Ellen Page became a star and best-actress Oscar nominee at 20 for playing a pregnant teen in “Juno.” Her lifestyle, however, is not the expected A-list cliché of heedless consumption and bling binges.
Page deplores waste and excess. She followed her 2007 breakthrough role by studying sustainable design at the Lost Valley ecological education center outside Eugene, Ore., when she was 22. After experiencing paparazzi overexposure in Hollywood, she said, shoveling goat manure into a wheelbarrow and harvesting her urine as a nitrogen source to grow food was exactly the break she needed.
Now Page is starring as an anarchist eco-activist in the thriller “The East.” She and her cohorts target executives whose companies pollute or distribute unsafe pharmaceuticals, exposing them to their own toxins. “The script was so beautifully written, so emotional and suspenseful and entertaining. And it explores so many ideas that I’m personally interested in,” Page said by phone from Los Angeles.
“I think a lot of people, right or left, atheist or Christian, are angry right now. Frustrated and sad at the state of things. Whether it’s how we treat our environment, the gap that’s widening between rich and poor, the abuses that go on that are often legal. There’s no one held to accountability for this destruction, and people don’t know what to do.
“It’s hard to have a voice because there’s so much corporate money in politics that it’s really overwhelming,” Page said. “It strangles everything.”
“The East” connects with that displeasure by dramatizing a group that takes justice into its own hands. An advocate of nonviolent protest, the 27-year-old actress stressed that “I don’t believe in eye-for-an-eye justice. But I think it’s what a lot of people are feeling right now.” She became familiar with that way of thinking at Oregon’s Lost Valley (she terms it an “intentional community” rather than using the loaded term “commune”). Page learned from anarchists and Freegans, who harvest still-wholesome castoff food from supermarkets. “The East’s” director Zal Batmanglij and star/co-writer Brit Marling had similar experiences before collaborating on the film, riding freight trains and subsisting on whatever food they could scrounge. Those travels opened their eyes to the amount of waste in our economy.
Page said she could understand how the idea of dumpster diving might strike many as “grotesque. But when you really experience it, behind every grocery store there are giant blue bins of food they legally have to throw away because it’s past its sell-by date. And it’s fine. And you take it and cook it and share it with people who otherwise would go hungry. That makes way more sense than the system that is currently existing. It’s a powerful personal paradigm shift.”