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A strange new world

Coming from Canada, where `fame doesn't exist,' Ellen Page is finding her niche.

May 05, 2006|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

Again the small smile. "Fame doesn't exist in Canada," she says. "It's not like here." Still, Page spent much of her adolescence on television and movie sets, usually away from home in the company of a paid chaperone, which could account for that sense of longtime independence underlying her demeanor -- she may have just moved into her own apartment in Brooklyn, but it's been a long while since she lived full-time with her parents.

"When I was 12, I realized I was very uncomfortable having my parents on the set," she says matter-of-factly. "So I told them that, and they understood. I am lucky to have just amazing parents."

Self-possessed in the extreme, Page seems about as far from the stereotype of a child star as you can get. She speaks in complete paragraphs utterly free of "likes" and "you knows." Although she is clear about her love of acting, she says she has had moments when she wonders if she is choosing the most useful path.

"Hard Candy," she thinks, will help, because it not only addresses a serious, timely issue, it also portrays a teenage girl as an intelligent, capable being. A girl who may not be likable but is certainly memorable. When Page got the script through her agent, she was, she says, "totally blown away by it. I could not believe there was such an intelligent, passionate character written for a teenager."

Unfortunately, she had just finished making "Mouth to Mouth," a film that will be released next month, in which she plays a girl who joins a cult. The kind of cult that requires members to shave their heads.

Page sent an audition tape to L.A., but there wasn't much she could do about her baldness.

"I think it kind of freaked them out," she says. "I guess that's something Natalie Portman can get away with but not me."

"We had to convince the producers that she could do it," says Slade. First, he had a long conversation with her, in part to assure himself that she could handle the emotional strains of the role.

"Part of this was humanistic," he says. "I mean, I think I'm a pretty nice guy. But part of it was also very practical -- if she fell apart one day, we still had to shoot the next."

It only took a few minutes to convince Slade, and once he got Page in the room with the producers, they agreed.

"One of the guys asked her, what historic character does Hayley remind you of," Slade says. "And without missing a beat, Ellen said, 'Joan of Arc.' That was it."

In the film, Hayley is a young girl who falls into an online relationship with Jeff, an older man played by Patrick Wilson. When they meet, and he takes her to his house, the tables quickly turn -- in an "Extremities"-like plot twist, Hayley takes the upper hand, and to shocking extremes. She uses torture, both physical and mental, to impress upon Jeff the harm and hypocrisy that has made his life both possible and unacceptable.

It is not an easy movie to watch, but still Page says she has been surprised by the reactions to Hayley, and to her.

"Men sit in interviews and tell me they feel like they should cross their legs" to protect themselves, she says. "One woman came up to me and told me I was sadistic." Page shakes her head. "It's really quite upsetting when you consider the images of violence against women we see every day on television. So many people want to justify Jeff's actions, both men and women -- like somehow it's OK that he has brought a 14-year-old home."

Still, she says, the movie was made to provoke emotions, and it seems to be succeeding in that.

"Which is really the best thing you can do," she says. "In this film, there are no safe answers. The audience sympathies shift, and they are intended to.... Hayley and Jeff are very real and complicated people."

Which is why Page was more than a little surprised when, after seeing "Hard Candy" at Sundance, director Brett Ratner wanted her to take the role of Kitty in "X3." And even more surprised when Ratner wouldn't take no for an answer.

"He was so enthusiastic," she says, "and I read the comic books, which I really liked, and so I thought, well, when else am I going to have a chance to wear a leather suit and run through exploding things? Why not be a superhero for a change?"

For all her on-set experience, she was unprepared for "X-Men." Every aspect of the production blew her mind -- the sets, the makeup, the special effects, the star-studded cast. Fortunately Kitty's role didn't require the hours in makeup that other actors had to endure.

Although Page is looking forward to the Cannes Film Festival, where "X3" will premiere in noncompetition, she remains concerned about the hype that precedes, and follows, a blockbuster. To provide herself a little ballast, she followed "X3" with another small, dark film called "The Tracy Fragments."

"It opens with a girl naked in the back of a bus under a shower curtain explaining, in a nonlinear narrative, how she got there," Page explains. "It's very dark and so much what my heart needed after 'X-Men.'

"You can't believe what some people said to me about doing that film," she adds. "I was visiting a friend at Sarah Lawrence [College], and there was this guy there who was into French New Wave and he kept making these sly remarks about how terrible Hollywood is and how I had sold out.

"Judging people you don't know for things you don't understand," she says, collecting herself again with a cool shrug, "is just really stupid."

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