Actress Ellen Page broke out with the 2007 hit Juno and has gone to star in a roster of impressive titles from To Rome with Love and Super to the blockbusters Inception and the X-Men series. This month, she appears as Izzy, a member of an eco-anarchist cell with vengeful intentions, in the provocative thriller The East. Ellen talks with Brendan about escaping to the woods (in real life), finding her characters’ voices, and hangin’ with Batman.
Brendan Francis Newnam: In The East, you play Izzie, a member of an ecologically-minded anarchist collective that attacks major corporations. Did you have any trepidation about playing such a political and provocative character?
Ellen Page: That made me extremely interested. I mean I was interesting for a variety of reasons to get a script that’s not just beautifully written and that is also relentlessly suspenseful and moving. And then to have it be about a lot of issues and topics that I personally am interested and think about of course makes me want to jump into a project like that this.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Is it true you actually studied, permaculture design at an ecovillage in Eugene, Oregon? I know that that’s not the same as being in an eco terrorist cell, but, uh, take-, what was that experience like?
Ellen Page: It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. You know, I had just finished a movie and I had had a busy sort of year too, with a lot of transition. And, I really desired to have something sort of separate from this world that I work in, just for myself, and so I went to Oregon to this place called Las Valley and studied for my culture design and eco village development and you know it’s obviously very different because in The East obviously they’re very intense eco activists who believe ‘an eye for an eye’ justice and are obviously have violent intentions. So, it’s obviously extremely different, but the idea of living in an intentional community, living in a way that removes waste and encourages living in a cyclical way with the Earth, allowed for connection to doing this project.
Brendan Francis Newnam: I don’t mean to suggest that you were a terrorist, but it just seemed like that this topic is of interest you. You also voiced a documentary about, colony collapse with bees. So, it seems like the environment is an ongoing concern of yours.
Ellen Page: Yeah. I mean, I’m always shocked like when it’s not a concern of someone or the fact that it can be called, you know, a partisan issue. It makes no sense to me.
Brendan Francis Newnam: You as an actor can deliver dialog either a mile-a-minute or full of feeling that sounds so natural, so I’m wondering: from the time you first read the script, what strategies do you use to make the words feel right to you?
Ellen Page: You know, firstly, I need to connect with something, just like in the core if that makes sense. Like, there needs to be some sort of part of me that is able to honestly connect with another character without, you know, kind of removing all judgment whatsoever.And once I can start feeling the story and the character enter me in this way, then it’s a matter of sculpting around that. Does that make sense? So then, like Juno gets a certain way of like a certain enunciation and a way of speaking, and then, you know, Izzie has a very different voice from that, and so it sort of goes. It starts at the core and then I just try and create something around that. I guess.
Brendan Francis Newnam: When you see a juicy scene – I remember reading in class and I would wait to raise my hand so there was a big chunk because I wanted to read the most – and you know, you’re now a very successful actor, do you still get excited when you’re like, “Oh, man. Today I get to do my, you know, I get to do a couple of pages”?
Ellen Page: That’s such a funny, good question. You know, I think what’s funny is, yeah, the opportunity to be a part of something that’s well-written. To be a part of a well-written scene. That feels unique and is deeply moving and, you know, deeply moves me as a person, so then of course I want to try and tackle that as an actor. And then you just hope you do the writing justice and can create something that will allow the audience to feel that. And, obviously that’s what we’re trying to do when we make art, make a movie, you know. You want to sort of earn those moments. Of course, that’s so exciting, but sometimes it’s so deceitful. It’s those quiet little scenes that you least expect are the ones that sometimes really shake you and take you by surprise. The amount that’s underneath it.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So, we’ve a couple of questions we ask each of our guests, and the first one is what question do-, are you tired of being asked?
Ellen Page: Well, it changes. It used to be, “How much are you like Juno?” I would just constantly get asked that. And, right now strangely it’s become up about Halle Berry’s pregnancy, because I just shot an X-Men movie. There’s no way that I’m going to comment on anyone’s… So that, lately, has been the funny one.
Brendan Francis Newnam: So, our second question is, tell us something we don’t know, and it can be about you or about the world at large.
Ellen Page: Well maybe my dear, dear love of action figures as a child. It was never like a coherent sort of singular narrative of action figures, you know. Batman would be with Peter Pan, who would be with Luke Skywalker, and I would just create like incredibly elaborate, intense stories and spent a lot of time playing by myself as a child. And so, there’s a part of me that thinks back to that sort of intense and emotional storytelling that I feel like it had to have some sort effect in the work I do. One would think, maybe?
Brendan Francis Newnam: Maybe it explains something about your career. You do a lot of independent film, but then you also do X-Men. Does part of that come from just your love maybe of action figures as a child?
Ellen Page: It’s funny really because I never really got into comic books much, but I love the X-Men movies, and I first played Kitty Pride when I was 18. You know, that was a tremendous opportunity like to play a character like that, and a young woman who is that strong. To be able to go from that kind of filmmaking to a smaller set – I love that. I love having that sort of diversity and each environment presents different challenges.
Brendan Francis Newnam: And probably different catering services.
Ellen Page: Strangely enough, sometimes on those little sets, you’ll have like really stellar catering.
Brendan Francis Newnam: Huh, I just figure they bring an entire like strip mall of restaurants to the set of X-Men.
Ellen Page: Not quite. Not quite.