by Linda Barnard, published on June 10, 2016|
Ellen Page never thought she'd have to butcher a pig.
But she does it onscreen in Canadian drama "Into the Forest," with all the shuddering discomfort imaginable in portraying Nell, a teen struggling to survive along with her older sister Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) in an isolated house in the Pacific Northwest following a catastrophic, continentwide power cut.
"It was difficult. It's not something I thought I would do in my life, really, " said the soft-spoken actress, who also produced the film after discovering Jean Hegland's postapocalyptic novel while in her native Halifax.
Page learned butchering techniques at a British Columbia restaurant for the scene, which was "as difficult as it should be, as upsetting as it should be."
"She just did it, " said director Patricia Rozema ("Mansfield Park," "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing") who also wrote the film's screenplay. "Camera operators were dropping like flies because it was disturbing but the whole movie, I wanted it to be raw and real."
It was also challenging for co-star Wood, who "broke all the capillaries around her eyes," during a key, intensely dramatic scene, Rozema said.
The Toronto-based writer-director admitted to being "a little nervous to tell you the truth" about working with Page "because she's the producer and I was thinking, 'What am I going to do if it's a completely different take on the character and I don't see it?'"
As it turned out, the two meshed well, Rozema said.
"We both have a similar way to deal with conflict because we're both strong."
Page appears shy, but when the actress gets into a subject, she opens up with sincere warmth.
In an interview at TIFF last September, she talked about how she was "really, really enjoying the experience" of being a producer, both on this film and Freeheld, where she co-starred with Julianne Moore.
Page was soon to start work on Viceland series Gaycation, which she co-hosts and co-produced.
Viewers follow Page and best friend Ian Daniel as they travel the world exploring LGBT cultures. The series has just been renewed.
"It can be a lot of work but I love it, I love adding a new dimension to my job, " said Page of producing.
"I've been acting since I was 10 and I love it and, of course, it's always different and I meet new people and it's awesome but I do like this new challenge and I do like learning."
The sisters of "Into the Forest" reflect modern privileged lives many of us lead, Page pointed out.
So, Eva and Nell are crabby about the initial inconvenience of power loss.
Eva is working on an audition for a modern dance company (Crystal Pite choreographed Wood's impressive dance work), while Nell is studying for university entrance exams.
With no music and no Internet, how can they reach their goals?
The bread is stale and there's no fresh milk. And then there's that boy in town Nell is crushing on (Max Minghella) and is desperate to meet again.
As the months pass, the sisters must contend with far more urgent issues.
Page explained in September that she and Wood spent a great deal of time together to make their onscreen relationship seem authentic.
"I'm not method by any means, nor would you see me on a set and think I am, but there was something that happened in the way Evan and I related to each other that really went so much deeper and really transformed and it was one of the most special and intense experiences I've had as an actor, " said Page.
"Into the Forest" feels real with good reason, Page said this week, adding "the film to me does feel like something like, yes, this could happen. I think that's what a lot of people resonate with."
Page said after she read "Into the Forest," she went to Oregon to study permaculture (sustainable agriculture) design and eco-village development.
Like most of us in their situation, Eva and Nell expect the power to come back on.
"I like to think part of the film is how long they cling to that and their own expectations in their own lives, which are totally valid dreams and goals, " said Page.
In the real world, we're told to stockpile limited supplies in case of an emergency, Rozema observed. "Nobody is planning for more than three days."
The house is also a central character in the film.
Rozema was thrilled to be able to shoot in a home designed by Canadian west coast modernist architect Frederick Hollingsworth, a contemporary of U.S. architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright.
The house begins to decay as nature overwhelms the structure over the seasons — also a metaphor for society's collapse — and Rozema praised production designer Jeremy Stanbridge for making it happen onscreen without leaving a mark on the treasured building.