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The Juno Interviews, Part I: Ellen Page & Michael Cera
Ellen Page chews her fingernails. That may not sound like anything worthy of note, but in the coiffed, air-brushed world of Hollywood -- where manicured hands periodically fling drinks into waiters' faces accompanied by shrieks of the "Do you know who I am?!" variety -- it definitely stands out. Much has been made of Page's ordinariness: her Canadian background, her skepticism at showbiz perks, the fact that she's not drunkenly careening her SUV through the streets of Brentwood like all the other hot young starlets do. But nothing brought that home more than the simple, ordinary sight of nibbled hands on the press conference table. Hands that weren't pampered with the sole purpose of making a good impression, and which might even wrap themselves around an Oscar before this winter is through.
Her co-star, Michael Cera, evinces a similarly refreshing lack of polish. Having made an indelible impression on television as George-Michael -- perennially twitchy son of the batshit insane Bluth clan on Arrested Development -- he's quickly leapt to the big screen with an impressive pair of films that further exploit his knack for bug-eyed panic. The first, Superbad, turned into the surprise hit of the summer, and now, along with his fellow Canadian Page, he anchors the emotional core of Juno's growing-up-with-a-twist storyline. The two recently sat down with the press to talk about the film, which has since become a box-office darling and awards-circuit favorite. A transcript of their comments follows.
Question: So how quickly upon reading the script did you decide you wanted to do this project?
Ellen Page: I don't know. Page 4. (Smiles.) No, it was one of those things where you knew it was something special immediately when you started reading it, like. And then, the more you read, the more it surprised you, and the more you realized it was devoid of stereotype.
Michael Cera: I really like the format of the script. It wasn't written like a script. It did not look like she was trying to write it like a script. It was more like a book. Do you remember that?
MC: I remember certain paragraphs were just broken up oddly. I was like, "How real is this?" That made me want to do the movie. I thought that well, if it is written oddly -- if it is not written like a script -- it has got to be a good movie. And now I know that that is not the way to make a decision. (Laughter.) It is not a lesson that I will soon forget.
Q: What did each of you like most about your characters? What about them really caught your eye?
MC: I really liked that my character is just kind of immediately left out of the equation, like he did not have any sort of control in the matter. This is a movie that takes course over nine months or so, and I spend it all unaware of what is going on and with no control over it. I thought that would be fun to do.
EP: I was excited about this character because I felt like she was a teenage type that we just had never seen before. Although she was incredibly unique, she was also very genuine. It all felt just very sincere.
Q: I had a friend who I had to drag to go see Knocked Up, because she said, "Well why doesn't she get an abortion?" This film has sort of the same dilemma. What do you say to people who look at it as a pro-life/pro-choice kind of movie?
EP: Well, I think it approaches [the issue] in an extremely democratic way. Diablo Cody wasn't writing a script about a 16-year-old girl who got an abortion. She was writing a script about a 16-year-old who got pregnant and decided to have the baby and give it to a young, yuppie, uptight couple for adoption. She goes to the clinic and Juno deals with it in a relatively nonchalant manner. And the reason she decides to leave is actually just because of some random, weird reason.
Q: Was there any discussion of the larger issue during the filming or were you just focusing totally on the character?
EP: I didn't even think about it when I read script. And then, you know, we were shooting the movie, and someone said, "Boy, the press is gonna be fun." I didn't really know what they were talking about.
Q: Was it a conscious choice on your part to play her the way you did? She starts off very knowing and spouting a lot of peppy comebacks. And then, as her pregnancy proceeds, she becomes more vulnerable and more her age in a way. Was that a conscious choice to try and play it like that, or is that something that was in the script or a piece of direction you were sent into?
EP: I don't know. I mean, things all come together in whatever process they come together in. I think a big part of being young involves a certain arrogance and not even necessarily in purpose. But you're developing an independent mind, and you are learning a lot at kind of an intense, rapid rate. Juno obviously goes on a pretty intense journey. The film doesn't overdo it, which is one of the reasons why I like it. But yeah, she definitely learned a lot in such an extreme situation.
Q: How close is the personality of your character to your own personality?
EP: That's an interesting question: how do you relate? You get it no matter what character you play. I feel like whenever any character is honest and whole and well written, you are going to be able to connect to that person, because we're all made up of the same stuff. I think that is always one of the really powerful things about approaching each individual character and role in film.
MC: Yeah, I don't know how I would react if I were in that situation, but I think -- like Bleeker -- I would be terrified and really feel like I didn't know what to do. I think he is just really scared. That is probably how I would react to that situation.
Q: When you were making the film on set, did you know that this was going to be something special?
MC: I was really excited about it and thought it would be really good. And I noticed that Jason [Reitman] was doing a lot cool things. You know, he just had a baby. I think that was really contributing to his approach, you know. He always had some bit of insight... I feel Ellen's stomach in one scene and he was like, "Man, that is like the craziest feeling... you have no idea what this feels like." So that helped a lot. I knew it was a good script and I really liked it and thought it had the potential to be really good.
Q: I am curious about the tone of the movie, because it could so easily turn into one of those twee, quirky movies, and it doesn't. It sort of keeps itself, you know, right the whole time. Is that something that you guys focused on -- keeping the self-conscious quirks down?
EP: Yeah, and you make a good point. It is really crucial to achieve that balance with the filmmakers, because it is unique and witty, and there is the tendency to force that, and yes, it can become contrived. I know the feeling: "Give me a fork that I can stab my eye," and such. There is a lot to say for Jason's directing style and the cast in particular, for keeping clear of that. Michael, Jason Bateman, Jen, Alison and J.K., are all so funny and yet so understated and extremely sincere.
Q: What was the level of improv involved? So much of the dialogue is naturalistic. Is that all Diablo [Cody] or was there improv on the set?
MC: We pretty much stuck to the script. Watching those lines in the finished film, I remember that a lot of them were exactly how they were in the script (and turned out to be some of my favorite lines). Yeah, there was never any need for improve. It always felt like everything was there. It felt great running the scenes. I think that everybody was so excited about the script that just being able to do it was enough.
Q: Michael, I am curious how you life has been going this year with the success of Superbad.
MC: It's been good. (Laughs.) You know, I have no control over it. Superbad was a lot of fun to work on, and that was great. It would be easier to talk about that. I have no idea about the rest of the stuff. That kind of success is totally our of your hands.
Q: You do a lot of comedy, Michael. Do you feel like that is something you want to continue pursuing?
MC: Yeah... if the right scripts come along. I guess it is just more about whether something is worth doing or not.
Q: What sort of things did you guys do to try and bond and develop chemistry?
MC: It was minimal.
EP: There was Wii playing. I boxed Michael and I beat him. We went to the aquarium.
MC: Yeah, we went to the Vancouver Aquarium.
Q: Did it take you time to get into the fat suit?
EP: No, no. (Smiles.) And it's called a pregnancy suit, by the way. No, it is almost like a corset on your back. It didn't take that much time.
Q: Ellen, can you talk about your character's relationship with Mark [Jason Bateman's character]? Because there is some implication that he's...
EP: Ambiguous? Yeah. I think my job in that sense was a lot easier. Jason had a much more difficult task in that regard. There is a line in the film where Juno says, "I am just like a piece of furniture in your life." I think that is very much the way she felt. This situation she found herself in gave her a portal into adulthood. When you are 16, it's exciting to discover that. So I think she was just kind of infatuated by Mark, and her naïveté leads to that whole other aspect of the situation. Mark, he sees Juno in a sense of promise and a sense of freedom, and it makes him feel trapped in adulthood.
Q: Did you guys talk about how to avoid the sort of dirty old man vibes with him?
EP: Yeah, there is a scene where I kind of attack him in the basement, but beyond that... no. Again, I think Jason had the harder side of that. He talked a lot with Reitman about it. I think it came down to maintaining the right balance for the tone of the film.
Q: What do you think of Mark as a character?
EP: I think that he feels trapped in his life. And yeah, the timing of a new baby wasn't great for his character, but these things happen. And if the situation had remained the way it was, it probably would have been a much more unhealthy environment to bring up a child.
Article published 01.27.2008.
More from The Juno Interviews:
Also read: Rob Vaux's review of Juno.
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