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Juno‘s star prefers Halifax to Hollywood.

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BABY FACE Page gets a sonogram in Juno.
It’s been a long time since any actor single-handedly carried a movie the way that Ellen Page does Juno, a refreshingly snappy comedy from director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) and Chicago-born screenwriter Diablo Cody (yes, a former stripper). Page pulls off a bracing combination of the sarcastic and the sincere as the title character, a pregnant teen who decides to keep her baby and give it to a model couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). Needless to say, not everything turns out as she plans.

In her assurance and plainspoken attitude, Juno may not be so different from Page herself—who in person is a trifle more patient (and pint-size) than her larger-than-life, bullshit-averse alter ego would lead one to expect. “I’ve definitely never been a stereotypical girl, I suppose,” she says. “I really feel grateful that I get to be this girl who’s, I think, a teenage female lead that we’ve just never seen before.”

Page has a knack for choosing roles that fit that description. Praised with an almost religious fervor by critics in her native Canada, she got her start in Canadian television when she was 16 and decided that acting was what she wanted to do. She captured attention in the U.S. for her role in Hard Candy (2005), in which she plays a 14-year-old who holds a pedophile hostage. She’s flirted with Hollywood, playing Kitty Pryde in the third X-Men movie, but the rest of her recent track record has been more outré: the poorly received Sundance premiere An American Crime, the Toronto whatsit The Tracey Fragments.

Moreover, Page is based in her hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is where she hopes to stay. “I think the most important thing to do is to just keep my feet on the ground,” she says. “I don’t feel special because I’m an actor. I don’t feel any different than my friends who are all doing awesome things, whether it’s studying writing at Sarah Lawrence or studying to be a holistic nutritionist. I’m just doing what I do, and I happen to get attention.”

That’s maybe truer than ever this year, when she’s the most promising Oscar candidate in a competitive Best Actress field. Fox Searchlight is courting the impression that Juno is this year’s Little Miss Sunshine, but it’s nimbler and more original. Even detractors have mainly taken issue with the film’s somewhat incidental politics, grouping it with other recent films involving pregnancies (Waitress, Knocked Up) that have sidestepped the issue of abortion.

“I find whenever you avoid stereotype, people often react in a different way, because it’s something they’re not used to seeing,” Page says of the criticism. “I think what Juno does is it at least addresses the subject and it shows how there’s a choice, which is obviously important for young women.”

Avoiding stereotype may be a Page hallmark. Even the roster of filmmakers she admires and would like to work with—Michel Gondry, Alexander Payne, the Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar)—is the wish list of a true cinephile. One of the projects on her docket is Jack and Diane, directed by Bradley Rust Gray and produced by So Yong Kim, the husband-and-wife team behind the acclaimed—but little-seen—DIY indie In Between Days (2006). Plot summaries suggest Jack and Diane is a lesbian werewolf movie, but Page says it’s far richer than that.

“I think that Brad got a little overexcited writing the synopsis,” she explains. “It really is just about two girls that fall in love in New York City, and one of them is leaving to go to school and doesn’t tell the other. It’s stunning and heartbreaking and all of those things that falling in love are. But the character I play does have dreams where she turns into a werewolf.”

Does acting leave her with time—or even a desire—to take a breath and attend college? “I definitely think about it, but at this point I don’t even know where, what or when,” she says. “So I’m interested in furthering my education because I love to learn. But right now it’s amazing—I love being able to kind of read whatever I want and learn about whatever I feel like focusing on.

“I’m really lucky to be doing what I love—and paying my rent—at the age of 20,” she adds. “That’s a pretty big gift.”

Juno opens Friday 14.

Author: Ben Kenigsberg

Issue 146/147: December 13–26, 2007



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