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Wise Beyond Her Years

'Juno' star Ellen Page, 20, chooses smart roles, reads more than scripts and knows cinema history. And she can act.

December 19, 2007|Michael Ordona | Special to The Times

WHETHER generating buzz by cutting to the quick (wielding a scalpel in "Hard Candy") or sporting a buzz cut (shaving her head for "Mouth to Mouth"), 20-year-old Golden Globe nominee Ellen Page is becoming one of the most respected actresses of her generation. The tiny Nova Scotia native with the pixie cheeks and dark, intelligent eyes is causing a commotion again as a pregnant teen in the daring, witty "Juno."

You've called "Juno" a dream role. What hooked you about her and Diablo Cody's screenplay?

When I first read the script, I fell head over heels in love with it, to the extent that I was obsessed with it, which I haven't really been about a film or a character before. It was one of those characters where . . . I just had to play her. There's no way around it. This had to happen. I think it was how unique it was, and how witty it was, and la-da-de-da. It was how unexpected and devoid of stereotypes and unbelievably refreshing and honest and genuine.

To read a script that focuses on the quote-unquote lighter side, exploring a humanistic point of view on a [serious] subject, it's just something you don't see often. I was used to only finding honesty in darker treatments. Unfortunately, those were the only scripts that felt real. And then here one comes along that isn't stuck in the darkness. It floored me.

And Juno in specific, she's all of those things but as a character. You know, unique, a teenage, female lead who's devoid of traditional stereotypes, who's abrupt. I really admire her. I have a lot of respect for her.

Roles that have felt most honest to me have been, I think, whole female characters. It's funny, people say to me, 'You're a feminist, you play all these feminist roles!' And I'm like, 'Really? I think I'm just playing strong young females.' I mean, do you ask Emile Hirsch if he's playing 'man-inist' roles? I'm just playing well-written roles for good female characters. Have there been parts that made you wonder if you'd bitten off more than you could chew?

Every time I get a role, I get really excited -- and then I get extremely anxious, thinking I'm going to screw it up. "Oh, my God, I can't act, I've forgotten how to act." Especially now, when you meet the director and you get the role without doing anything.

It's always really bizarre and kind of gut-wrenching when you have to start actually speaking and being this person, or the first rehearsal or the first time you meet someone else who's auditioning . . . I always feel like they'll hear the words come out of my mouth and then fire me. But it usually all works out in the end. You've frequently mentioned Molly Parker as an actress you admire -- are there others who jump out at you?

I'm a huge Sissy Spacek fan. I love "Badlands," I love "Carrie," and I love "In the Bedroom." I think she's great. Laura Linney, I think is flawless. Jodie Foster, who I just saw in the lobby! I would never bug somebody, but that's a good star sighting, Jodie Foster. The other guy I saw: Cesar Millan, with all his dogs, the Dog Whisperer. That was exciting. I'm such a dork. Kate Winslet I think is great. I think she makes great decisions and she's so . . . talented. I love men too. Javier Bardem, "The Sea Inside," he's good in that. You've been quoted as saying "Art should provoke." What has been provoking you lately, art-wise or otherwise?

I've been reading a lot of nonfiction and I've had these, like, back-to-back-to-back wonderful reads that have really moved me and made me think.

This wonderful book called "The Spell of the Sensuous" by David Abram, absolutely stunning. Another book called "Breaking Open the Head" by Daniel Pinchbeck, about modern shamanism and the Western world, how psychedelics are so demonized in the Western world; how a lot of tribes, that's what their culture thrives on. Basically turning everything we think upside down. And he wrote another book that I just read about 2012 ["2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl"], about the Mayan calendar ending, and the theories behind that. That was fascinating.

Now I'm reading "Intelligence in Nature" [Jeremy Narby]. It's about examining intelligence in all living things, whether it's a plant or a gorilla or a bee or what have you. It's really amazing, this kind of evolution in thinking about living things, whether you want to call it the soul, or energy, or what have you. A lot of it makes humans look pretty ridiculous, but in a positive way. So that's what I've been thinking about lately.

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