(Click here for the first installment of our Career Prospectus Series featuring Emily Blunt, in response to a detailed email asking for analysis on her professional status. We invited you to submit your Career Prospective requests. Ellen Page was a popular submission, including one from a reader called Tara. Tara’s message is below, followed by Sarah’s response.)
I was hoping you would do one for an actress who, similarly, is very talented and well-liked but seems to be floundering: Ellen Page.
After her breakout smash with Juno, she's done a few smaller movies. She was in Drew Barrymore's "Whip It!", which fared very poorly. She had a big hit with "Inception," but that was in an ensemble cast. "To Rome with Love" met tepid reviews and tepid box office receipts. She has two upcoming indie films, but while those could be critical hits, it seems unlikely that they will have commercial success.
Page does not seem to be interested at all in high-profile promotion or in campaigning for awards. We see her very rarely, only when she has a project coming out, and when we do she is low-key. She really is not on anyone's style radar, which is becoming increasingly important for a young actress. When her style is noted, it's for her androgynous tomboy dressing.
That brings me to another thing... celebrities' rumored orientations. I am curious not about the preferences of Page or other actors, but how the perception of a starlet's possible orientation might affect her career. More and more people seem to be saying, "What does it matter if an actor is gay? No one cares anymore!" But I don't think that's true. Is Page's rumored lesbianism such a detriment that it could be hurting her film prospects? The last ping she made on anyone's gossip radar was when she went to that hockey game with A-Skaars... and I don't think it was a romantic date.
I suppose her contemporaries would be Carey Mulligan, Amanda Seyfried, Mia Wasikowska et al. She is nowhere near the exposure of KStew, JLaw, and Emma Stone. Thoughts?
After the first career prospectus on Emily Blunt, some solid suggestions for a follow up came in, but the one that leapt out at me was Tara’s question about Ellen Page, and how an actress who broke out with a Sundance hit that turned into an Oscar nomination has lost so much momentum in the intervening years. Page struck me not because there’s any big revelation about the state of her career, but because she is the perfect illustration of the difference between fan expectation and those of the actress herself. Ellen Page’s career is fine. Ellen Page just doesn’t want to be as famous as you want her to be.
I get it—Ellen Page is adorable. She’s talented, she’s cute, she’s smart enough to make an interesting interview, but Page is not someone who is going to cater to the Fantasy of Celebrity. She isn’t going to make it easy on you to be her fan. It will take some work and patience to track down her movies since most won’t ever hit the cineplex, and being okay with the fact that your favorite is not going to be as visible as her peers (which is easier said than done—everyone wants their favorite to be #1). In my head, Page is an adorable chipmunk sitting on the deck—as long as you don’t look directly at her she’ll stay there, at the fringes, but the minute you try to pin her down she’s gone.
But let’s do talk about that career for a moment, because Page essentially threw away the platform the Oscar nomination and Juno gave her—a move I don’t see any of her peers having the sand to do themselves, in a similar position—and yet she remains in demand and working with interesting people from Christopher Nolan to Woody Allen. And it’s not like she’s averse to appearing in major studio projects, having joined the X-Men franchise in her pre-Juno days (she will be appearing in X-Men: Back to the Future’s Past or whatever it’s called) and she had Inception in 2010. But Page doesn’t stack those kinds of projects; she goes years in between them, and she’s never the headliner. Inception was in 2010, which came four years after her first appearance in X-Men 3, and the new/old X-Men is due in 2014—4 years after Inception. That kind of spacing is inconceivable to a lot of young talent.
With the heat Juno got her in 2007, it would have been easy for Page to load up on franchise fare and splashy prestige projects but she consciously withdrew, sticking to very small projects. The only thing that pops on the resume pre-Inception is Whip It, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut. It was an underwhelming film but with a sub-$20 million budget, it’s not like anyone was really looking for a blockbuster. (I was much more into 2010’s highly underrated Super, James Gunn’s “real world superhero” movie.) The only other person I can think of who committed a strategic retreat at a time when his career was garnering a lot of buzz is Ryan Gosling, who went three solid years without making a movie.
Page hasn’t quit cold turkey like Gosling did, but she’s like the case in point for the saying start exclusive, stay exclusive. She’s choosy, she’s not motivated by a desire to be super famous—there’s a feeling that what she does is interesting. Even if the movie doesn’t pan out, if you hear Ellen Page signed onto something you’re immediately checking it out, right? Because she doesn’t sign up for just anything. There must be something to it, if Page is interested. It’s that exclusivity that fuels Page’s mystique. She’s talented, but so are a lot of others. That sense of curiosity, though, that she’s worth watching by virtue of the rarity of her appearances, is what she uniquely offers the market.
But that doesn’t mean she’s completely inaccessible. She’s done an ad campaign for Cisco. That’s been her biggest misstep to date, the Cisco campaign. It’s not even choosing to represent an electronics (software? What does Cisco actually do?) company versus fashion that’s the issue so much as it is the actual campaign, which was some kind of “Ellen at home” concept. Problem—not enough people know who Page is to grasp the “normal life” idea. She doesn’t have enough of a celebrity life to contrast to the normalcy of small town Canada, so the commercials never really made any sense. But they were well done, and she is cute as a button. She’ll do another ad campaign eventually—licensing revenue is a fast and easy way to offset the (relatively) meager paydays of indie film—and it will be interesting to see not only what she chooses to represent but how they, in turn represent her.
And last year, Page made a career move usually reserved for her male counterparts—she got involved with a video game. Actors like Timothy Olyphant and Gary Oldman have made a nice side-living voicing video game characters but Page is not only voicing the game protagonist, Page is portraying her via motion capture. So not only her voice, but her face will be the star of a video game (Beyond: Two Souls, due out for Playstation later this year). Ellen Page, setting the standard for reclusiveness among her generation, is also the first to front a video game. See what I mean about her choices? Even if that’s not your bag, aren’t you kind of thinking—well if Ellen Page is in it…?
Ellen Page’s future is bright, even if it is removed from the direct glare of celebrity. She had two well-received projects at Sundance this year combined with a video game and the next X-Men to bring her back around to the mainstream. She isn’t your usual starlet—she won’t be the most accessible from either a project or a celebrity standpoint—but she’s building the kind of reputation and resume that lasts.
Timely! Ellen Page out in LA yesterday.