Page went to TIFF with two movies, Lionsgate's 'Freeheld' and 'Into the Forest,' which sold to A24.|
by Anne Thompson, published on September 30, 2015 - 7:47 AM
At the recent Toronto International Film Festival, actress Ellen Page was delighted to be showing two films she not only starred in but produced to her fellow Canadians. Lionsgate will open Peter Sollett's "Freeheld" on October 2; the film co-starring Julianne Moore is based on HBO's 2008 Oscar-winning documentary short about same-sex partners fighting against discrimination. Patricia Rozema's unpredictable survival drama "Into the Forest," co-starring Evan Rachel Wood, debuted in Toronto and quickly sold to hot indie distributor A24 for 2016 release. Which gives it a strong chance of being widely seen.
Getting involved as a producer came organically on both films. She loved the Jean Hegland novel "Into the Forest," about two sisters living with their father in a modern home deep in the Northwest woods who go off the grid during a prolonged blackout. Much like "The Martian," the film is about being smart and capable enough to figure out how to survive.
Page, who admires Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men," thought it would make a good movie, developed the project with her producing partner Kelly Bush Novak, and gave it to Canadian filmmaker Rozema ("Mansfield Park"). She wanted to lend this story a woman’s perspective and likes working with female directors like Rozema and Lynn Shelton, but adds, "a good director is a good director."
She pursued long-time acquaintance Wood, who jumped in; they formed such a deep bond during the year they sought financing--which finally came from Canadian sources-- and during shooting that when they wrapped they were both devastated. "Because we are so close," says Page, "it was one of the best acting experience ever for me."
Page likes the way Rozema makes the natural world and the old forest itself a character in the film. "We are realizing how disconnected we are from what it means to be human and alive and nature and all these things we used to know," she says. For the film she learned how to chop wood, shoot a 22 rifle and butcher a pig --on-screen. "I'm a bit of a nerd," she says. "I like learning new things. I'd never done anything like that before."
She went straight from shooting "Into the Forest" to gay rights drama "Freeheld" without much time in between, she says. She had to walk right in and get to know Moore, who plays a New Jersey police detective with terminal cancer who wants her pension to go to her auto mechanic partner. "Fortunately we connected quickly; she's one of the best people working." It was liberating, to say the least, for Page, who came out with a public speech on February 14, 2014, to "play a gay character, telling a story about two women who are so truly brave and so emotional at a time of unimaginable difficulty and sadness."
Page became involved with developing the movie with producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg after the doc won the Oscar. "There are statistically less available parts for an out gay actor," she says, while she has no trouble playing straight characters as she does in "Into the Forest." "Audiences want to see diversity in TV and film, like 'Orange is New Black.' I'm developing things as a way to work with amazing actresses that are my dear friends, who don’t get to work together, which guys do all the time."
One such pal is Kate Mara, who Page plans to work with on "a beautiful love story between two women," she says. They're developing the film with producer Christine Vachon.