Every year, you hear of some young teen actress wowing critics and audiences at film festivals, and this year it’s all about Juno star Ellen Page. ComingSoon.net already knew she was great when we interviewed her for the thriller Hard Candy last year, and earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival debut of Tommy O’Haver’s An American Crime, and it doesn’t hurt that she appeared as the wall-phasing Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand. (You can read our two previous interviews here and here.
Now it seems like everyone is discovering Page, who recently won a Gotham Award for her role in Jason Reitman’s movie as an extremely outspoken and unfiltered teen who accidentally gets pregnant and has to decide what to do with her baby. The young actress had such an influence on Reitman that when he looked to her for input on what kind of music her character might listen to, she turned him onto the Moldy Peaches, one of whom ended up providing half a dozen songs for the movie. Page is already in line to receive a lot of awards in the coming season, including what many feel will be her first Oscar nomination in a career that should bring her many.
ComingSoon.net talked to Page at a far more crowded press roundtable–just to give you some idea how her popularity is growing thanks to Juno–and we were mildly amused at the few times she went into the film’s “Juno speak” as devised by Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody. Jon Heder would have been proud.
CS: Congratulations on receiving the Gotham Award earlier this week. You really deserved it. Ellen Page: Oh yeah. Thanks. I really genuinely didn’t think I was going to win. It was very cute. Jason Reitman was very cute.
CS: On the subject of awards, you must have heard everyone saying, “Oscar for Ellen! Oscar for Ellen!” Do you pay attention to any of that? Page: I try not to think about it. To be honest when I first read the script, Diablo wrote something so amazing I became relatively obsessed with playing this role, so when I got to do it, I was through the moon ecstatic and working with the people I got to work with was an enormous gift. And I really mean that, you know? To do this film in the first place was so amazing in itself and now that all this is happening it’s just extremely surreal. So I’m just kind of like, “Well, we’ll see what happens.” I’ve seen “For Your Consideration,” you know?
CS: How do you approach a comedy like this differently from doing a drama? Page: I don’t know. It’s interesting. I think I’ve done some films that have an element of emotional extremity and oddly I think there’s an illusion that that’s more difficult acting and it can be more difficult to just be and to just be as genuine as possible. For a film like “Juno,” I felt like if it was at all forceful than it would have become contrived and annoying and a lax and kind of a genuine emotion that allows for the heart to connect. If you lose that, well you’ve lost me for one thing. I’m very much like you gotta get me here or, you know? So often movies that everyone on the planet likes, I don’t like, ’cause I’m just like I can’t connect to this at all. I think it’s about connecting. It’s always about connecting. I’m totally rambling. I think with something like “Juno” there’s more of a fine line I suppose.
CS: How did you find the physicality of the role, being eight months pregnant? Page: Intimidated at first, but I actually watched other films. Michael Winterbottom’s “Wonderland,” I don’t know if you’ve seen that. Amazing movie. And Molly Parker, a Canadian actress, is pregnant in that and gives birth. I remembered that because I love that film and I was like, “I’m going to watch that and completely rip her off.” So shout-out to Molly Parker, and yeah, I bought “Pregnancy for Dummies.”
CS: Was it hard memorizing all that dialogue since it’s so specific that you’d probably not want to change a word? Page: Memorizing is not that hard. It definitely is specific because it’s so good and you want to obviously do what Diablo did. To me, although it was unique and interesting and new and all those things, it felt very organic. It felt very fluid. It felt very rhythmic. Because although I didn’t speak the same way as Juno when I was sixteen, I definitely had my own language with my friends. And the way I communicated with my friends wasn’t the necessarily the same as the way I communicated with my parents or in a work environment. So it just made sense to me and it was just about owning it.
CS: Juno’s dialogue is extremely smart as are you yourself, so how much did you contribute to the way this character talks? Page: I don’t know. I feel like the script you’ve seen on the screen is pretty much Diablo’s. One of the things I did love the most was the dialogue. I found it rhythmic, fluid, and organic. It felt really honest to me, and it was just about owning it and bringing it out through the character that I played. I’m sure I brought some elements of myself, which of course you do in every character you play, and to have that ability to connect, but I don’t know. It’s harder for me to say and it’s probably easier for them to tell you.
CS: A lot of young women who see this movie will think Juno is the coolest, but she seems like a brat to me. Page: I find that whenever a woman has remote strength she’s considered abrupt.
CS: Actually, I said “a brat”. Page: Yes, but I guess because she speaks her mind maybe. Do you want to give me examples of why she’s such a brat?
CS: She is constantly talking back to everybody whether she knows them or not. Page: To me she speaks her mind and she could definitely be arrogant because she’s a sixteen-year-old girl.
CS: You’re not a brat, so is it harder to play a character like that? Page: I feel like she’s extremely multi-dimensional and I feel like she definitely hides behind sarcastic wit to deal with an extreme situation. I love how the film deals with it. It’s not just breaking your leg, you know? It’s having a baby. So she definitely hides behind an element of sarcastic wit, but I also think she’s extremely genuine and honest and a very well-rounded character.
CS: Although all the characters are slightly flawed, do you think that Jason Bateman’s character doesn’t come across quite as well as the others, and do you think we should judge his character based on that? Page: No, I don’t think we should judge him. I think from the beginning you see a hint where he’s talking and those volcano moments go off. There’s a hint he’s obviously not as into this as Vanessa. Clearly, he’s not done whatever he needs to do for himself inside and I think that it’s a noble decision for him to back out, because he could’ve stayed with her and it would’ve been a more unhealthy way to bring up a child. I think that’s one of the great things that this film approaches is that it doesn’t have to be a mom and a dad and whatever, and you have an adopted child going into a situation with a single mom who is absolutely going to love and cherish it because she is just madly in love with this little being and I think that is really beautiful really refreshing to see.
CS: What was going through your mind when you shot the scene at the abortion clinic? Page: What was going through my mind? I don’t know. I don’t really think it was some sort of massive, “Oh, I can’t do this to the baby inside of me.” I mean obviously she can’t have an abortion because then we wouldn’t have a feature film. It would be pretty short. So I’m just happy that it added that aspect. It offered that visible choice which obviously needs to be there.
CS: When you say you couldn’t have a feature film if she had an abortion, is that really true? Does a person’s story end at abortion? Page: No, that’s obviously not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that it’s not what the film is about. When I get all these questions about abortion and choice I just think, “Give me a break. It’s a damn movie. Is this really what we’re here to talk about?” I feel like people just bring that up because they want a damn story or something. It’s frustrating.
CS: You do realize that the Pro-Life movement will embrace this movie and take it to heart, right? Page: I feel like so could the Pro-Choice people, so it’s an extremely democratic movie. Just because she doesn’t have the baby doesn’t mean that abortion is a bad thing. I’m obviously completely Pro-Choice and I feel like older white men with money should definitely not be able to decide what happens with a women’s uterus unless we want to go back to clothes hangers, you know what I’m saying?
CS: So the potential implications of the film culturally didn’t strike you when you first read the script? Page: Not in the slightest. I literally read the script and I was blown away and it was not until we were shooting that someone was like, “Press is going to be fun.” I was like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” People just get so hot and heavy about everything. Whatevs.
CS: What was it like working with Jennifer Garner? Page: It was great. I adore her. She’s incredibly down to earth. Wonderfully warm, awesome mom, just a really beautiful person and I think she’s amazing in this film. She’s extremely subtle and I think it’s an absolutely amazing performance. I feel really lucky to have worked with her on a project like this, which I don’t think she’s been seen in often and I think she really nails it.
CS: Did she give you any tips about being pregnant? Page: I don’t know. She never gave me a list, you know? But I could definitely go to Jen if I was confused. Her and Jason could kind of let me know. I can’t remember anything in specific. I think I would just ask general questions. So I don’t think I can give you anything specific, I’m sorry. But she was extremely helpful in regards to when I would get stuck in how far the body language should go. But I always wanted to remember that Juno is a sixteen-year-old girl and still has that energy and enthusiasm. A large part of her still wants to remain sixteen whether she knows it or not. I think that brings a neat dynamic. She has this belly, but she’s trying to quickly waddle or remain in herself as she was.
CS: How has this role impacted you on a personal level. Do you want to have children yourself? Page: I mean, I’m not even twenty-one yet.
CS: I don’t mean tomorrow. Page: Totally, I know what you mean, but that’s how I’m leading into it. I could change my mind obviously, but wouldn’t I be stoked to have a little rug rat to take camping and climb trees with? Hells yeah! But I’m also not ready to listen to it cry and want the toy all night and I’m going to be like, “Consumerism’s bad!” I don’t know if I’m balanced and selfless enough yet to be awesome to a little munchkin. But I’m definitely into someday being able to have someone to shift my attention to. I think it would be a cool process.
CS: Are you concerned about overexposure or the advance hyperbole causing the film to peak too soon? Page: No, but thanks for embedding me with a wonderful amount of anxiety. I’m just joking. I’m teasing you. I look at it as, “Oh, wow, a movie that I’m extremely proud to be a part of and extremely grateful to have been that girl that is most likely going to be seen by people.” I’m just excited that “Juno” is going to go out into the world because I feel like she is a female teenage lead that we haven’t seen before and that’s really exciting to me and to have been able to have been a part of this. And I feel like if it does well it’s just going to give me more choice and control. And an actor at any age, that’s a huge gift. Of course I get overwhelmed like, “Oh god. What do the next two months mean?” I feel like things will change as much as you let them change. And I feel like because of who I am and my general interests, I really don’t think that’s completely possible, that whole alteration. I can go to Nova Scotia and be in the woods with my friend and be like, “Oh wow. Last week I was in L.A. wearing high heels” and be like, “Isn’t that funny?” But that’s so what I am and this is what I do and I want to make sure there’s a balance, you know?
CS: Are you at the point where people notice you on the street for your past roles? Page: It’s funny because “X-Men” happened and people were like, “Oh yeah. Your life is going to change.” I pretty much knew if wasn’t because, yeah, I’m in “X-Men,” but I’m pretty much the girl who runs through walls, so unless you’re a big “X-Men” fan, you’re hardly going to remember the character’s name. That didn’t really change much other than when I’d be with my good friend Ben Foster and of course usually they recognize him and then they’re like, “Oh yeah. You’re that girl.” Yeah he had wings, whatever. But yeah, the “Hard Candy” thing happens a lot, especially when I travel to other places. I feel like not a lot of people saw it in America. I understand why, it’s not really an American kind of movie, but in the U.K. it did pretty well I guess. I was just backpacking in Eastern Europe and at almost every hostel I stayed at except for one I get recognized. It was the weirdest experience.
CS: What did people say when they recognized you? Page: One Irish girl freaked out. She was like screaming, and it was just so weird for me because I’m dirty and in Serbia and playing the guitar, and this Irish girl is just baffled that I would be there. It’s very bizarre. I get the guy thing a lot. I’m like, “You know what? You could get over it.” I feel like there’s how many television shows that could be called “Naked Women in the Dumpster Part 7.” Who did it? You know? Who raped her and cut her and threw her in the dumpster? But anyways, I feel like you guys can handle one movie. Come one. I didn’t even do anything.
CS: Are you worried about being associated with one character? That you’ll have to do something completely different as to not just become known as “Juno”? Page: I mean, no. Obviously I’m not getting that associated because you just said three completely different characters so that’s not happening, but now I’ll be associated with “Juno” because it’s coming out in five minutes. I also have a film coming out in April where I play a really bitchy, arrogant, young Republican.
CS: What’s that called? Page: It’s called “Smart People.” It’s with Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Thomas Hayden Church.
CS: Who’s the director of the film? Page: His name is Noam Murro. It’s his first feature. He’s a very accomplished commercial director and he’s absolutely wonderful. Michael London produced it, who produced “Sideways.” I’m excited about it. I actually haven’t seen it yet. It was a joy to do and it was actually really, really fun to play that character.
CS: Do you try to be supportive of the Canadian film industry? Page: Yeah I am. I feel like there was this span of really, strong, great, small independent movies and there was a lot of support through it and a lot of government grants, and then Telefilm Gosh, should I really be going this far to say these things?.. kind of stepped in and was like, “Let’s make studio, American, cheaper genre movies.” Which always suck and fail completely so I don’t know why they’re not getting it yet. We just need to cherish our industry and take the million, two million dollar movies that are still really beautiful, and try our best to support those. I know that’s really hard and it’s hard to get Canadians into their own movies. Other than Quebec, Quebec watch all their own French movies. Which is amazing, but it’s such a drag.
CS: Sarah Polley made a leap into directing beautifully. Page: She’s fantastic. I don’t know if you’ve seen her short, it’s so good.
CS: Do you have any intentions of writing or directing your own project eventually? Page: I would love to, but it scares the bejeezus out of me. I try and write and then I realize it sucks and then I delete it. I just don’t feel remotely confident. Right now I feel like right it would be contrived because there’s nothing propelling me for a story. I think I have to wait for until I feel it. So I don’t know when that would ever be. I feel like that would be a very difficult thing. I’m really happy for Sarah and all the success that she’s having with this film. It’s beautiful.
CS: Are there any characters from history or fiction that are attractive to you playing someday? Page: Specifically, no. I don’t know. I’ll read books from time to time and be like, “Oh, this will make a good movie” but I don’t really go forward with it.
CS: Does your agent look for scripts coming from Canadian filmmakers or writers at all? Page: I have a really awesome agent in Toronto who is one of my really good friends. I adore him. He’s been there for me for years. He’s the one I actually communicate with the most. He’s obviously very aware of what’s going on. I would never do something just because it’s Canadian.
CS: I understand that, but would that be something that might be a draw to a film if it’s a good script? Page: Totally, yeah. There’s one that’s kind of in development right now and I’m attached to now and it was written by a Canadian actor named Peter Stebbings and he wrote this incredible script. So we’ll see. It’s a matter of obviously money and timing and all those things.
CS: What’s the name of that script? Page: It’s called “The Defender” but it’s really in the preliminary stages. The script is awesome. I mean the script has been around for a little while, but just getting it made and all those things.
CS: A movie like this can help a movie like that. If you do well with this and get an Oscar nomination, that could also help movies like “The Tracy Fragments” which also played in Toronto. Page: Yeah, I get really excited about that. Since shooting “X-Men” I’ve shot four or five movies back-to-back that I’ve been crazy passionate about and have been small. It’s really evident how, as I said, all of this hoopla, which can make me feel overwhelmed, mostly gets me excited because it just means I do get more choice and more control and I see more scripts and I get to meet people I’ve admired my whole life. It’s like, what?! You know? It freaks me out. I still get excited. I don’t get star stuck, but when someone really inspired me in a field I something that I just absolutely really love to do, and their work has connected me here it’s hard to even believe that I’m in the same situation as them.
CS: Like who? Page: At the Gotham Awards, Laura Linney came up to me and I was like, “Oh my God. You’re flawless!” It’s very humbling and really it’s just really cool because it’s what I love to do. They’re just people and they’re just typically wonderful people I find. I don’t think you could be successful and talented without being an awesome person. I mean, I got to shoot a damn movie with Catherine Keener! She’s so good in that movie. I hope to work with her again. Working with her was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had working with someone. Not just because she’s an incredible actor, but because she’s one of the most genuine, down to earth, just solid human beings I’ve ever met. She’s so genuine it blows my mind and I extremely admire her and was extremely inspired by the way she handles herself. Not just on-set, but with her son and just the way she approaches all situations and all ways of being. She’s just one of those people. You’re just like, “Wow. Thanks for existing. You know?” It makes you feel better about being alive almost. She’s stunning. I mean, her performance in “Being John Malkovich” for example is just one of my favorites and “Walking and Talking” I think she’s just an incredible actor. As I said before, incredibly, incredibly genuine. Very versatile and extremely still and subtle in everything she does. She’s egoless and I think you don’t always see that in actors. She’s very quiet.
CS: What’s going on with “An American Crime”? Page: I heard a rumor. I don’t know. If you go to TommyOHaver.com, he gives updates on what’s going on. He’s the director of the film.
CS: I know you signed up for more “X-Men” movies but do you have any idea when they might call you on the X-phone and say, “Okay, Ellen, it’s that time.”? Page: I don’t know. I don’t know. I have no idea what the next one is going to be if there’s going to be a next one. I really don’t. You probably know more than me.
CS: No, probably not. Page: Oh, well we’ll see.
Juno opens on Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles and in other cities on Friday, December 12. Look for our exclusive interviews with director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody in the next few days.