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Tomboy Chic

She loathes dresses and tools around her native Halifax on a two-wheeler, but Ellen Page--breakout star of 'Juno'--proves that boyish style can be sassy too

January 06, 2008|GINNY CHIEN | Ginny Chien writes about style for the magazine. Contact her at ginny.chien@latimes.com.

Ellen Page is desperately seeking a bike mechanic. Which might seem strange, because for weeks now she's had a sedan, complete with tinted windows and a black-suited driver, at her beck and call. It's just one of the perks of being a Hollywood awards season hopeful. Back home in Nova Scotia, however, her wheels are decidedly less glamorous. "I don't own a car where I live," she says. "The way I get around is by foot and by bike. My bike is kind of shot, actually. I bought it used for not much. I really need to get somebody to look at it."

Hanging out on the Venice boardwalk, Page, 20, is on the tail end of a promotions whirlwind for "Juno," the heartstring-tugging indie comedy about a pregnant high-schooler. The film, which played to raves at key film festivals such as Toronto and Telluride, has transformed her into this year's standout young star, female division. She's come a long way from her low-key surroundings in Halifax, where she'll return soon after months of being thrust into "surreal" situations, such as participating in a roundtable with Jodie Foster ("I was definitely staring at her like a total geek") and rubbing elbows with Sarah Silverman ("I, like, freaked out; I show everyone 'Jesus Is Magic'").

Page's turn as the smart-alecky Juno MacGuff has become one of the most auspicious "who's that girl?" performances in recent memory. Among critics, she's been described as simply "talented" (by the New York Observer's Rex Reed), "conspicuously talented" (by Variety's Todd McCarthy) and "frighteningly talented" (by the New York Times' A.O. Scott). But perhaps "Juno" director Jason Reitman puts it best: "I mean, honestly, you had to look between her legs to make sure a baby wasn't coming out, it was so damn believable," he says, referring to the scene in which her character gives birth.

Page started out at age 10 in Canadian TV series, but has more recently built a cinematic resume based on dark roles, such as the pedophile-tracking vigilante in 2005's "Hard Candy." For "Juno," she's already racked up breakthrough trophies at the year-end Gotham Awards and National Board of Review awards. She'll also walk the red carpet as a lead-actress nominee at the Golden Globes (Jan. 13) and the Independent Spirit Awards (Feb. 23, the day before the Oscars). "It's obviously not why I'm an actor," she says of the accolades, "but, of course, when you're in a film that you're really proud to be a part of, it's really wonderful when people are responding well to it."

Less than five years ago, Page was playing soccer in Canada, tussling on not one but two teams. She grew up in Halifax "just kind of rocking and rolling around," with a graphic designer father and teacher mother. If she wasn't on the soccer field, you could find her hiking or camping or snowboarding. "I'm pretty adventurous," says Page, who spent a month earlier this year backpacking through Romania and Serbia. "I don't mind getting dirty."

When she's not outdoors, she's feeding her inner egghead. Page indulges in Icelandic rock (Sigur Ros, Johan Johansson and Bjork) and gorges herself on books. Lately, it's been nonstop nonfiction, including "A Natural History of the Senses" by Diane Ackerman, "Intelligence in Nature" by Jeremy Narby and a couple of works by Daniel Pinchbeck, the author known for advocating and intellectualizing psychedelic experiences. "She's way too smart for her age," Reitman says. "It's embarrassing sometimes to have a conversation with her."

She also has brainy friends, liberal arts types who attend Sarah Lawrence College. "They're doing wicked stuff, going to school, studying holistic nutrition," says Page, adding that she often muses about enrolling. "I've thought of psychology, maybe art history. It's just about when."

During the last few months, Page has been busy fulfilling publicity responsibilities as the darling of "Juno"--attending the premiere in an understated, knee-length strapless dress; teaming up with big-time publicist Kelly Bush; and trooping through countless photo shoots. You'd almost think a big-studio romantic comedy was in her future. Not quite: In one of her upcoming films, "An American Crime," she plays a girl who is tortured in a basement. And she's slated to star in the teenage lesbian drama "Jack and Diane."

"Ellen is incapable of having a dishonest moment," Reitman says. "She looks for realism in characters. If she got cast in a cheesy romantic comedy, she would be awful!"

It's not that Page exclusively seeks small, independent-minded films. After all, she played budding superhero Kitty Pryde in "X-Men: The Last Stand." But, she says, "something really feeds my soul when I can approach a character who is honest and well-written and whole. I guess I just feel strongly about remaining connected to myself."

Even at this fashion shoot, where she arrived in her usual jeans-and-sneakers ensemble, she declined--and then apologized repeatedly for declining--to put on any overtly glamorous dress, unlike many young actresses who blindly follow a stylist's instructions. But there was one thing at the session that Page really liked--yes, one of the bikes, specifically the pink low-rider with banana handles. "I'd never ridden one of those, you know, chopper-y ones," she says. "Yeah, super comf." Maybe she won't be needing that bike mechanic after all.

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