it's on your left hand, on your ring finger...We both have one. It's just something that we both thought was right."

The Australian-born actress started dating DeGeneres at the end of 2004. "Every time I walked away from seeing her, I just had a huge smile on my face," she says, flashing the grin in question. "It's obvious she makes people feel comfortable."

Not everyone came out of the deal feeling cuddly. De Rossi, 32, reportedly broke the heart of her ex, Ringo Starr's stepdaughter, Francesca Gregorini, while DeGeneres, 47, bailed out of her love boat with photographer Alexandra Hedison.

De Rossi says that her sexuality has been hard to come to terms with. At first, she treated it as a nonissue. "I certainly never denied it and I never altered my lifestyle or my life to try and avoid the questions, but I didn't realize how uncomfortable I was with it until now," she says.

But then how to explain that four-year heterosexual relationship with a documentary filmmaker when she first moved to L.A.?

"I think that if we really look at it and trace it back, I was definitely always gay," she says. "I didn't have a lot of relationships with men, but it didn't occur to me that I could live as a gay woman."