The Canadian actress turned real-life superhero when she came out to the world on Valentine’s Day. By STÉPHANIE VERGE
Ellen Page wants to go for a walk. It’s a sunny Los Angeles day, and rather than sit in the see-and-be-seen Chateau Marmont, the hotel she’s staying at while her new house is being finished, Page is angling her black Audi through tortuous hills toward the Hollywood Reservoir, an artificial lake and hiking hot spot in the Santa Monica Mountains. The five-foot-one actress has described her gait as “weird” in the past, but once we’re on the trail, all I notice is that—at almost 10 inches shorter than me—she’s in the lead.
The scrubby canyons are a wild contrast to the harbour-city terrain of Halifax, her childhood home, but Page, 27, who has lived in L.A. for five years, is a California convert. Nearby Joshua Tree National Park is a favourite destination, and one mention sends Page into a soliloquy about Salton Sea, the landlocked, salt-filled sinkhole around which a Palm Springs–type resort community was built and later largely abandoned. “It’s the craziest place because it feels post-apocalyptic or even what L.A. is; only L.A.’s disguised, for now at least,” she says. “There’s something super beautiful about Salton Sea, but you feel like Oh, this is what we’ll be.”
End of days is clearly a preoccupation of Page’s. The East, an espionage thriller released last summer, featured her as the doomed disciple in an eco-anarchist cell committed to toppling major corporations. Her upcoming family drama Into the Forest takes place in a near future on the brink of calamity. Even the new X-Men: Days of Future Past (May 23) is gloomy and gritty, eschewing the zip and zingers of Marvel’s other properties; consider these mutants the Avengers’ depressive, war-worn cousins. Days of Future Past is a dual sequel, featuring characters from the original X-Men trilogy and the 2011 “young X-Men” prequel First Class.
Used to small-budget indies, Page was surprisingly drawn to the franchise. “I was interested in experiencing what that kind of filmmaking meant. The amazing thing about X-Men is that, despite the extremity of the circumstance and the superhero nature of it, the story is deeply human and deeply moving.” Page’s character, Kitty Pryde (a.k.a. Shadowcat) is pivotal to the Days of Future Past plot: as she fights for survival in a grungy future, her ability to turn intangible and move through objects allows her to mentally launch clawed comrade Wolverine back in time in an attempt to save the mutants from destruction. “Kitty is rad and tough and strong, especially in this new one—she’s older and her abilities have evolved,” Page says. “She has more of an edge because of what she’s been dealing with. They’re essentially running for their lives in a decimated, post-apocalyptic future.”
Page is passionate about capital-I Issues—our dystopian-themed conversation winds through such topics as sustainable agriculture, climate change, vegetarianism and how the sudden decline in the bee population could be disastrous for the global food supply. Given the warm and wealthy locale, her concern could seem disingenuous—or delusional. But Page carefully and consistently points out that she’s aware she speaks from a place of privilege. That Audi didn’t buy itself.
Growing up in Nova Scotia, she was raised by parents supportive of her two passions: acting and soccer. When her debut in the CBC television series Pit Pony led to a raft of TV and film parts, she had to sacrifice her field time, a difficult decision for the then-17-year-old athlete. “I loved having sports and the artistic, creative side of being an actor.” But Page doesn’t do anything in half measures, so she applied herself to life on set with the same seriousness she once took to the soccer field.
In someone else, such intensity might grate, but Page’s earnestness is tempered by a droll, disarming wit, one she famously plied in her Oscar-nominated performance as the titular pregnant high-schooler in the 2007 sleeper hit Juno. After seeing a red-hoodied Page exact revenge on a suspected sexual predator in the 2005 thriller Hard Candy, director Jason Reitman knew he had his lead. Even when she’s bad, she’s very, very good: one day on the Juno set, Page was in the throes of a seemingly uncontrollable laughing fit when she looked up at the ceiling for a nanosecond and then launched into a monologue that made the film’s final cut.
Reitman gleefully compared the moment to “attending an air show and watching an F-16 that is nosediving into the ground pull up and do the most gorgeous aerial acrobatics. She is a master fighter pilot.” He continues: “The only other actor I’ve ever worked with like that is Charlize Theron. The difference is Charlize is almost six feet tall, so when she comes out with that energy, you expect it, because she is a lion. When Ellen Page comes out with it, it’s like the dark matter of the universe. That much energy is not supposed to exist in someone so small.”
Few could argue that Page was ever more of a master fighter than on Valentine’s Day 2014. With a quiver in her voice and wearing a T-shirt proclaiming “All Love Is Equal,” she stood in front of a crowded Las Vegas room at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s inaugural Time to Thrive conference and uttered the words every adolescent lesbian who’s ever watched (and rewatched) the roller derby flick Whip It dreams of hearing: “I am here today because I’m gay.” She went on to say that she was “tired of lying by omission.” It was the eight-minute speech pinged around the blogosphere, and one that Page and her manager planned meticulously in collaboration with the HRC Foundation. Page wanted her announcement to be aligned with a cause, ideally one having to do with LGBTQ youth (promoting the safety, inclusion and well-being of queer teens is an HRC Foundation priority). And she wanted it to happen soon: “The more time went by, the more something just happened, an Oh my god—I want to love someone freely and walk down the street and hold my girlfriend’s hand.”
When I remark that she seemed nervous that night, Page smiles her trademark half-smile and acquiesces with a laugh, a sigh and some rat-a-tat repetition. “I was very nervous. I was very nervous, yes. Yes. Very, very nervous. Yes. I was emotional, deeply, deeply emotional.” Though she told her parents she liked-liked girls when she was 19, she was still coming out to herself eight years on. “You think you’re in a place where you’re all I’m thrilled to be gay, I have no issues about being gay anymore, I don’t feel shame about being gay, but you actually do. You’re just not fully aware of it. I think I still felt scared about people knowing. I felt awkward around gay people; I felt guilty for not being myself.”
One of the perks of being an out lesbian: being able to wear whatever you want. Less than three weeks after her big speech, Page attended the Vanity Fair Oscar party wearing a leather-accented Saint Laurent tux by Hedi Slimane. “I felt happy and confident and the difference was huge,” says Page. (She uses celebrity stylist Samantha McMillen, who also dressed Page for this cover story.) For years, she endured pressure to conform to industry standards, i.e., dresses, but those days are over. On April 12, she donned the double-breasted Saint Laurent jacket from her FLARE shoot for the GLAAD Media Awards. The following evening, she appeared at the MTV Movie Awards decked out in the leather pants, untucked oxford shirt and tie also featured here.
For our hike, Page wore ripped jeans—bought at age 17 and featured in both Juno and The Tracey Fragments—a charcoal tee and a plaid shirt (both thrift-shop finds) and electric blue New Balance sneakers, all topped off with wood-framed sunglasses and a black cap with the words “Tom Boy” stitched in white block letters. She is done hiding.
Page is single—but would like her future girlfriend, if she’s reading, to know that she can’t wait to hang out with her. She won’t divulge details about past relationships and doesn’t plan to dish down the road, but, she says, she’ll “always be happy to talk about being gay.” It’s a far cry from just a few months ago, when stressors included not being able to refer to an ex without having to be careful about pronoun use. Speculation surrounding Page’s personal life isn’t likely to die down, though; alleged lady loves have included Clea DuVall and Drew Barrymore. And Page will keep talking, if only to address a glaring disparity in her industry: “You hear things like, ‘People shouldn’t know about your life because you’re creating an illusion on-screen.’ But I don’t see other actresses going to great lengths to hide their heterosexuality. That’s an unfair double standard.”
Overall, Page’s coming-out experience was a wonderful one: “I expected so much more hate,” she says. “It was just remarkably positive, which is beautiful, because it’s indicative of the change that’s happening.” The day following her Vegas revelation, however, Page was boarding a flight when a man approached her and identified himself as a pastor. Page thought nothing of it, even upon receiving a handwritten note from him two hours into the flight. She assumed, rather sweetly, that it was a letter of support. Then she opened it. “It was the worst kind of homophobia,” says Page, “because it wasn’t just ‘You deserve to burn in hell.’ It was ‘While God thinks it’s lovely that you stood up for your beliefs, perhaps you’ve never had the loving arms of a father.’” The missive was signed, “Your Heavenly Daddy.” She later responded using the farthest-reaching tool in her arsenal, Twitter: “2 da Pastor who wrote me—Being gay isn’t a belief. My soul isn’t struggling & I don’t want arms of Heavenly Father around me. A girl’s arms? Yes.” It was retweeted more than 14,000 times.
Page is monitoring new avenues now accessible to her as an activist, and though the timing is coincidental, her coming out dovetailed nicely with the announcement that Julianne Moore had signed on as her co-star in Freeheld, the real-life story of a terminally ill New Jersey police detective who fought to get her pension transferred to her same-sex domestic partner before her death. It’s a project to which Page has been attached since she was 21 and one set to start shooting, at last, this fall.
Once Page is in, she’s all in. Fellow Canadian Shawn Ashmore, who plays the cryokinetic mutant Bobby “Iceman” Drake in The Last Stand and Days of Future Past, remembers a moment eight years ago when he and his co-star were strapped together at the top of a building, staring down into a hole 70-odd feet below. It was stunt time. The pair—secured by cables—would have to launch themselves earthward, aiming, as best they could, for the pit. On film, Pryde’s ability to phase through matter would allow them to sink into the ground and ricochet, unscathed. “When we were on the ground, the hole looked giant, but once we got up there, it seemed like trying to dive into a glass of water,” says Ashmore. “I look over at Ellen and she has a big grin on her face. Later, she told this story on set like it was the greatest thing that ever happened; I was convinced we were going to break our legs and may never walk again. Maybe Ellen is just braver than I am.”
The five-kilometre Reservoir loop completed, we circle back to the hotel, and conversation returns to the global anxiety over a coming apocalypse. Page struggles with how to lead a good life that takes into account everything from food security to LGBTQ rights. For now, she’s excited by the prospect of producing, writing and eventually directing. “I feel more creatively inspired than I have in years,” she says. “And I’m sure it has to do with a lot of bricks being taken out of the backpack.” As we part, Page removes her sunglasses for the first time. Exposed, her brown, almond-shaped eyes look a little tired, but she’s flashing that lopsided smile. She’s right where she wants to be—open and unfettered. Finally.
FLARE’s June 2014 issue is available on newsstands and Next Issue Canada on May 12.
Photography by Nino Muñoz for StocklandMartel.com
Styling by Samantha McMillen