Hard Candy lives and dies on the performances of its two leads. Writer Brian Nelson has crafted a fantastic, literate script, and director David Slade (read my interview here) has vision to spare, but when your movie is about two people in a house, it’s really all about the performances.
Ellen Page is fantastic as Hayley, the 14 year old who turns the tables on a 32 year old man who picks up young girls on the internet. When Hard Candy was shot two years ago Page was 17, but even now she could easily pass for 13 (how long until her name is Mrs. Ellen Davis?). What’s unmistakably adult, though, is her intensity – both on the screen and in real life. Page seems like a fairly serious young Canadian.
She’s getting a chance to flex less serious muscles when she appears as Shadowcat in X-Men: The Last Stand. Shadowcat, aka Kitty Pryde, is possibly the single most crushed-upon female character in the history of comics. I also think she might have been the first explicitly, actively Jewish main character in comic books.
Also be sure to check out our exclusive clip from Hard Candy by clicking here. Hard Candy opens this weekend.
Q: Did you create a background story in your head for Hayley?
Page: Yeah, I had a complete story for her. But, at the same time, I don’t think it’s even remotely necessary for anyone to know what it is.
Q: When you’re onscreen, do you know every aspect of her motivates?
Page: Yeah, I think so.
Q: Which older actresses was your performance influenced by?
Page: Yeah, there’s one performance [by] Jodie Foster in Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, a 1976 film, which is amazing. Her performance in that was so strong and, once again, a 14-year-old girl, that people are like, “What are you doing, girl? You can’t be doing that! You’re fourteen!” and she’s like “Why can’t I cook? I’m fourteen!” and then she’s teaching herself Hebrew.
Q: What did your parents say when you showed them the script?
Page: My dad read it first and he his only concern was, “Wow, you’re going to be going into this person’s mind! Are you ready for that?” But he really liked the script as much I did, so he was very supportive and trusting.
Q: Do you find that the different sexes respond to the film differently?
Page: Sometimes you get men who are really angry about it and who just hate my character and all their sympathy goes to Jeff, which is really interesting for him to be excused for a lot of behavior. When men get really angry, my reply is there’s this whole division in Law & Order that could basically be called “Naked Women in Dumpsters”. Do you know what I mean? But then you meet some women who are really angry about it too. I met this woman in Palm Springs who accosted me, “You’re sadistic!” and kind of went off. So, it’s totally varied to be honest.
Q: Has anyone considered Hayley’s actions justifiable?
Page: I don’t know if people think that she has completely done the right thing. This movie is really not cut-and-dry, which is really why I really like it. It’s just not black and white; life’s obviously not black and white. You meet people who are inspired because they see a young woman with so much intelligence and integrity and passion. We’re really devoid of that in media right now. I think she’s freakin’ great. I loved her. I loved her passion. She sees something that she’s pissed off about that no one’s doing anything about and she takes it upon herself to change it. Obviously, it’s up to the audience to determine whether or not what she does is right.
Q: Do you think Jeff is really a bad guy, or is he sick?
Page: I don’t know. I actually had this conversation with friends who saw it, and I was thinking [that] I’d really like to find compassion for all people, especially when there are all these misdeeds in the world. I find it really difficult to find compassion for people that sexually violate young individuals, whether it’s male or female. It horrifies me. I find it really difficult for me to see, but everyone has a story. I guess. I find it really difficult when somebody rapes and murders a kid, I’m like, “What!?!” I just don’t get it.
Q: Do you think this movie should be PG-13 so that teenage girls can go see it?
Page: Of course, I think teenagers should see Hard Candy. Girls should see it because there’s this extremely strong, passionate, intelligent young woman and, for boys… the same reason. Why not? I know why it’s rated R, but I disagree with their whole censorship stuff, but that’s a whole other debate. I’m sure a lot of people would love to make it PG-13. I think it’s extremely unfortunate what we can see. I just shot a film in Toronto and I think that’s going to be rated R. That’s another movie that teenage girls need to see because we don’t get to see characters like this.
Q: And there are plenty of girls Hayley’s age who are sexually active, but don’t get the kind of sex education they need.
Page: Yeah, we’re pretty devoid of sex education. I went to a really cool Buddhist high school, and we were talking about everything from a very feminine point of view, which is great. It’s unbelievable the censorship in regards to educating. You look at a place like South Dakota right now that just made abortion illegal. That has nothing to do with it, but it kind of does in the sense of taking choices away from women. I don’t know.
Q: Did playing Hayley ever freak you out?
Page: Yeah, I think it’s pretty overwhelming. One thing about Hayley is that I didn’t want her to be some kind of superhero. She was still a fourteen-year-old girl and I wanted some of that vulnerability to be there. I’m sure she was just, like, at home practicing in front of the mirror. She’s playing a role herself—she’s acting herself—to really screw up this man’s mind to the extent of being able to do what she does and to force him to do what she does. There are moments when my whole body and my mind are just tired.
Q: Are you looking into any colleges? Are you ready for fame?
Page: I definitely want to further my education. Colleges specifically, no. Yeah, that does freak me out a bit. I’m just a kid from Nova Scotia. You know what I mean? I’ve never had parents that pushed me into this, even remotely, not even for a second. I’m not going to change because of anything. I’m scared about other people’s projection sometimes. I just want to make sure that I remain grounded. I don’t want this to get carried away in anything because that’s just retarded.
Q: Hard Candy is very theatrical. Have you done theater work?
Page: No, unfortunately, not since Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in Grade 5. [laughs] I played Charlie. That was my claim to fame in elementary school. It was so much fun. I want to do stage again. Unfortunately, that’s all that’s on my stage résumé, unless someone will really trust me.
Q: Half the film the camera feels like it’s right in your face. What’s it like acting in such tight close-ups?
Page: To be honest, there wasn’t really an adjustment because I never really let it into my mind. David just did what he did. I knew we weren’t doing wides and I knew the style, but it didn’t really change anything. I wasn’t conscious about it. I just did my thing.
Q: What was it like seeing yourself in the final product?
Page: That was kind of difficult because it was at Sundance and I’ve never done anything like that or have done anything like that. People were like, “This is going to be kind of intense, just so you know.” and I was like, “Okay, whatever, whatever.” When I got there, I was, like, “Whoa! What the hell is this?” I saw the premiere for the first time and then afterward I couldn’t even speak and people were talking to me and I was just like, “Mhmm”. And then I met some guy [recently] who was drunk and he was like, “You weren’t very friendly at Sundance!” and I was like, “Thanks for that.” Who says that? I don’t care if he’s had a couple of martinis.
Q: You mentioned before that you’re doing another movie that’ll be rated R but that should be PG-13. What is that?
Page: It’s called The Tracy Fragments, a low-budget, dark movie.
Q: Darker than Hard Candy?
Page: Yes. I didn’t think that I could shoot a movie that was more draining and more intense than Hard Candy, but that just happened.
Q: What attracts you to these dark roles?
Page: Probably because I read a lot of scripts where it’s just girls listening to their iPods or girls who are the girlfriends of the boy who’s the lead or girls that fall in love with a boy or girls that play soccer. [I’m] just like, “Well, this is great, but no, come on!” Especially when you’re a teenager, everything is raw, everything is gritty and people are dark. We have really dark sides and they are typically really honest films in their darkness. Most of the roles that are the most outrageous that I’ve played have the strongest sense of humanity and that’s something that really attracts me. It’s fun to just manipulate yourself and your emotions and fall to pieces and try to put them back together.
Q: This film is so intimate. Did you get a chance to rehearse with Patrick Wilson?
Page: We had three or four days of rehearsal before because it was literally like, “Nice to meet you, here we go!” [laughs] We worked out a lot. We work out some things that weren’t feeling perfect in the screenplay and, thankfully, Brian Nelson was just amazing. He was so flexible and totally on board to help us feel organic. We just trusted each other. I know it sounds cheesy, but to me, I think that’s the most important thing, which is just feeling safe and having the ability to feel confident.
Q: How much green screen is there in X-Men: The Last Stand?
Page: There’s actually not that much green screen. Obviously, my running-through-walls skill isn’t completely honed, so there are green screen holes in walls and stuff like that. There’s not that much green screen, so it’s actually fun and active.
Q: Will your character have more screen time than in the first two?
Page: Yeah, a little more.
Q: Are you signed on to do a spin-off of X-Men?
Page: I do have a multiple option thingy, but that doesn’t mean what those movies will be made. To be honest, you know as much as I do about all those things.
Q: Are you comfortable doing more mainstream action movies?
Page: I wouldn’t say that that’s something specifically that my heart as much as it responds to Hard Candy or The Tracy Fragments. But, I had an amazing experience and I got to work with crazy, talented actors. To be honest, it was a lot of fun. I think that versatility is absolutely key. I’m not veering off into a mainstream action film. My next film is the opposite of X-Men. That’s important to me.
Q: Over the last few years “feminism” has become a bad word, but I think I see a feminism in Hayley. Are you a feminist?
Page: Yes. It’s annoying when people start judging things in regards to these ridiculous categories and names. Like, “All of a sudden you can’t be a feminist because you shave your legs.” I think that’s bullshit. You’re a feminist when you care about equality and to me, it’s like why doesn’t everybody care about equality and the power of women? How can something be more obvious that we live in a patriarchal society when “feminist” is a bad word?
Q: Are there any issues that you’re drawn to?
Page: Lately, I’ve been kind of obsessing about Monsanto and the patenting of seeds, which is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard and makes me want to kill myself, basically. Because it’s patenting corn, and then basically, stuffing it in the Mexican market and selling it for so cheap that people who don’t have that much money can buy it even though they want to buy their century-old corn because it’s natural. Then, it infiltrates their crop and then, all-of-a-sudden, you have Monsanto going down to these farmers and going, “Hey, we’re suing you!” So, basically, they just want to control the world by patenting seeds.
Q: If Hard Candy does well, do you think there will be a prequel?
Page: No and I wouldn’t do it. Unless, it’s a girl who was never abused living her life and then goes, “What the hell is wrong with society? Let’s do something about it!”—that’s Joan of Arc, actually. That’s the prequel to Hard Candy.
Q: Would you do a sequel?
Page: No, I couldn’t imagine [it]. Obviously if Brian Nelson wrote an amazing script. But, sitting here right now, I couldn’t imagine… would she do it again?