Ellen Page & Michael Cera Interview, JUNO

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down with Ellen Page ("Hard Candy”) and Michael Cera ("Superbad”) at the Los Angeles press day for "Juno” directed by Jason Reitman ("Thank You For Smoking”) from a script by Diablo Cody ("Candy Girl”).

Meet Juno MacGuff (Page) – a confidently frank teenage girl who calls the shots with a nonchalant cool and an effortless attitude as she journeys through an emotional nine-month adventure into adulthood. Quick witted and distinctively unique, June walks Dancing Elk High’s halls to her own tune – preferably anything by The Stooges – but underneath her tough no nonsense exterior is just a teenage girl trying to figure it all out.

While most girls at Dancing Elk are updating their MySpace page or shopping at the mall, Juno is a whip-smart Minnesota teen living by her own rules. A typically boring afternoon becomes anything but when Juno decides to have sex with the charmingly unassuming Bleeker (Cera). Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, she and best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) hatch a plan to find Juno’s unborn baby the perfect set of parents courtesy of the local Penny Saver. They set their sights on Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), an affluent suburban couple who are longing to adopt their first child. Luckily, Juno has the support of her dad and stepmother (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney). After the initial shock that their daughter has been sexually active with the unlikely "virile” Bleeker, the family bands together to help Juno. With a fearless intellect far removed from the usual teen angst, Juno conquers her problems head-on, displaying a youthful exuberance both smart and unexpected.

Casting is always a crucial component of successfully translating a script to the silver screen. With "Juno,” the filmmakers had a tough task of finding the right actress to step into Juno’s narrowly complex shoes. The fit had to be perfect for audiences to not only know who she was but also to welcome her – flaws and all – with open arms. Reitman knew that Ellen Page – known to indie audiences for her ferocious performance opposite Patrick Wilson in the controversial "Hard Candy” – was the right choice for such a major challenge. Even if she makes it look easy.

"When you have great actors you want to get in there and let their faces tell the story. Ellen in particular does unbelievable, subtle little things with her face. I can give her 120 notes on each take and she hits all of them perfectly,” Reitman explained. "A lot of actors are good mimics, or they are method actors and do a lot of research, or they are naturally very charming,” noted Reitman, while comparing Page to Meryl Streep. "What’s different about Ellen is that she knows what Juno would do, say or feel at any given moment, and she can turn it on and off like a light switch. It’s incredible to watch.”

Cera shines as Paulie Bleeker, the soft spoken father of Juno’s baby. His portrayal of one of Juno’s quirky peers perfectly compliments Page’s refreshingly charismatic performance. For Cera, his role allowed him to act the part of a high school student, something he doesn’t have a lot of experience with in real life. "I was in high school for a year and then I did it over the Internet,” revealed the actor. But his performance grasps the awkward experience of what it’s like to navigate your way through young love.

"Bleeker’s just crazy about Juno, she makes him feel better about himself,” Cera said. "He’s obviously blown away by all of this stuff and overwhelmed and concerned with what’s going to happen with them as the pregnancy comes along. But he’s relieved when she finds out she’s going to give it away. His main concern is maintaining their friendship and hopefully making her his girlfriend.”

Both actors credit the film’s accurate portrayal of teenagers, noting that it makes the performances feel more genuine. Cera explains, "It’s true, I always like it a lot more when kids are written smart, you know, it’s just a lot more accurate, I think.” Here more of what Ellen Page and Michael Cera had to tell us about their new movie:

MoviesOnline: After reading the script, how quickly did you know you wanted to do this project?

Ellen: When I read the script it just blew my mind and I fell totally in love with it and I just really wanted to be a part of it.

Michael: How quickly?

Ellen: How quickly? I don’t know. Page 4. No, I mean that’s exaggerating probably. But one of those things where immediately when you started reading it, you knew it was something special and then the more you read, the more it surprised you and the more you realized it was devoid of stereotype.

Michael: I really liked the format of the script. It was not written like a script. It didn’t look like she was trying to write it like a script. It was more like a book. [to Ellen] Do you remember that? Like I remember certain paragraphs were just broken up oddly and that kind of … I was like oh, it’s not like reading a script. It’s more like a book. That kind of made me want to do the movie. I thought well, if it’s written oddly, if it’s not written like a script, then it’s got to be a good movie. Now I’ve found out that that’s not the way to make a decision.

[Everyone laughs]

Michael: I won’t repeat that. It’s not a lesson I’ll soon forget.

MoviesOnline: What did each of you like most about your characters?

Michael: I really liked that my character is just kind of immediately left out of the equation, like I didn’t have any sort of control in the matter. It’s like, you know, a movie that takes course over 9 months or so and the whole time I’m just not aware of what’s going on and have no control over it and I thought that would just be fun to do.

Ellen: I was excited about this character because I felt like it was a teenage female lead that we’ve just never seen before and although she was incredibly unique and witty and all of these things, she was also very genuine and it all felt just very sincere.

MoviesOnline: What do you say to people that ask is this a pro-life film?

Ellen: No, I think it approaches it in an extremely democratic way. Diablo Cody wasn’t writing a script about a 16-year-old girl that got an abortion. She was writing a script about a 16-year-old girl that got pregnant, decided to have the baby and give it to a young, yuppie, uptight couple for adoption. That’s what the movie is about. You know what I’m saying?

MoviesOnline: You just ruined it.

[Everyone laughs]

Ellen: Sorry. And I think she dealt with it in a democratic way. 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. It’s about finger nails.

MoviesOnline: Was there any discussion of the larger issue during the filming or were you just focusing totally on the characters and their situation?

Ellen: There was no discussion. I didn’t even think about it when I read the script. And then we were shooting the movie and somebody was like, ‘Boy, press is going to be fun.’ And I didn’t really know what they were talking about because, to me, it’s just…you know…and the film shows it as an extremely viable option which is obviously the most important thing for young individuals.

MoviesOnline: Your character starts off very confident and full of witty comebacks for people, then as her pregnancy proceeds she becomes more vulnerable. Was it a conscious choice to try to play her like that? Or was that something that was in the script or a piece of direction you received?

Ellen: I don’t know. I mean things all come together in whatever process they come together and I feel like yeah, a big part of being young is maybe some arrogance and not even necessarily on purpose. It’s just that’s when you’re developing an independent mind and you’re learning a lot at kind of an intense, rapid rate. And you know Juno obviously goes on a pretty intense journey. The film doesn’t overdo the intensity of it which is one of the reasons why I liked the film but yeah, she definitely goes through a lot of personal growth and such in the extremeness of the situation.

MoviesOnline: Did you know when you were filming it that this was going to be a special film?

Michael: I think I was really excited and thought it would be really good and Jason was doing a lot of cool things and he had just had a baby and I think that was really contributing to his…he always had… Like I feel Ellen’s stomach in one scene and he’s like, ‘That’s the craziest feeling. You have no idea what this feels like. Your mind has to be blown by this.’ So that helped a lot. I felt really good about it when … I knew it was a good script and really liked it and thought it had the potential to be really good. And I think I felt it was going well when we were doing it.

Ellen: I pretty much agree with that. Yeah. Good script, good people coming together, you know, good vibes all around.

MoviesOnline: How did the tone of the movie come together? It could so easily have turned into one of those quirky indie movies and it doesn’t. Is that something you guys were really focusing on – not making yourselves too quirky and cute – when you were making the movie?

Ellen: You make a good point. It’s really crucial to achieve that balance with a film like this because it is unique and witty and then there’s the tendency to force that and then it becomes contrived. I know the feeling like ‘Give me a fork that I can stab in my eye’ in those kinds of movies. So I think there’s a lot to be said about Jason’s directing style and the cast he put together – Michael, Jason Bateman, Allison, J.K. – they’re all so funny and it’s so understated and extremely sincere and it was just about bringing the sincerity and the honesty into it.

MoviesOnline: What was the level of improv on this? So much of the dialogue seems so naturalistic, is that all Diablo or was that improved on set?

Michael: A lot of it stuck pretty much to the script. Watching the movie, I remember a lot of my favorite lines in the movie being exactly how they were in the script. There was never really a need for it and it always felt like everything was there and it felt great running the scenes. Everyone was so excited about the script that just being able to do it as it was, was enough.

MoviesOnline: You’ve been involved with a lot of good projects this year including "Superbad,” can you comment a little on the success you’re having?

Michael: It’s been pretty good. I have no control over it. Superbad was a lot of fun to work on and make. That was great. It’d be easier to talk about that I think. I have no idea about the rest of this stuff. It did pretty well I guess and everyone was happy. It was great.

MoviesOnline: You’ve done a lot of comedy, Michael. Do you feel that’s something you’d like to keep pursuing?

Michael: Yeah. If the right things come along that are good. I guess it’s just more about if something’s good or not, the scripts.

MoviesOnline: Did you guys rehearse for this or did you like to just get on set and kind of plan it as it happens?

Michael: [to Ellen] Do we?

Ellen: Very minimally.

Michael: Not a lot.

Ellen: There wasn’t too much.

Michael: It wasn’t maximal. {I KNOW, IT’S NOT A WORD BUT THAT’S WHAT HE SAID ]

Ellen: We were just getting to know each other, you know.

Michael: Yeah.

Ellen: I think it depends on the projects.

Michael: Probably.

MoviesOnline: What kind of things did you guys do to try to bond?

Michael: It was minimal. It was pretty minimal.

Ellen: There was some wee playing.

Michael: [Laughs] Yeah. Whatever.

Ellen: I boxed Dan and I beat him. We went to the Aquarium.

Michael: Yeah, that’s true. We went to the Vancouver Aquarium. It was amazing.

Ellen: Yeah, it was pretty amazing.

Michael: We watched some movies.

Ellen: Oh. "Wet Hot American Summer.”

Michael: "Wet Hot American Summer.”

Ellen: It’s a funny movie.

Michael: "Robin Hood: Men in Tights.”

Ellen: "Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” Yeah. There was some bonding a little then.

Michael: Some other stuff. I guess that was it. [Laughs]

Ellen: Some walks, you know.

Michael: Walks.

Ellen: Walks. Sun was setting.

Michael: [Laughs] Yeah.

Ellen: You know.

Michael: Sunset.

MoviesOnline: Did it take any time to get into the fat suit?

Ellen: No, no. It’s called pregnancy by the way. I’m teasing you. It was almost like a corset in the back. It didn’t take much time.

MoviesOnline: How close is the personality of your character to your own personality? How did you put yourself into that persona for the role?

Ellen: I don’t know. It’s an interesting question. How do you relate? You get it no matter what character you play. I feel like whenever anyone is honest and whole and well written, you’re going to be able to connect to that person because we’re all kind of made up of the same stuff. And I think that’s always one of the really powerful things about approaching each individual character and role and film. And with "Juno” specifically it’s again like in some ways I’m like her and in some ways I’m not.

MoviesOnline: [to Michael] How about you and your character?

Michael: Did I relate to him? Yeah. I don’t know how I’d react if I were in this situation. But yeah, I think I’d be terrified and really feel like I don’t know what to do. I think he’s just really scared and that’s probably how I would react to this.
MoviesOnline: Ellen, can you talk about your character’s relationship with Mark and his feelings towards Juno?

Ellen: It’s ambiguous. I think my job in that sense was a lot easier. I think Jason Bateman had a much more difficult line to walk down because you know I’m playing a character and there’s a line in the film where Juno says ‘I just like being a piece of furniture in your weird life.’ And I think that’s very much the way she felt. This situation she found herself in gave her a portal into adulthood, a portal into being a part of that which I think when you’re 16 is something that’s exciting about growing up and what have you. So I think she was just kind of infatuated by him and was there and really was naïve in understanding that whole other aspect of the situation. And I think it’s two people that respect each other’s individual situations. Mark sees Juno as a sense of promise and a sense of freedom and he feels trapped in his adulthood I guess.

MoviesOnline: Did you guys have many conversations about how to avoid the dirty old man vibes? Did "Juno” feel like a prequel to "Hard Candy”?

Ellen: Yeah. We cut out…there’s a scene where I kind of attacked him in the basement. It’ll be on the DVD. [Laughter] Again, I think Jason Bateman had the harder side of that and he talked a lot with Reitman about it. It was just about again maintaining that balance and it’s purposely ambiguous.

MoviesOnline: What do you think of Mark? Do you think he’s kind of an asshole? [THIS WAS NOT MY QUESTION ]

Ellen: No, no, not at all. I think he’s ….

Michael: [Laughs] That’s a funny question.

[Everyone laughs]

Ellen: I don’t at all. I think he feels trapped in his life and the timing wasn’t great but these things happen and if the situation had remained, it probably would have been a much more unhealthy environment to bring up a child.

MoviesOnline: Can you guys talk about what you have coming up next?

Ellen: Michael, what are you doing?

Michael: I’m working on a movie right now in New York called "Nick and Nora.”

MoviesOnline: How’s that going?

Michael: It’s going well. It’s probably going to come out in a year or something. Hopefully it’ll be good.

MoviesOnline: Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Michael: It’s a guy and a girl meet and it takes place in one night. They meet in New York and spend the night driving around New York City looking for this band. That’s it.

MoviesOnline: Ellen, what do you have coming up next?

Ellen: I have another film coming out in April called "Smart People.” It’s premiering at Sundance and I’m also shooting hopefully a film this Spring called "Jack and Diane” which is with Olivia Thirlby who plays Leah in "Juno.”

MoviesOnline: So is that the prerequisite now, you have to be BFF’s in all the films?

Ellen: Sorry?

MoviesOnline: BFF’s – Best Friends Forever.

Ellen: Oh. We were attached to that film before. I knew her before "Juno” actually so I’ve known her for a little while.

MoviesOnline: Michael, do people still think you got fired from "Knocked Up”?

Michael: I don’t know. Probably. I can’t believe that people think that those things are real. It’s crazy. I don’t get it. It’s just crazy.

"Juno” opens in theaters on December 7th.


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