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» Isn’t she Rome-antic?

Nova Scotia film star Ellen Page has to pinch herself when she considers her latest role in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love
by Stephen Cooke, published on July 11, 2012 - 4:16am

Monica (Ellen Page) and Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) star in To Rome with Love. (Sony Pictures Classics)

For an actor, it’s the very definition of a dream assignment.

Who could say no to a couple of weeks in Rome, shooting a frothy romantic comedy with Woody Allen, a master of the art form?

Page returns to the big screen for the first time since Christopher Nolan’s 2010 big-budget brain puzzle Inception in a film that could be considered its exact opposite, To Rome With Love, opening Friday at Halifax’s Oxford Theatre.

When she got the call, the Nova Scotia actress was looking for the right project to end the self-imposed hiatus that followed back-to-back shoots on Inception and the superhero dramedy Super, with fellow Juno cast member Rainn Wilson.

What better way to get back in the game than by working with the one filmmaker every actor wants to have stamped on their professional passport?

“It’s pretty spectacular,” says Page over the phone from California, where she’s gearing up for Comic-Con International in San Diego.

“I mean, here is one of the greatest screenplay writers and directors of all time, who has a body of work that is kind of astonishing, really. He’s not just a cinematic icon but a cultural icon, and the idea of interacting with him, let alone being part of one of his films, is a pretty incredible opportunity and an amazing experience, quite frankly.”

The 25-year-old actor recalls growing up with Allen’s films, watching Annie Hall in her teens and becoming enamoured of his more adult comedies like Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters.

In To Rome With Love, there’s a mix of grown-up romance and childlike fantasy in its four intertwining stories, with Allen himself playing a classical music impresario who discovers a tremendous tenor who can only sing in the shower, Italian everyman Roberto Benigni as a working stiff besieged by paparazzi for no discernible reason, and Penelope Cruz as a flashy escort who must pretend to be a young professional’s fiancee for reasons that are too convoluted to go into here.

In Page’s segment, she plays Monica, a free-spirited actress visiting her best friend Sally (Damsels in Distress’s Greta Gerwig) in Rome, but she starts to fall for Sally’s boyfriend Jack (The Social Network’s Jesse Eisenberg). While Jack gives her a guided tour of the Eternal City, Alec Baldwin is on hand as a kind of Greek chorus, arguing with Monica and Jack about why they shouldn’t become involved, with some of the most beautiful sites in Western civilization as a backdrop.

“That’s when you’re pinching yourself over your career choice,” says Page with a laugh.

“I’m getting paid to come to Rome and work with incredible actors and enjoy the experience of working on a Woody Allen film, and I get to play a kind of character that I haven’t really played before.

“And I get to dive into this incredible world. It was really a wonderful experience.”

She also got to experience Allen’s well-known directing methods, where casting is half the battle and he simply lets the actors find their own voice for their characters, shooting scenes quickly and efficiently so they can stay in the moment and not over-think their parts.

“It’s liberating in a way but also a bit frightening. You’re already intimidated going into it, you’re speaking his words and you don’t want to screw it up. It’s not like I need someone to go, ‘Hey, good job!’ because I absolutely don’t, but he’s so quiet in his way and he gives you so much freedom. He wants you to make it grounded, and he wants you to embody (the role) and make it real.”

Making it real was a much more challenging task in Page’s next project, the PlayStation 3 adventure/action game Beyond: Two Souls, from David Cage, the creator of 2010’s interactive kidnapping thriller Heavy Rain. She plays Jodie Holmes, a tough, but mysterious woman with telekinetic powers and an invisible sidekick who guides her, like the giant rabbit in Harvey, as she flees the black ops forces trying to contain her.

“They’ve come up with this mix of paranormal elements and epic tragedy, mixed with incredible action. In the centre of it is this really cool female protagonist that I feel grateful to get to play,” she explains.

“Would that opportunity pop up in a Hollywood action movie? Probably not.

“It’s rare that you see that.”

As someone whose video game experience ended with the first-generation PlayStation, Page found the combination of interactive game playing and narrative storytelling an exciting challenge. Although she’d done green screen work for Inception and X-Men 3, there was something more intimate and strange about working in a French motion capture studio to create Beyond: Two Souls’ story with its numerous permutations, depending on the actions of the player.

“You go in and it’s completely raw, and you feel like you’re six years old. One minute you’re in a submarine made out of C-stands and cardboard, the next you’re running through the forest.”

Page has two more films on the way — political thriller The East, with True Blood’s vampiric bad boy Alexander Skarsgard, and the dysfunctional family comedy-drama Touchy Feely — but it’s with Beyond: Two Souls that Page returns to Comic-Con this weekend. The gig is to whip up some gamer enthusiasm for its high-tech mix of film noir and Stephen King’s Carrie, and since she attended two years ago with the cast and director of Super, she can’t wait to get another dose of current pop culture overload.

“I loved the experience,” she says enthusiastically. “I brought a mask, and I wore it and walked around the event. It was really fantastic, there’s amazing energy there, and there’s all this stuff — like being involved with this project — that’s all new.

“It’s pretty fantastic to have a job where everything I do is new and different, but this takes new and different to a whole new level.”

Source: thechronicleherald.ca

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