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» Sweet Success

By Sarah Kuhn

Ellen Page is only 19, but she's building a résumé to rival actors twice her age. Page made a big impression at 2005's Sundance Film Festival, thanks to her bracing, no-holds-barred performance in the edgy indie thriller Hard Candy; she'll soon be seen playing young mutant Kitty Pryde in the highly anticipated superhero flick X-Men: The Last Stand, due out in May. The actor recalls last year's Sundance experience as being intense and "fantastic," and she came out of it with an agent at the William Morris Agency--Gaby Morgerman, who also reps Sarah Polley and Mark Ruffalo, among others--and newfound industry exposure. Hard Candy, meanwhile, will be released by Lions Gate in select cities April 14.

As Hayley, a complicated teenager locked in a game of cat and mouse with a shady 30-something photographer (Angels in America's Patrick Wilson), Page gives a charismatic career-making performance, effortlessly projecting an aura of ferocity and cool intelligence. She recalls being blown away when she received the script for the film, penned by playwright Brian Nelson (Consolation, Radiant). "I couldn't believe that such an amazing character had been written for a young woman," she says. Page submitted herself on tape and eventually ventured out to L.A. for a second audition. "I had a shaved head [for a role] when I auditioned for the first time, and there were a few people that, obviously, their imagination couldn't deal with that," she says, chuckling. "So I had to go down and...just try and convince them to give me the role."

Convince them she did: Page landed the part and proceeded to throw herself into it, connecting with Hayley even as Hard Candy's script takes the character into dark, uncomfortable territory. "To be honest, I just saw Hayley as this extremely intelligent, passionate young woman, full of so much integrity," she says. "I found her really inspiring, and I just put my heart into that. There [are] a lot of things in this world that make me angry, and it was a really fantastic outlet for letting those things out. I just let my heart connect to it."

Though she was only 17 when Hard Candy was shot, Page, who hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia, already had plenty of experience in the biz. At age 10 she nabbed a leading role in the Canadian TV movie Pit Pony, which eventually became a series and landed the actor Gemini and Young Artist awards nominations. She won two Geminis: one for the TV movie Mrs. Ashboro's Cat, the other for her supporting role in the series ReGenesis. She's also been featured in the indie films Marion Bridge, Wilby Wonderful, and Mouth to Mouth, which is getting a limited U.S. release this spring.

Despite so much success at such a young age, Page says she's been able to remain grounded because of her parents, who never pushed or pressured her. "It's really freaky, those stage parents, and I'm really grateful that not even for a second do I have parents like that," she says. "I'm just this kid from Nova Scotia, you know?"

Page was in Halifax when she got wind of the role of Kitty Pryde, aka Shadowcat. She had recently graduated from high school and was having "a grand old teenage few weeks of craziness," she remembers. "[I] got this call that was like, 'Are you interested? They've called; they've expressed interest.' I was like, 'I'm really not so sure if I want to make that step right now.'" Doing such a large-scale film, she says, seemed pretty crazy compared to everything else she'd done, and she wasn't sure she was ready for the transition.

A call from X-Men director Brett Ratner swayed her. "Brett Ratner called me to say, 'I've seen Hard Candy, and I'd like you, basically, to be this character,'" she says. "So I went out for a screen test, and that was pretty much it. It was very quick and crazy."

Page's star is definitely on the rise, and she'll have to get used to less anonymity once X-Men hits theatres. But the actor seems determined to keep her head out of the clouds and stay true to herself. For instance, she opted to take a break from acting, right after Hard Candy, to gain a little perspective. "I'd shot some very intense stuff," she recalls. "I had moved out of my home, and I was living in Toronto and going to school. I think my head was just getting removed from my body a little, in the sense of I just really needed to connect to myself and make sure I was growing as me and I was having experiences as myself. So I said, 'I'm gonna go home to Halifax and go to this amazing Buddhist high school called Shambhala,' and that's exactly what I did. And it was the best thing I could have done. I love acting, but I also want to make sure I establish a balance where I'm okay when I'm not acting and that it doesn't become some addiction that my happiness depends on."

Source: www.backstage.com

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