By and large, teenage girls in Hollywood are simple creatures, easily divided into groups of shrieking gossips, wayward hellions and helpless victims.
By those standards, the titular young mother in Jason Reitman’s “Juno,” with her bottomless cache of quips, smirking self-confidence and anachronistic fondness for the Mott the Hoople, seems a most atypical teenager.
Ellen Page, the 20-year-old Canadian recruited to play her, would beg to differ.
“I think a lot of people jump to the conclusion of, ‘Well, young people don’t talk like that,’ ” Page says of her character’s Wildean wit, “which I don’t actually agree with. Popular media often has a very narrow image of what a teenage girl should be.”
Page would know, having spent her own teenage years shooting down such stereotypes. At an age when most of her peers were still participating in their high school theater troupe, Page was tackling a role of brutal psychosexual complexity in “Hard Candy,” leaving critics both dazzled and terrified.
Though “Juno” is a far friendlier film, it is just as demanding, requiring her to be reflexively sardonic without becoming unlikable, and to allow for vulnerability without sabotaging her character’s wry tenacity. Yet Page skips across the role’s potential pitfalls, displaying estimable comic timing all the while.
“I don’t think Juno ever compromises herself,” Page opines. “There are aspects of the world that she thinks she understands that, of course, she doesn’t understand, but she is still genuine in her actions. I find that refreshing, and I respect her as a character.”
Most importantly, Page remains vividly believable as a 16-year-old girl, albeit one who’s smarter than everyone else in the room — witness the wordless scene where she struts past her gawking classmates with pregnant belly proudly on display, projecting equal degrees of cool feminist brio and blithe adolescent mischief.
“Ellen is Juno,” says the film’s screenwriter, Diablo Cody. “I really can’t tell where my love for the character ends and my love for Ellen begins.”
Favorite film: “‘The 400 Blows.’ When I first watched it, I felt like I was watching all of my favorite movies, because the film had influenced so many.”
Young actor you admire: “Kate Winslet. She’s stunning in ‘Heavenly Creatures’ and ‘Titanic.’ And then to follow up ‘Titanic’ with an independent film (“Hideous Kinky”) that shows the integrity she has as an actor.”
What you want in a director: “Developing a sense of trust is crucial. When acting, you are going to vulnerable places and baring aspects of yourself, and I don’t want to be abused. I want to be treated as someone doing a job, and don’t want to be patronized because I’m younger.”