Juno success makes a star out of Ellen
A comedy about a high schooler having a baby has become an indie sensation. Alison Jones meets its Oscar-nominated star Ellen Page.
There are some films that just slide in from left field, take a grip on the hearts and minds of critics and audiences alike and just refuse to let go.
It happened last year with Little Miss Sunshine, which was everyone's favourite underdog at the Oscars. This year it is the turn of Juno to be the little movie that could (and has) taken $100 million at the box office, making it Fox Searchlight's most successful film ever - streaking past the record of $71.5 million previously set by Sideways.
The plot of a 16-year-old who gets pregnant and decides to give the child up for adoption is the stuff of afternoon television melodrama, but it is the execution that sets it apart. The script, by former stripper turned writer Diablo Cody, is joyously sardonic without being glib and manages to confound every preconception one might have previously held about high school based comedies.
It has also turned petite Canadian actress Ellen Page into a bona-fide star, thanks to her Academy Award -nominated performance as the totally-together teen mum-to-be with an enviable line in killer put-downs.
Still only 20, Ellen has been acting for half her life and consequently has developed a sensitive palate for the parts she chooses to play.
"Juno was something I wanted to be in so bad that if I had been three feet away from the top of Everest and they said you have to come down now (to do it) I would have," she says.
"I wished a character like Juno was around when I was in junior high school - not that I am that much older. I was just so excited she was going to go out into the world."
Perhaps it is the Canadian in her but she seems to be refreshingly free of the gushing excitability that many young American actresses are prone to.
Her attitude is as laid-back as her posture, her restrained manner and dry humour sometimes mistaken for a lack of appropriate enthusiasm.
"I am kind of low key, which was annoying yesterday because people kept saying 'why aren't you more excited' (about the Oscar). I was, I am, very excited.
"I was probably most visibly excited when I found out Jason (Reitman, Juno's director) was nominated because he really deserves it. Diablo (who is up for Best Original Screenplay) was a given but I feel like nobody has really talked about Jason as much."
She admits she was as surprised as she was flattered when she got the nod for Best Actress.
"Of course I am grateful for the acknowledgement, it helps your career immensely and it is recognition from your peers.
"It is very humbling to be recognised with women who I just respect and admire so much, it is hard to wrap my head around it.
"I'm not expecting to win in the least, I have maybe a three per cent chance."
She confesses the most they had expected for this small indie feature, albeit one with an impeccable ensemble cast, was that it might get accepted for the Toronto Film Festival.
Thanks to the American writers strike, which put a stop to the Golden Globes ceremony, there is no guarantee that the Oscars will go ahead, though three BAFTA nominations - one for Diablo and two for Ellen - means that she should get to enjoy at least one red carpet moment.
Being on both the festival and awards circuits means Ellen has had the opportunity to meet some of her acting idols.
"I am a massive Kate Winslet fan. I think she is so versatile and I have seen pretty much every film she has been in.
"I absolutely adore how she carries herself as a human being and she managed to establish a really wicked balance to follow up the biggest blockbuster in history (Titanic) with an independent film shot in Morocco (Hideous Kinky). That's pretty cool.
"I have met her. I was very excited, very shy but told her the respect I had. I am not one to get star struck but when it's someone I really admire and have been inspired by of course there is that moment of 'You're so cool'.
"I also love Sissy Spacek, Laura Linney, the list could go on."
By her own admission, Ellen fell into acting while she was still at school.
"A casting director came looking for kids to audition and I got picked. I thought it would just be a neat little experience but it turned into a TV show (Pit Pony) and that turned into something else and so on and so forth."
She distinguished herself in the cult movie Hard Candy with her "complex, disturbing and haunting" turn as a single minded 14-year-old who is determined to make a paedophile pay for his crimes.
It was something of a surprise then when she followed this up by playing Kitty Pride, a super-heroine with the ability to walk through solid objects, in X-Men: The Last Stand. In fact it was a role she initially rejected as being just too blockbustery.
"When I got the call I'd just graduated from high school and I wasn't so sure that I wanted to shoot a movie that big and have that transition take place.
"Then Brett Ratner, the director, called me directly and said 'I have seen Hard Candy and I would like you to do this why don't you go read some comics and learn about Kitty Pride'. So I did and I thought what an honour to be part of this legacy and work with these actors.
"And shooting a film like this helps you go to a different level and enable you to shoot smaller films that you care about."
* Juno is on general release from Friday