Nurtures the Screen In Juno
by Brad Balfour
When Juno was first released, who would have believed that this quirky comedy with a strong female perspective on youthful sexuality and teen pregnancy written by an ex-stripper would so resonate with both the public and the awards-nominating community? But impact it did, garnering key Oscar nominations, even though director Jason Reitman (Best Picture/Director), star Ellen Page (Best Actress) and writer Diablo Cody (Best Original Screenplay) hadn’t initially entertain such expectations.
Yet through Juno’s pixie-punk personality, and her perky yet occasionally perverse quips, Canadian Ellen Page demonstrates how cleverly she animates the snappy irreverent dialogue and left-turned story-line. That’s not to say Page has been going unnoticed; she stirred quite a bit of reaction to her redressing herself against a pedophile in Hard Candy and as a punker in Mouth to Mouth.
Now with Juno the award-gathering this year’s comedic success story to last year’s Little Miss Sunshine, the underlying implications of this film’s popularity is that there is a huge audience and fanbase for a self-aware, smart young woman like Ellen Page – or Juno MacGuff – for that matter.
Did you have to audition for this role?
Well, [director] Jason Reitman was really interested. I did a screen test with him, Michael Cera [Superbad] and J.K. Simmons [Spider-Man]. We all did it together. We just filmed a bunch of the movie, literally 45 pages, I had to learn. So basically, half of the movie and that will be in the DVD, actually.
Did Juno bring back memories of your adolescence?
Of my adolescence? Oh, I don’t know. It’s so far away. I don’t know. What do you mean?
You’re older than the character. So what did you refer to in your own past, maybe connected to the character?
Well, I think inasmuch as she’s kind of witty and has an element of intelligence and maturity, she can be extremely naive and arrogant in some situations. And I think there are definitely some aspects of that.
Are you as witty on your feet as the character you play?
Maybe not as consistently, no. I have a lot more milk duds, as my friend and I call them. Milk duds to us are one of those candies – who eats Milk Duds? Sorry if you really like Milk Duds. So when someone’s trying to be funny and it doesn’t work, we go “milk duds.”
Is that a pain that people will now expect you to be that way?
Oh no. I don’t think so.
I love your duet with Michael Cera singing that Moldy Peaches song, “Anyone Else But You”. How did the musical aspect of your character come out; was it in the script?
Well, the whole ’70s punk aspect was already in the script, which was great, because I like that kind of music, [but I’m] not crazy but into it. One of the first times I met Jason, he said, “what kind of music do you listen to?” and I said “The Moldy Peaches.” He hadn’t heard of them, so I played The Moldy Peaches and he fell in love [with them]. The next thing I knew, that song was going to be in the movie. I was ecstatic.
Do you sing and play?
Yeah, I play the guitar and sing a little.
It’s such a wonderful, beautiful scene at the end of the film. Did you rehearse a lot on that with Michael?
Well, thanks. Mike and I played it a few times together. It’s just a couple of chords, a song that’s been in my life for awhile, so I was already so familiar with that song.
What other bands do you consider a personal influence – or at least a benchmark for you in one way or another?
Sure, the benchmark bands: I’m a massive Patti Smith fan. I am a massive Cat Power fan, And The Zeros. I love Radiohead. I love their new album [In Rainbows]. Bands like that will just keep hitting me in the brain; do you know what I mean? Like Sleater-Kinney. But then I like Erik Satie, you know what I mean I could go on and on and on.
I could see some music from Erik Satie in the movie.
Yeah, it’s very François Truffaut.
Juno and Bleeker had such a great subtle chemistry. What did you find worked the best about their relationship?
I think it’s just the genuine admiration. I think that they just really do love each other and there’s nothing contrived about it. They have a really beautiful connection, and that’s such a wonderful thing. My best friend in junior high school was such a boy, and he was so extremely sweet and sensitive, and kind of a nerd. I can actually recall people who would be like – well, he was like fourth in his age in chess in all of Canada, so fill in the blanks. And people used to be like, “why do you hang out, blah blah blah?” And he was truly, absolutely my best friend and we just did everything together. So probably there was a lot of him for me present there.
Did your rapport with Bleeker (Cera’s character) onscreen mirror your rapport with the actor Michael Cera?
Yeah, I adore Michael; we got along great. He is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and I really loved spending time with him. He’s just tremendously genuine, [an] honest lovely guy.
He’s an interesting person as a love interest.
Diablo talks about this a lot: how teenage girls are misrepresented often in films, but so are boys. They’re often extremely aggressive and macho or what-have-you. And it’s definitely some of the guys in high school, but not Alex, my friend in junior high school, and not other friends that I had. So it’s nice that that gets reflected.
He’s great in it Arrested Development. Do you watch the show?
I’m a huge fan. Yeah, I’ve seen every episode.
So it was like meeting George Michael for the first time.
Yeah right, and it was funny because I was such a fan of the show, which is hilarious. So working with him and Jason [Bateman] was very wonderful.
You demonstrate such an easy rapport with everybody from J.K., who plays your dad, to Jason. Was there anybody you really needed to talk about your character and their character to get it right or did it just fall together?
This was one of those rare filming experiences where everything just felt pretty wonderful all the time. It was one of the best experiences, if not the best experience, I’ve ever had making a film. And I feel like everyone read Diablo Cody’s script and fell in love with it, and everyone was coming together because we were all just so excited about the project and being involved. So there wasn’t any ego attached and that was that.
Why did you fall in love with the script?
I think I fell in love because although it was unique and witty and all those things, it was unbelievably genuine and honest. And I felt like it was devoid of stereotype. And whenever you think you know where it’s going to go, you know what a character’s going to do, it doesn’t do that. I think it had a teenage female lead that we’ve never really seen before. So I was pretty stoked.
The film deals with teenage pregnancy in a non-cliché, non-patronizing way and recognizes how complicated it is. In working on this for so long, shooting it, thinking about it, living it – how did that affect the way that you think about teen pregnancy and the challenges involved?
It might sound bad, but I don’t think I ever really thought about it too much. I never – not even in my high school did I know anyone who had a mistake. So it was never really in my life, and I try not to judge situations in general. That’s why I typically play characters it would be really easy to judge, and you absolutely can’t do that, because it’s just going to isolate you from them and make you over-analytical. So typically, I try to just go into something as fresh as possible.
You’ve said that teenage girls and teenage guys are often misrepresented. Talk a little more about that. That was an interesting observation. I think you’re right in some ways.
Well, I think one thing that’s really interesting – whenever I play, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve gotten to play some really great young women and play roles that are extremely, to me, just honest, genuine young women. And I always get this label, “You play such strong girls”, “You play such feminist roles.” And sitting here, if I was a guy, no one would ever say that. No one would say to Emile Hirsch, “Emile, you play such strong young men.” The fact that that question gets asked to me is insulting, and I get it a lot. And it clearly shows that we have a lot of work to do, because these roles feel really right to me. I just feel [that] teenagers aren’t really treated like human beings. And it’s a drag.
Isn’t it a compliment to your stage presence, your screen presence, how you just take over the screen?
That’s nice. I don’t know, though I feel that a lot of people are like “A teenage girl can’t be like that” And I just think that’s bullshit. There’s a good film I think that outlines that. I don’t know if you have seen Jodie Foster’s The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.
I didn’t see that. With Jodie Foster?
It’s from 1974 [’76 actually; directed by Nicholas Gessner] I think, and she’s ridiculous in it. It’s so f’in good. It’s based on a play, and she’s in it with Martin Sheen. She’s extremely intelligent, and lives in this house supposedly with her father, and she’s like teaching herself Hebrew. Martin Sheen is there and he’s like, “How can you be teaching yourself Hebrew? You’re 14”. And she’s like, “A 14-year old girl can’t teach herself Hebrew?” I really liked that.
So have you turned down those kind of stereotypical roles that you were talking about?
Well, it’s funny, because I don’t really see a lot of them, because the people I work with know what I like. So it’s kind of obvious when something comes and I’m not going to like it. But a lot of the time, you’ll get a script and it will be like, “Oh, this is really good, except the role’s kind of just good for the guy, but I thought you’d want to read it.” “It’s the girlfriend.” Do you know what I mean?
Roles, films, can more often be centered around male characters. And it’s like, come on… You guys have your big egos down and your Catcher in the Rye’s” and girls don’t really get to have that very much.
Did it make a difference that Juno‘s scriptwriter was a woman?
It probably helps a little, yeah. It makes sense why there’s not that many good roles for women, or that it’s always like the wife. I’ve worked with two female directors, but it’s just like it’s not around.
What did Jason bring to the table as a director and what was your rapport with him like?
I adore Jason Reitman. Working with him was amazing because he’s extremely assured and he knows what he wants, but he’s also unbelievably collaborative and he has an enormous heart. I feel like this film needed a really specific tone, because if you take a script like this… Diablo Cody [the scriptwriter] is witty and unique and all of those things, [but] someone could have forced it, made it that pseudo Indie-American contrived stab-a-fork-in-my-eye, I-can’t-handle-this movie kind of a thing. And I feel like [Jason] really created a balance and a tone, for me at least. And helped achieve that really fine line that I think you need with such a unique script.
It’s so interesting that Juno finds an affinity with the duo who will receive her child – especially Jennifer Garner’s character. What was your experience with both Jennifer and Jason Bateman?
Sure, especially the relationship with Jen’s character, Vanessa, in a [few] scenes with her, probably [are] a couple of my favorite scenes in the film. The scene in the mall where Jen is listening to Juno’s baby, talking to the baby, I remember it being incredibly beautiful and awkward to shoot. I really had to trust Jason, because in the moment in the mall it felt bizarre. Jen is so good in this movie. It was so amazing to feel that transition in the way Juno saw this whole situation and felt the love that she has and how deeply touched she became by that, because Juno herself was kind of left by her mom. Not to get all melodramatic, but that’s definitely there. That’s definitely an aspect of her character. And so I find that pretty beautiful. Then, in regards to Mark [Bateman], it’s such an interesting thing that so many people see it in a different way. I really do think that Juno just was kind of fascinated by him and [Vanessa] and their life, which was so different from what she was used to, and [she] was definitely a little bit naive in regards to that situation.
What kind of impact will a film like this have on a 16-year-old high school girl when she watches it?
I’m excited to be honest. Because that was one of the reasons I loved the script and why I wanted to play the character. I was really adamant that the wardrobe, for example, was like nothing we’ve seen. It doesn’t go cliché with the ‘dressed in black’. You’ll have a film where the “unique girl” is as unique as listening to Good Charlotte and wearing black, and that makes me want to vomit. And I was really adamant, for example, she was wearing a sweater vest. I don’t know why, but I wanted a sweater vest and the fact that you have a teenage female lead in a film wearing a sweater vest and that’s okay. And although she’s unique and interesting, the film doesn’t go overboard on that. She just is who she is and that’s okay. And I’m really excited that that will be out in the world, because I’m just so sick and tired of there just being a void of young, genuine females – something that’s different than trying to bang the guy before prom or something, or just girls being vindictive bitches to each other. It becomes so intoxicating and frustrating [that] at the end of the film the weird girl gets beautiful so she can kiss. I can’t even tell you how mad that makes me. I can’t even tell you. It makes me want to stab myself with a fork in the eye.
The Breakfast Club?
Yes, The Breakfast Club really bothered me. You know what’s so funny, I don’t have a TV in my house and so when I’m staying at a hotel, I’m always like, “Television!” And I turned it on and, literally last night, The Breakfast Club was on. And yeah, this was an iconic movie. The coolest character, Ally Sheedy, who’s awesome, and who I love in High Art, I think is wicked, so it is nothing against that. Sorry to offend to all those who love this movie but when I first watched this movie – and I knew it was this iconic [film] breaking down the borders, bringing people together – [Sheedy] goes from being this kind of interesting quirky girl to being made quote/unquote “hot” so she can make out with fuckin’ Emilio Estevez. Give me a break.
So you didn’t stab yourself in the eye over it?
I didn’t. No, I wouldn’t do that.
If not TV, what are some things that are your guilty pleasures?
I don’t know, and I don’t mean to say it like, “Oh look at me” at all. It’s truly not something that I’m big on. But if I like a show I’ll buy it on DVD.
Are you a big reader?
Yeah. Fiction. I’m a big Haruki Murakami fan. Probably my favorite books are like Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf and I’ve read pretty much anything by Murakami. I went through a big [Kurt] Vonnegut phase. Right now, I’ve been reading non-fiction a lot. I haven’t read fiction [for a while]. I couldn’t even tell you in how many books. It’s been back to back non-fiction lately.
Can you name one book?
Oh, sure, probably The Spell of the Sensuous, by… I believe his name is David Abram. It’s incredible. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.
What inspired you to start acting in the first place? What was your big break?
Well, I fell into it when I was ten, so it was kind of an accident. I was just at school, and I was asked to audition for something by a local casting director because I was just short and had brown hair, basically.
What was the part for?
It was for a CBC movie of the week entitled Pit Pony. It took place in 1901 and I played the younger sister of the boy lead who was forced to work in the mines in Cape Breton. Nine-year-old boys worked in the mines because they were short and had ponies that would cart the coal. So it’s the story about his relationship with the pony. And it was a book, anyway. That turned into a TV show, and then the TV show led into something else, and so on and so forth. It wasn’t until I was about fifteen that I actually shot a movie [for theatrical release]. It was called Marion Bridge and it involved some sort of element of emotional alteration. I was no longer just working with animals and ghosts. I think I really started to feel what it meant and got really excited about that, and I wanted to keep learning more and feeling it again and again.
You’re being talked about as the next “it girl.” Is that something that you think about, are worried about or excited about, having that fame, and celebrity?
Well, that’s weird. I’m excited because I love to act and I feel when all of this happens; it just means you’ll be able to have more control and more choice. And [for] an actor at any age that’s like an enormous gift and I’m really excited about that. Do I get a little overwhelmed at times right now? For sure, you know about that whole about losing an element of privacy and things. But I think you can go as far as you want in that sense. And I think because of my interests in my general life, I don’t feel like it could ever get too out of control.
How do you feel about all the nonsense with comparisons?
I find that ridiculous. I find it ridiculous that people clearly go through situations with fame. You can see what happens to people, and no one goes, “I wonder why this is happening.” No one offers any compassion. Everyone just sits around and judges and splatters their face on tabloids. Especially girls my age. A lot of my friends in their late 20s and early 30s partied a helluva alot, and they didn’t have to have their face splattered on tabloids every frickin’ day. I guess it’s a part of the package, but it’s definitely a drag. I feel bad for people that get stuck in that cyclone.
What coming up next?
Hopefully I’m shooting a film this spring called Jack And Diane. Olivia Thirby [who plays Juno’s best friend Leah] is in it, actually. We were attached to that before. I’ve known Olivia for a little while. But right now I’m just trying to take it slow, I guess because it’s a little crazy.
You’re amazing in An American Crime [which] debuted at Sundance [in 2007]; I really hope that film gets seen.
Thank you. I think it’s coming out. There’s been so much talk about it. I’ve heard different things, but I think it was going to be theatrical, then it wasn’t, and I lately heard a rumor [for] next summer, but I’m not sure. Catherine [Keener] is really good in it.
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Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 21, 2008.