When a child is born
Ellen Page delivers a compelling performance as a pregnant teenager in the “serious comedy” movie, Juno. The 20-year-old Oscar nominee tells Michael Dwyer about her controversial roles, Meryl Streep comparisons, and why she still lives in Canada
ELLEN PAGE, the bright young star of Juno, is looking forward to a busy weekend later this month. She is nominated as best actress in the Oscars, to be presented on February 24th. Three days earlier she will celebrate her 21st birthday.
“It’s quite the coincidence,” she says. “I’ll probably be in Los Angeles for my birthday. Turning 21 is not really a big deal in Canada. The drinking age is younger, whereas in America it’s 21 for some ludicrous reason. As of now, I can’t have a glass of wine in America until my birthday. It’s illegal.”
Page says she is “thrilled” to be nominated for an Oscar, and that Juno is shortlisted for best film, director and original screenplay. Page plays the 16-year-old Juno, who becomes pregnant after her first sexual experience with a fellow student (Michael Cera from Superbad). When Juno decides to give up the baby for adoption, she sets out to find the ideal parents for the child who has yet to be born.
The low-budget serious comedy has become a big hit in the US, where it has made more than $100 million. That success has prompted a backlash, with some commentators expressing concern over the film’s treatment of teenage pregnancy. Page firmly rejects these criticisms.
“I think the film deals with it in an extremely responsible way. I mean, nobody in the film is ecstatic about the fact that this girl’s pregnant, including Juno herself, but they love her and they support her. They’re going to help her through it and not treat it like some grim hopeless situation.
“The problem, mostly in America, is that they just don’t want to admit that teenagers have sex. Even sexual education in America is horrible because, for some reason, they think it’s a way of, like, advertising sex. But teenagers are going to have sex, and if you don’t talk about it and you don’t educate, then what do you expect is going to happen?”
The well-publicised fact that screenwriter Diablo Cody is a former stripper has been a factor in this coverage. “Diablo and I have been travelling a lot with the film and I’ve gotten to know her well,” Page says. “She’s very funny, very honest, and she doesn’t care about what other people think. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Diablo.”
Juno director Reitman has compared Page to Meryl Streep, noting that “she can switch it on and off like a light switch”. Page points out that she had no formal training as an actor. “I just fell into it,” she says. She was 10 and living in her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, when she was cast in a TV movie, Pit Pony. “A local casting director came to our school to find people for the film. I was chosen and that led to a TVshow and then that led to something else. My parents never discouraged me, but they didn’t push me into it either.”
When she was 13, Page was offered a role in a TV sitcom in Los Angeles, but her parents turned it down. “It looked very promising,” she says, “but we talked about it and they decided against it. They felt it was better for me at that age to stay at home and go to school. It was a very good decision.”
Proudly Canadian, and unhappy to be so often mistaken for American, Page still lives in Halifax. “For a while I didn’t live anywhere because I was working all the time and travelling from one set to another. At the age of 20, I was wondering where had all that time gone, and I didn’t think that was a healthy thing to think at 20. So I moved home and got an apartment in Halifax.”
She lives in what she describes as “a converted whorehouse”. “Yeah, it’s an old brothel. I probably shouldn’t be talking about it because people can probably find out where I live now. I think it’s haunted because things keep disappearing all the time. But I’m very happy to stay on living in Canada. Moving to LA is not in my immediate plans. Then again, you never know what might happen a few years from now.”
Would she like to follow her fellow Canadian, Sarah Polley, from acting into screenwriting and directing? “The idea sounds fantastic and I would hope to make my own films some day, but it’s ridiculously intimidating. It’s not something I would do any time in the near future because I don’t feel remotely ready for it for a long time.”
I mention that Polley began acting at six, was directing shorts when she was 20 and had written and directed her first feature film when she was 27 – Away from Her, which has received Oscar nominations for Polley’s screenplay and for Julie Christie.
“That was great, but Sarah Polley is a genius,” Page says. “She is a lot cooler than I am. I have so much respect for Sarah. I’m so pleased about her nomination.”
How would Polley feel if Page pipped Christie for the best actress Oscar? “I can’t imagine that that’s possible,” Page says modestly. “I’m nominated with such wonderful actresses. I loved Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, and I adored Laura Linney in The Savages. I think she’s flawless. And then there’s Cate Blanchett. I’m in such good company that it’s beyond humbling.I’m still trying to get my head around it. I find it so strange that these things are happening in my life right now.”
Allison Janney, who plays Juno’s stepmother, describes Page as “fearless”, a quality evident from Hard Candy (2005) in which Page played a 14-year-old girl who meets a 32-year-old man (Patrick Wilson) on the internet. Suspecting he’s a paedophile, she plots to castrate him, causing most men in the audience to squirm.
“Yeah, well, that was about time,” she laughs. “Women get to see ourselves raped and killed in movies all the time. So many movies and evenTVshows begin with a naked woman in a dumpster. It was your turn, I guess.”
Working on Hard Candy was made all the more intense as it was shot in just 18 days, she says. “There was hardly any time to switch off the role. You work all day, you go back to where you’re staying, you get ready for what you’re shooting the next day, and you go to bed. It was like that every day. But when I get to completely dive into a role, it is the greatest feeling.”
Although Page has worked mostly in low-budget indies, she had her first experience with blockbusters when she played Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand.
“It was a completely different kind of film-making for me. We were shooting for a very long period of time, which I’m not used to. It felt strange at first, because I was the new actor in the bunch and all the others knew each other from the first two X-Men films. And on a big production like
On the edge: Ellen Page in the Oscar-nominated Juno