"I Have Come Into My Own." Ellen Page Is Using Her Voice & We're Listening
On the five-year anniversary of her coming out, Ellen Page tells Refinery29 about standing up for what she believes in, and how she's dealing with having grown up in a "f-cked up" industry.
Ellen Page came out on Valentine’s Day 2014, with a stirring speech at a human rights conference in Las Vegas. On the five-year anniversary of the day Page said the words, “I am gay” out loud to the world for the first time, I’m sitting across from her at the Four Seasons in Toronto.
The Ellen Page who sits in front of me, in a black knit beanie and a navy-blue sweater with her legs casually curled up on a couch, is self-assured, unguarded, passionate, and ready to throw down about social justice. By her own admission, she’s a very different Ellen than she was before she came out. The 32-year-old from Halifax has been working since she was in her teens, best known for roles in Juno, The X-Men franchise, and Inception. Back then, she was timid, uncomfortable in her own clothes and skin, and being closeted was taking a toll on her mentally and physically. Now, she’s happily married and “so in love” with her wife, dancer Emma Portner.
Page’s latest project is the weird and wonderful Netflix show, The Umbrella Academy, released today, about a group of misfit siblings with superpowers based on the Gerard Way graphic novels of the same name. Her character, Vanya, is the outcast of the family, still dealing with the emotional fallout of an abusive childhood growing up in a brood she never felt like she belonged in.
Page may be the confident, outspoken badass who just went viral for calling out the president and vice president of the United States for their hateful stance on LGBTQ+ rights on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, but, like her character, she’s still reeling from growing up in an industry that, as she puts it, was “really, really, really, really, really, really f-cked up.” That hasn’t stopped her from being unfiltered and fired up, standing for her community, even if it means taking on an anti-gay church frequented by celebrities. Page’s tweet about Hillsong elicited a puzzling response from Chris Pratt and made her a trending topic for the second time in two weeks.
Here, I talk to Page about coming out and Colbert, and even though I’m told by a publicist that I shouldn’t ask about Pratt, Page tentatively goes there anyway. This Ellen Page isn’t scared to speak up and tell the world exactly who she is and what she stands for.
Happy Valentine's Day.
Thanks, you too. Look! [Page motions to her socks, which are bright red with white hearts and black arrows shooting through them.] This was accidental. I swear. [Laughs.] Accidental.
Today is special for you for a lot of reasons. Five years ago, you came out on Valentine’s Day. Does this anniversary make you look back at that time and reflect on it?
Yeah, it does. I acknowledge it in my heart. So much [has changed]. I was closeted and wearing these dresses and all these things that were so painful. Honestly, I just feel like I'm finally coming into my own. I really struggled. Like I really, really, really struggled in my 20s. I was not doing well, and I'm lucky that I was able to access resources to get help. And literally overnight, even just like physical issues I struggled with, they went away.
You felt like an entirely different person?
Oh, yeah, the next morning I had to fly somewhere to do re-shoots and people were just like, you seem totally different. I feel so grateful for that. And now, I just feel like I'm still processing so much of all those experiences I had.
How do you feel about the day otherwise? Do you and your wife celebrate?
We're not like, super-duper holiday people, but we are romantics, I'd say. It's always romantic. I just, I can't help it. I love her so much. Every day's Valentine's Day.
That’s really adorable, like your socks. I’m really happy for you.
Let’s talk Umbrella Academy. It’s such a unique show, unlike anything else in its genre, and your character Vanya is so singular. She's battled anxiety and depression. You've been open about your own mental health struggles. How much of your own experience did you bring to her?
I really related to her. I related to finding yourself in a situation where it's hard to even know how to cope with the world and deal with the day to day. I [had] horrible panic attacks, collapsing, like really struggling. I am lucky that I was able to dig through the layers that I need to dig through in me. It can be really painful but ultimately, that's what helps you connect to who you are and to your power. I just think it's important to talk about because it's just like the stigma is what makes it so much worse.
Vanya is told over and over again that she's not special. It made me think of the various ways our culture tells certain people they're not special through not representing them. Is that a connection that you've made?
Of course. The lack of representation in Hollywood and media in general is atrocious. Marginalized people keep being silenced. Obviously, that's improving and changing, thanks to social media in many ways giving individuals a voice. If we don't have this representation, as you're saying, it's really damaging because there are these incredibly important, crucial issues that we need to be speaking of that we're not.
But you are speaking about them, which brings me to your viral moment on Colbert’s The Late Show. Going into that show, did you know that you were going to speak so passionately about your community?
I mean, I knew I was going to talk about these issues because when you have a platform like that, especially in this time, you've got to use it. I mean, truly, I am just tired and over it. We need to be forcing these conversations right now. They have to be forced because they're not happening. And then the fact that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and beliefs are so normalized, or that the media turns these things into debates — trans rights, marriage, equality, etc.
There is no debate.
Exactly. Thank you. There is no other side. And that's always been the case in regard to oppression in [America].
It's crucial right now that we educate ourselves. That's what I try to do. I'm just learning from individuals who've been fighting forever.
Watching you on The Late Show brought me to tears but it also reminded me of this quote from Heather Heyer, who died in the Charlottesville car attack: “If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.” You conveyed an anger so many people with your platform maybe feel like they can't express. What do you think people need to be angrier about?
Oppression and inequality. It's all interconnected. And when I'm talking about LGBTQ people and the marginalized members of the community, that's people of colour, trans women of colour, First Nations people, Two-Spirit people, etc., etc., etc. We need to be more angry about oppression and inequality because, I'm sorry, but look at the state of the world. I think it's crucial right now that we educate ourselves. That's what I try to do. I'm just learning from individuals who've been fighting forever.
You're calling people out by name. And some would call that brave, I call that brave. But you've said in the past that you don't like that word being attributed to you.
Maybe now I'll accept it. [Laughs.] After I made the show Gaycation, the activists I met were radical and courageous. When you see that level of bravery and that level of courage, or just the courage to even be on the show…. when I have the privileges, I have the resources — I feel less inclined to call myself brave. I'm grateful and I'm fortunate to have the platform I have, but lots of people are far more courageous and risk far more than I do.
When you’re calling someone out on Twitter by name, is there any hesitation before you send that tweet?
I mean, I didn't quite say somebody by name. I did retweet and asked why something wasn't being addressed. If you go and you read [my tweet] and you see the response of how the media took it, and what they did with it. [They used words like] “slams,” “drags.” No, read it. It’s literally about empathy and please just listen to LGBTQ people when we're talking about our pain. Listen to marginalized people, they are the ones suffering. Please just listen. Of course, it's not about an individual, or a personal attack.
And if anyone is taking it as a personal attack, that’s a them problem.
When people are as angry as they are, or mocking me after the Colbert thing, I really, deep down I really feel for you. If that is your emotional response to this moment, you poor thing. Truly. I just can't fathom it.
I think we really need to push for Canada to become a climate leader in this world, and really start having conversations about the racism and various issues that exist in this country.
There's not really a Canadian equivalent of Colbert, but if there were and you were sitting in a chair speaking to Canadians, what do you think your message would be?
I think in Canada — because comparatively to America, we’re different in terms of a lot of issues — but the problem is we marginalize people with very similar issues in this country. And we still need to deal with systemic racism, environmental racism, and how Canada treats the environment here. And how Canadian mining companies around the world treat the environment. I think in Canada, particularly people with privilege, just don't even know. And this goes back to the conversation of people being silenced, the lack of representation, etc., etc., etc. So yeah, I think we really need to push for Canada to become a climate leader in this world, and really start having conversations about the racism and various issues that exist in this country very much so as well.
Instead of resting on the fact that we're maybe a little bit better than another country…
Yeah, I can imagine a lot of people in certain communities in this country don't feel that way, and those are the people we need to listen to.
To go back to representation, how important has it been for you to have people behind the camera who are supportive of you expressing yourself through your art?
That's one thing that I just absolutely love about Steve Blackman [showrunner of The Umbrella Academy]. He just creates the most wonderful, safe environment on set. One of my first conversations [about my character] was with [Blackman]. I said, “This is how I'm going to dress, and I can't have a conversation about it. I can't.” And he was like, "Oh absolutely, I want to collaborate." And it was just awesome. And on anything big, that's not been my experience. The shit has been said to me by powerful people… Can I give you an example of somebody?
I'm not going to [name them] because we've spoken, people can learn, blah, blah, blah. But this was a powerful person behind the scenes. I was so excited that Vice wanted to make Gaycation, I couldn't believe it, and I was telling people, and he went, "We get it, you're gay!" I wasn't quite to where I am now to be like, "What the f-ck did you just say?" But it's that shit all the time, since I entered this industry as a teenager.
So, this person who we're not going to name said this to you in front of a bunch of people? And nobody stood up for you?
Yeah. These things [happen] constantly. Constantly.
Tell me more about kind of that process of working on what Vanya’s aesthetic was going to be in The Umbrella Academy.
This is a spoiler, but I said I would like her to wear a white tux at the end. They were totally supportive. I was like, “What's going on?” Because even not that long ago, someone was like, "Will you not wear a skirt in this because you're mad the character's not gay?" I was like, “What?” And also, “Thanks for telling me she's not gay.” Anyway, I just came in the room with the costume designer and he was awesome. And I've never had that experience. I literally reach out to people now and I explain to them that [their past behaviour] was damaging.
What do they say?
Of course people are just mortified, but it's truly about having a learning experience. I think of how fragile I was in those moments and how I was treated, or being 20 and having headlines written about me like “The Ellen Page Sexuality Sweepstakes.” I was 20 years old. I wasn't there yet, you know? People need to know that it's f-cking painful.
Vanya's autobiography is called Extra Ordinary: My Life As Number Seven. What would the name of your autobiography be?
That's so funny. I did get asked this today on live television, but I'm very happy with the answer. It would be I Walked Here because I'm obsessed with walking.
I Walked Here. It’s kind of profound. Walking everywhere can be a struggle.
Yeah. Life's a journey. I feel very fortunate that I can say that I have come into my own as a queer person at 32 because a lot of people don't get to.
Would you ever write it all down one day?
I'm thinking about it more and more because I realize there’s all of this stuff [about my past] I've barely ever said before and it was really, really, really, really, really, really f-cked up.
This interview has been condensed and edited.