Spunky girl or fearless flirt, the Canadian actor can play anyone. Ellen Page talks about (super) heroes, dogs and films that make her cry.
Ms. Page, Superheroes have been part of pop culture from the very beginning and now, in the Netflix series “The Umbrella Academy,” you have also gotten involved with them. How do you explain their unceasing popularity?
Maybe because right now a lot of people are feeling quite hopeless and can identify, in a real way, with characters that are dealing with insecurities, difficulties and a sense of isolation and loneliness – apart from discovering who they are and becoming comfortable with that. Also, it coincides with the discovery of their power, and that is what makes them unusual. So we end up with deeply human stories that are very accessible. And then you have this element of super secret power that we all at some point dream of having.
Do you find playing a superhero inspiring?
No, it’s just an acting challenge. The character I play doesn’t actually have powers, anyway. She has been left out, ostracized, and treated pretty horribly by her father.
Do you have to be careful not to let a character like this get under your skin?
Yes, because it can be unconscious, you don’t even notice it happening. If you are in a space where you are living through things physically and mentally all day, you have to remember to step back a little bit.
How do you shake off a role once you’ve finished a film?
By walking my dog, throwing the ball for my dog, hugging my dog …
Do you learn things from him, too?
Sure! My dog teaches me to notice stuff: “Dude, that tree is awesome!” Or “Dude, come over here, look at this cool path.” He is always stoked about everything. Spending time with him reminds me to get out of my head and drop back into reality and go: “I’m walking my dog right now.”
Does your dog have any superpowers?
He definitely has powers, because he can communicate with me telepathically.
Okay, fun aside: Who are your real heroes?
In terms of classic superheroes, I liked Batman when I was a little kid. Now, there are so many people that I look up to and admire, activists and people around the world who do extraordinary work for other human beings. The list is endless.
You yourself became a hero for many people when you came out publicly in 2014. Are you aware of that?
I feel fortunate when I meet people on the street who tell me my documentary series “Gaycation,” in which I reported on queer life around the world, has helped them in some way. I feel grateful to be able to reach people.
Do you actively choose roles that allow you to throw light on important issues?
What I really do is choose parts that excite me. It can be a gut feeling. I loved the pilot for “The Umbrella Academy” and the moment I finished the screenplay, I wanted to know what happened next. I knew it was a good story.
Do you stream movies and shows?
To be honest, I am not a big watcher right now but I love “Friday Night Lights,” which is funny, because I’m from Halifax, Nova Scotia, up in Canada, and I don’t watch American football. And here’s this show about high school football in Texas, and I watched each episode twice. Another of my favorite shows is “Six Feet Under.”
It would benefit the film industry to take more risks
Those shows all finished long ago. What do you watch now when you get the chance?
Old films like Harold and Maude or Rust and Bone, which I love. Marion Cotillard is so good in that. My wife wasn’t into movies that much, so I’ve been showing her old favorites of mine. So far we have very similar taste. We recently watched You Can Count On Me together, and we were just sobbing.
Do you cry easily?
It depends. Certain things move different people, but when I am moved by a movie, I don’t hold back. I am grateful for the movie and for the feeling. I feel like it’s part of the plan.
Some people fear that streaming will replace the cinema experience. What do you think?
For the most part, it’s a wildly positive development. Two years ago I did a film called Tallulah, a very low-budget, independent movie that I loved doing, but it might never have been seen if it had been shown in theaters. Netflix bought it and it was out in 80 countries. The project I am working on with Netflix right now is called “Tales of the City” and is a revamp of the shows of the early ’90s. It’s about LGBTQ characters having a platform and the resources to tell their stories. Something like this was really not happening in the film industry back then. So there are all these incredible positives that would also benefit the film industry in terms of taking more risks and telling stories from different people’s perspectives.
Is that your goal, to tell new stories?
No, I don’t want to direct a movie, I’d like to spend more time with my wife. I want to do things based on connectedness, like love and friendship.
Is that why we’re here, to connect?
We can’t know the meaning of life. But all the division and discrimination and exploitation of people causes nothing but pain and suffering. That’s why it’s important to connect. Maybe some friendly aliens will show up and save us.