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Interview: Ellen Page doesn’t spend much time worrying about what straight men think… – Washington Post
In case the skinny ties and the leather pants and the rock-and-roll boots she’s been wearing lately haven’t been enough to clue you in, actress Ellen Page does not spend a whole lot of time these days worrying about what straight guys think of her.
Call it a low bar, but in Hollywood, this is quietly revolutionary.
Page works in an industry where the worth of women, especially young women, is historically tied to the whims and gazes of straight men. Be it studio heads, or directors, or audiences made up of adolescent boys and men, or even their own co-stars, so much of an actress’s working life is colored by what men find attractive.
Not long after she charmed audiences as the titular character in 2007’s “Juno,” Page found herself sucked into Hollywood’s Glam Industrial Complex. She’d show up on red carpets in gowns, high heels and perfect makeup; in 2009, lad mag FHM named her to its list of the world’s “Sexiest 100” women.
But then Page, who is now 28, came out in February 2014 in an emotional speech delivered at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive youth conference in Las Vegas. And as she reveled in being comfortable with who she was, her gender presentation began to shift. For one, she began eschewing dresses. These days, Page tends to gravitate toward a more androgynous aesthetic of button-down shirts, blazers and skinny pants.
When asked if she’d detected a difference in the way straight men interact with her since changing her personal style, Page responded, “No, not at all. But maybe that’s because I’m never thinking about that.” She cracked a bit of a smile as she sat with her back to a window in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown. “That’s just not something that would ever cross my mind, how a straight man’s perceiving me.”
Recently, Matt Damon found himself in a bit of trouble after an interview with the Guardian, specifically for comments he made about gay actors being punished professionally for being out. He named Rupert Everett as an example.
Then he continued: “I think it must be really hard for actors to be out publicly. But in terms of actors, I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.”
Damon doesn’t keep his own sexuality a secret. He routinely appears on red carpets with his wife, Luciana Barroso. But sexuality is about more than just who you’re dating. Page made the conscious decision to make a shift in her gender presentation after years of submitting to dressing in typical starlet drag.
“There’s a double standard,” Page said. “That’s something that would get said to you: ‘Keep your private life private, no one needs to know. You’re creating an illusion.’ And you’d be like, mm-hmm, mm-hmm. But I don’t see heterosexual actors and actresses going to great lengths to hide their heterosexuality… it’s not fair because heterosexual people get to exist in their heterosexuality all the time without thinking about it.”
Sean Penn was famously and openly straight for decades before he played Harvey Milk. The same was true of Heath Ledger, who had a daughter with partner Michelle Williams and quite convincingly played Ennis Del Mar in “Brokeback Mountain.”
When Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2005, she opened the interview with a statement: “You’ve got to be really secure in yourself to do a movie about two gay men being in love and then not worry about being typecast,” she said.
When gay actors are out, gay roles don’t get treated as though they come with a one-way ticket to a leper colony in lieu of payment.
“I’m happier than I could have ever imagined, and happier in my career,” Page said. “When you’re closeted you’re closed off, you’re sad, you’re uninspired. A huge part of me was like, ‘Do I keep wanting to do this job?’ The fact that I can be out and live my life and be happy has a ripple effect in everything that you do, including your work.”
In 10 years, progress on this front has been both profound and incremental. After Page came out, something started happening.
“I am excited to say that I see more gay stories,” Page said. “I want to see those stories. I want to see more LGBT stories and I want to keep playing gay people.”
Page is starring opposite Julianne Moore in the movie “Freeheld,” which tells the true story of Laurel Hester (Moore) and Stacie Andree, two women who fought for their domestic partnership to be recognized by the freeholders, the legislators of Ocean County, New Jersey. Hester was a closeted detective who was dying of lung cancer when she and Andree waged a public battle so that Andree could receive Hester’s pension after she died in 2006.
Page is also producing and starring in “Lioness,” another based-on-true-life take about Marine Lance Cpl. Leslie Martz.
Page’s girlfriend, Samantha Thomas, has made appearances with her as she promotes “Freeheld,” showing up for the first time this year at the Toronto Film Festival.
“I’m bringing her with me because I’m in love with her,” Page said. “I’m going to the premiere of my movie… and it’s an extremely special and meaningful night for me. Of course I want her by my side.”
As the number of films focused on gay stories grows, the types of stories being told still remains limited. Films that enjoy big promotional budgets and also center on queer narratives truck almost exclusively in representations of queer people as oppressed minorities who are either constantly and nobly fighting for their rights, or suffering in quiet, closeted desperation. In the last 10 years alone, “Stonewall,” “The Danish Girl,” “Freeheld,” “The Imitation Game,” “TransAmerica,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Milk,” “Dallas Buyers Club” and “A Single Man” have all occupied this space.
What results in popular culture is an unfinished and maudlin portrait. Of course, there’s more than just the struggles that surround being queer — they have superficial romantic drama, they can be sociopathic or clumsy and funny or terribly idiotic when it comes to fighting off space monsters, too.
“Weirdly, television has got a certain freedom… It’s just an interesting time where there’s been an ability to have more freedom, freedom to tell different stories,” Page said. “I think of ‘Orange Is the New Black’ and we’re seeing actors who otherwise we may not have had the opportunity to see, who are extraordinary, because they just don’t get opportunities. I think television honestly was just taking more risks, and they paid off.”
But by and large, we don’t see LGBT characters simply existing in movies where the story isn’t explicitly about battling the struggles of being LGBT. This is part of the reason why there was such a fuss over “The Kids Are All Right” in 2010, but it remains an exception, along with “Capote.” Page name-checked the French romance “Blue Is the Warmest Color” as another example.
Just as lead characters in “Salt” and “Our Brand is Crisis” were originally written as men before going to women (Angelina Jolie and Sandra Bullock, respectively), it may take similar action before we see a queer character leading a spy caper or a dinosaur movie.
“I think it’s going to happen,” Page said. “I don’t know if it’s going to happen tomorrow, but I think it’s going to happen. People’s minds are changing, particularly young people. I just feel like a little bit more time’s gonna go by. Right now, it does feel like, ‘When will we see a gay superhero?’
“I think it will happen quicker than we think.”
Ellen Page is attached to star in Lioness, an indie drama being developed and packaged by James Dahl, one of the producers of James Ponsoldt’s upcoming The End of the Tour.
Lioness tells the true story of Lance Corporal Leslie Martz, a U.S. Marine who was stationed in Haditha, Iraq.
Martz was sent to Afghanistan as a leader of a Female Engagement Team and tasked with the dual mandate of gaining the trust of Afghan women by equipping them with necessary skills for independence but also secretly extracting information from them about their Taliban husbands.
The soldier, who now lives in San Diego, was waging a personal war on several fronts. She was hiding the fact that was she was a gay woman in the military and on top of that found herself torn between the desire to prove herself and her superiors and the allegiance she developed toward the women and children whose strength and courage she grew to admire
Rosalind Ross, one of the writers of the El Rey Network’s action series Matador, penned the script. She will also act as a producer.
No director is on attached at this stage.