'I was very nervous, intimidated going into that film: It's Woody Allen ... I didn't want to screw up,' Canadian actress says|
by Katherine Monk, Postmedia News, published on July 6, 2012
She's currently playing an action hero in one of the most ambitious real-time video games ever conceived, and she recently starred as a sex goddess in Woody Allen's new comedy. So if you ever thought Ellen Page may get pegged as a quirky, girlie lead after her Oscar-nominated turn in Juno, it's time to think again.
The former child star from Halifax is all over the acting map of late. In addition to working with Allen on To Rome with Love, as well as French game guru David Cage on the pioneering Beyond, Page recently hooked up with Lynn Shelton (Your Sister's Sister) on the forthcoming Touchy Feely, as well as the Sundance-feted Brit Marling to play an eco-terrorist in The East.
"I feel insanely grateful for the opportunities right now," says Page as she treads the streets of Tinseltown on her mobile. "I'm being challenged on so many levels."
Page has two central challenges at this particular moment. The first is immediate and professional, and consists of sticking dots to her face and shooting motion-capture sequences as Jodie, a character who will age over the course of 15 years - and blow lots of stuff up in the process - in Beyond: Two Souls, a mega-budget action game for Sony to be released next year.
The second central task is handling all the questions surrounding Monica, Page's unique take on the stereotypical femme fatale who provides Jesse Eisenberg and Alec Baldwin with plenty of romantic, comic fodder in Woody Allen's loosey-goosey Italian romp.
For the first time in her long career, Page was asked to play the consummate seductress, and while she relished the chance to work with Allen - as well as Penelope Cruz, Roberto Benigni and Judy Davis - she also had her fair share of apprehension.
"I was very nervous and intimidated going into that film: It's Woody Allen, and trying to take someone's work who is one of the greatest screenplay writers of all time, and bring it to life ... I didn't want to screw it up."
Page makes light of her own angst - but the point is sincere. Monica is a tough character to embrace because she seduces a man behind the back of her best friend, without feeling a hint of consequence.
"She moves from moment to moment without an incredible amount of thought or responsibility," she says. "She's complicated. We don't know if the things that are said about her are a facade, or if she really is profoundly meaningful at every moment. What's clear is she floats through life without an ability to really understand the impact of her actions."
Page says she can't judge the characters she plays. "I do my best to attach to them at a core level so I can find some honest truth and connection with them."
With Monica, Page says she had to have a phone call with Allen before she really felt comfortable inserting herself into the folds of the character.
"I had concerns after first reading the character because I didn't fully know what Woody's vision was for her. I spoke to him directly on the phone and we had a lovely conversation about it, and that got me more excited about figuring out how to create this girl without her becoming [a stereotype]. I can't even become that ... I don't have big [boobs]."
Page doesn't disclose what Allen told her, and she says she can't say much about the neurotic creator because he's a very quiet guy.
"People prepare you for the first meeting and tell you it will be very short. And it is. I think I met him for seven minutes. I've never worked with a director who is as quiet and reserved as Woody. And that was weirdly intimidating. Not that I need someone to tell me I'm doing a good job. I don't. But his quietness made me wonder if what I was doing, and what he was seeing, was working."
Indeed, that will be a call every viewer will have to make for him or herself. Page brings a very different twist to the standard object of desire. Fusing a childlike sense of curiosity with a sexual power, Page cooks up a tasty dish.
"I sometimes get confused about what people are really asking me when they ask about Monica and female sexuality. Does every female character infused with sexuality have to look like the images predominantly displayed in the media? And when women are given a greater amount of sexual fluidity on screen, why do people focus on that so much more than, say, what Jesse's character goes through?" You can tell Page is marching as she speaks, just by the measure of her breath.
"I think there's a lot of emptiness in Monica. She needs to be filled up by other people. She needs people to be enraptured by her. She needs the next fix of the next acting job. And she ends up moving along from one fantasy to the next."
Page says she tries not to get too analytical about any of it - not the character, and not her increasingly busy career. After all, the streets of Los Angeles can be just as cruel to the pragmatists as the dreamers.
"It's just a job. ... But I feel fortunate that since I started acting at the age of 10 that I've had lovely people in my life, who are still in my life, who are older and have been there for me in a way that is supportive, but separate, from the work I do."