At the Toronto International Film Festival, actress Ellen Page was delighted to be showing two films she not only starred in but produced to her fellow Canadians. Lionsgate is releasing Peter Sollett’s “Freeheld” (October 2); the film co-starring Julianne Moore is based on HBO’s 2008 Oscar-winning documentary short about same-sex partners fighting against discrimination. Patricia Rozema’s unpredictable survival drama “Into the Forest: (July 29), co-starring Evan Rachel Wood, debuted in Toronto and quickly sold to hot indie distributor A24 for summer 2016 release—which gives it a strong chance of being widely seen.
In our video interview, Page admitted that she finally figured out that she likes to have a hand in producing movies when she can.
Getting involved as a producer came organically on both films. She loved the Jean Hegland novel “Into the Forest,” about two sisters living with their father in a modern home deep in the Northwest woods who go off the grid during a prolonged blackout. Much like “The Martian,” the film is about being smart and capable enough to figure out how to survive.
Page, who admires Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men,” thought it would make a good movie, developed the project with her producing partner Kelly Bush Novak, and gave it to Canadian filmmaker Rozema (“Mansfield Park”). She wanted to lend this story a woman’s perspective and likes working with female directors like Rozema and Lynn Shelton. But, she adds, “a good director is a good director.”
Page pursued long-time acquaintance Wood, who jumped in; they formed such a deep bond during the year they sought financing—which finally came from Canadian sources— and during shooting that when they wrapped they were both devastated. “Because we are so close,” says Page, “it was one of the best acting experience ever for me.”
Rozema worked to make the natural world and the old forest itself a character in the film. “We are realizing how disconnected we are from what it means to be human and alive and nature and all these things we used to know,” Page said. For the film she learned how to chop wood, shoot a 22 rifle and butcher a pig —on-screen. “I’m a bit of a nerd,” she says. “I like learning new things. I’d never done anything like that before.”
Page became involved with developing gay rights drama “Freeheld” with producers Stacey Sher and Michael Shamberg after the doc won the Oscar. “There are statistically less available parts for an out gay actor,” she said, while she has no trouble playing straight characters as she does in “Into the Forest.”
The actress went straight from shooting “Into the Forest” to “Freeheld” without much time in between. She jumped right in and immediately had to build intimacy with Julianne Moore, who plays a New Jersey police detective with terminal cancer who wants her pension to go to her auto mechanic partner (Page). “Fortunately we connected quickly,” said Page. “She’s one of the best people working.”
Playing the role was liberating for Page, who came out with a public speech on February 14, 2014: “To play a gay character, telling a story about two women who are so truly brave and so emotional, at a time of unimaginable difficulty and sadness.”
She believes strongly that “audiences want to see diversity in TV and film, like ‘Orange is New Black.’ I’m developing things as a way to work with amazing actresses that are my dear friends, who don’t get to work together, which guys do all the time.”
One such pal is Kate Mara, who Page plans to work with on “a beautiful love story between two women,” she says. They’re developing the film with producer Christine Vachon.