By the age of 26, Ellen Page could easily have been known as the next Meryl Streep. Unfortunately, unlike Meryl, Ellen isn’t perceptive enough to understand the critic-proof importance of hair dye and accents. If an actress doesn’t change her hair and voice then people will not perceive her as three-dimensional. In an episode of Inside the Actors Studio, John Hurt cited the voice as an underrated tool in acting. Even if a thespian chooses to play characters who share similar psychological traits, an accent can go a long way in distinguishing their roles. In the case of Ellen, she likes to play sarcastic hipsters who are precocious, drawly and condescending. What may be suiting her personally is actually stymieing her career.
Her characters are so similar that I am instantly reminded of Jim Varney, who is mostly famous for a series of movies where the same character was in completely different scenarios. I’ve even gone so far as to draw comparisons. Ghost Cat = Ernest Scared Stupid. Juno = Ernest Goes to School. Whip It = Slam Dunk Ernest. To Rome With Love = Ernest Goes to Africa. Lioness = Ernest in the Army. Radio Times (a BBC magazine) had Ben Kingsley quoted as claiming that building a character is like constructing a cathedral. Meryl Streep is St. Peter’s Basilica, whereas Ellen is All Saints Cathedral. Ellen’s acting range doesn’t reflect her versatile filmography. I believe that Ellen’s lack of visual and aural diversity is one of the reasons why she hasn’t won an Oscar.
The other reason is that she, like Jennifer Aniston, lacks the facial range that Jennifer Lawrence is blessed with. Don’t get me wrong; Ellen is a good actress (7/10) but not a very good one (8/10 like Juno Temple). She exuded more range on Saturday Night Live (where she played Anne Boleyn and a ghetto girl). As for what it means to be a 9/10 actress, Jenny Bede succeeds in looking like different people to the extent that it’s hard to recognize her. After looking at Ellen’s vast filmography, I have reached the conclusion that she would’ve been more of a household name had she diversified herself in 8 films which would’ve allowed for different accents.
In Hard Candy, she could’ve played a red-haired Australian. Given that this was her first major role, she would’ve surprised people (casting directors as much as directors). Particularly given that Australians are hired to play Americans, it befits Ellen’s typically ironic hipster vibe for the dynamic to be reversed (duly noting that Canada is North America). Also, the red hair would not only befit the sinister nature of Hayley Stark but match her red hoodie and the red walls of Jeff’s apartment. From a film critic’s perspective, the joke is that she had more red in her hair than on her hands.
In Whip It, her character only has blue hair for a few scenes. It would’ve been more of a teen rebel movie if she kept it for the majority of the movie. The mother of her character forbids to have blue hair, but she could still dye it for the scenes which don’t take place in her home. It makes sense because her character is from a blue collar family. Also, it would’ve made sense if she spoke in a Texan accent considering that the movie takes place in a small Texan town. It’s telling that Juno Temple donned this accent for a movie which Ellen dropped out of – Killer Joe. As for the other Texan movie, the film was a flop because Ellen didn’t do much to surprise audiences other than wear glasses and have long wavy hair.
In Peacock, she could’ve played a blonde South-African. Since Ellen described the screenplay as one of the most boldest that she has ever read, it would’ve been even bolder for her to don a South-African accent; especially because it would make you think why she would move to Nebraska (the film is a psychological thriller). Since the film stars Cillian Murphy, the accent would be a reference to the fact that peacocks were introduced to South Africa by the first British settlers. Had Ellen pursued this route, the film wouldn’t have been relegated to DVD (which is more of a demotion than a TV movie that had no cinema ambition behind it). It could’ve earned her Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Oscar nominations for best actress. As for the blonde hair, it would’ve been symbolism in that her character is a beacon of hope for the clouded mind of the protagonist.
In Inception, she could’ve adopted a French accent since she plays an architecture graduate who lives in Paris. Also, Edith Piaf did a cover of Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien which plays during the dream sequences. Ellen could’ve worn pink hair, thus reminding people of Natalie Portman in Closer. Pink is the most romantic hair dye, befitting Ellen’s literally dreamy character. Ariadne would seem far more romantic when she kisses Arthur. Considering that Ellen was the 8th choice for the role*, it would’ve cemented her status because it’s been easy for critics to dismiss her performance by saying that anyone could’ve played that role. Additionally, 8 is a lucky number for the Chinese.
In Super, she could’ve played an orange-haired Scot. This would reference the Violent Glaswegian trope. It would also indirectly reference The Simpsons and Braveheart. The vigilante movie didn’t make a bigger splash at the box office. If Ellen reinvented herself, there would’ve been enough word of mouth to increase some sort of momentum that would’ve led to wider distribution like Kick-Ass; which was another Indie movie that was conceived at the same time but made and released earlier. Unlike Super, Kick-Ass managed to become something of a sleeper hit. The lesson to be learned from the failure is that an ambitious director can only do well when working with an equally imaginative thespian.
In Tilda, she could’ve played German whose hair has streaks of grey and white. Grey implies that she is trying to identify with an older woman who has an interest in her. This would resonate with Ellen because she enjoys having relationships with older women. White symbolizes that she comes from a white collar family. Furthermore, the German accent would be a way to imply that Tilda (i.e. Diane Keaton) sees a destined connection between Carolyn and her Jewish self. Such a destiny would’ve been more meaningful if Carolyn was a scientologist (seeing as how Jews have more power than scientologists in Hollywood but they had less power than Germans during the world wars). The accent would’ve been a red herring that would’ve necessitated comparisons to Hitler (or even the main villain in Die Hard). Ellen’s accent might have allowed the pilot to instigate a series. 2011 was her most disappointing year.
For To Rome with Love, she could’ve played a purple-haired Irish actress. This would not only be a reference to The Purple Rose of Cairo, but a reference to the Irish character that Jonathan Rhys Meyers played in Match Point. It could’ve facilitated sublime marketing (i.e. advertising three Woody Allen films), whether at the hands of the director, the studio or attentive fans. Purple is also a symbol of royalty in the East as well as the West. The accent would’ve added sexiness to her portrayal of a seductress. Making these decisions would’ve made people see Ellen as successfully playing against type as opposed to being miscast or typecasted (another smart-alec).
For The East, green hair makes sense because Ellen lived in an eco-friendly camp when undertaking research for this film. Also, green gives a punk vibe to her anarchistic character. An English accent would be ideal given that the directorial Scott brothers (Ridley and Tony) were involved as producers. Furthermore, green being a symbol of envy would’ve added a symbolic connotation when her character cheats in a game of spin the bottle. Thespians should study colour psychology.
Ellen’s lack of change is underpinned by the fact that a lot of her movies have a recurring theme – mothers who are conspicuously absent. In Hard Candy, X-Men: The Last Stand and Touchy Feely, her mother is simply not there for a reason which is not stated. As such, it presents a small plot hole. Before those movies were made, Ellen played girls whose mothers were dead in Ghost Cat and Smart People. After these movies were made, she played a girl whose mother abandons her in An American Crime and Juno (where Ellen’s character has a stepmother just like in real life). To add to the underlying theme of matriarchal disappointment, Mouth to Mouth and Whip It see Ellen play a girl whose mothers are distant or lacking.
It wouldn’t be a tall tale to assume that Ellen has a larger than expected hand in changing some of the screenplays. X-Men: The Last Stand (which was made in 2005) and An American Crime (which was made in 2006) were different because they were based on sources that didn’t provide leeway for someone of her status. As for the other movies, it’s not like there’s a website about unpublished scripts where you can find specific material based on keywords. Before Ellen came out of the closet, she had been in three movies which had lesbian references. There was the political trivia in Smart People, the faux pas confession in To Rome with Love and the kissing game in The East. Again, this is hardly a coincidence. This points to the fact that she has a hand in changing screenplays.
Such changes will only hurt her chances to be seen as diverse. Since Freeheld is a biopic, Ellen could’ve been positioned on the same pedestal as Charlize Theron (whose transformative portrayal in Monster gave her more acclaim than what Ellen will receive). For her predilection to be perceived as tomboyish, Ellen might gain some muscular weight for a future role. If she doesn’t improve, she should become a director. Her leading lady career had stagnated the moment that she dropped out of Drag Me to Hell (a return to form for Sam Raimi) to star in Whip It. This coloured the mind of Jason Reitman enough that he decided to replace her with a Twilight actress (Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air) who became more popular.
Drag Me to Hell had minimal feeble profit because it lacked Ellen’s star power. Likewise, Killer Joe relied on Ellen’s mainstream awareness and Indie credibility to ensure that it was going to be a profitable comeback for Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch. The studio behind The Lincoln Lawyer (also starring Matthew) were depending on the box office income of Killer Joe (which was released in the same month). J-Law benefited from dropping out of Killer Joe to star in X-Men: First Class. On a similar note, this affected Ellen’s chance to headline an X-Men film subtitled Days of Future Past. Her character, Kitty Pryde, was meant to be the main character but the excuse was that her character wasn’t born during the era that she was travelling to. Ellen, not homophobia, is her own enemy. She wrongly rejected the titular role of Jane Eyre**.
Had Ellen starred, it would’ve given a chance for people to see and hear her in a context far removed from her Indie tomboy persona. Mia Wasikowska would end up being nominated for best actress by the British Independent Film Awards and the Georgia Film Critics Association. She caught the attention of Guillermo Del Toro to the extent that he had cast her in Crimson Peak, which grossed more money than Ellen’s last cinema leading vehicle (Whip It). Jane Eyre would’ve been the fifth out of sixth novel adaptations which Ellen has starred in. The first being Pit Pony, the second was The Tracey Fragments, the third was The Stone Angel, the fourth was Whip It (Derby Girl was the novel’s title), while the last was Into the Forest. If Heath Ledger hadn’t died, she would have starred in a better follow-up to Whip It – his directorial début which was to be titled The Queen’s Gambit.
This offer would never have happened if the original director for Juno, Brad Silberling, didn’t leave the project because of not wanting Ellen. He wanted Lindsay Lohan to act as Juno opposite Hilary Duff as Leah. This would mean that the promotional poster would have advertised those two actresses instead of the star standing alongside Michael Cera. Brad decided that Duff would play Juno if Lohan rejected it.
* Behind Evan Rachel Wood, Emily Blunt, Rachel McAdams, Emma Roberts, Jessy Schram, Taylor Swift and Carey Mulligan.
** It flopped. Mia didn’t have Ellen’s star power. In 2012, Mia was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair’s young Hollywood issue. Up to that point, Mia had done only small films since Alice in Wonderland (2010). Ellen had been doing small films since Inception (2010) but even she wasn’t on the cover.