If you’re an active Twitter user, you may have seen a viral post or two about Ellen Page since the turn of the year. They probably weren’t about her new Netflix series The Umbrella Academy.
That’s not to say that the show – an intriguing mash-up between comic book sci-fi and domestic drama centred around a family of estranged heroes – is boring. Far from it. It’s just that The Umbrella Academy cast member Page has other, more pressing issues on her mind.
In early February, she spoke passionately about the mistreatment of LGBTQ people in Trump’s America on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
The clip went viral, and drew endorsements from peers such as Ellen Pompeo, Olivia Wilde, Rosanna Arquette and Mark Ruffalo.
The following week, she challenged the very same Late Show over an interview with actor Chris Pratt, asking why he had not been questioned about what she alleged was his “infamously anti-LGBT” church. Pratt later responded on Instagram, saying that “nothing could be further from the truth”, and that his church “opens their doors to absolutely everyone”.
“I have this job where this funny thing happens where people want to talk to me,” she tells RadioTimes.com in the wake of her Colbert interview.
“People far more brave and courageous than me, [trans rights activist] Miss Major for example, have been doing this for decades, and risking their lives,” she explains. “I’m fortunate to have a platform where hopefully I can amplify voices that are far more important than mine, quite frankly.”
Having earned that platform in the years following her star-making debut in 2007 indie hit Juno, she feels obligated to speak her mind, particularly about LGBTQ issues in her adopted home in the USA (she is originally from Canada)
“Having so many states where you can fire people just for being who they are is not a debate,” she argues. “If a child grows up in a homophobic, queerphobic, transphobic household, that’s child abuse.”
Ellen Page and Aidan Gallagher in The Umbrella Academy
Off screen and on, Page is deeply empathetic, and this shines through particularly in The Umbrella Academy, an adaptation of My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way’s comic book series of the same name.
She says she had no issues relating to her character, an introverted violinist called Vanya, the only one of seven siblings who appears not to have been blessed with superpowers. When the series begins, Vanya is riddled with anxiety, entirely closed off from the world.
“I guess I related to where we found her in terms of things more in my past: in terms of her anxiety, her being so shut down, her struggling with depression. Stuff that one has to work through,” she says.
A lot changes for Vanya over the course of the season however, and at 10 hour-long episodes, The Umbrella Academy, she says, was one of her most in-depth characters to date.
“This was truly one of the most enjoyable characters I’ve ever gotten to play. I’ve never gotten to do an arc for this long a period.”
It’s not something she can say about her other superhero experience in the X-Men franchise, in which she played mutant Kitty Pryde.
“I never thought about X-Men once [while filming The Umbrella Academy],” she says, “because let’s be realistic: I didn’t get to do that much with Kitty Pryde.”
Page has clearly thought a lot about Vanya’s predicament. At times it’s hard to tell whether she is talking about herself or her character, particularly in relation to the journey from sheltered introvert to – without spoiling anything – someone who knows they have something to offer the world.
“Things might have been so normalised in our lives that we’re not even cognisant of the fact that they can be abusive or negative and one maybe needs to go on a journey to get through that and blossom into who they really are,” she says. This could refer to Vanya, herself – she came out publicly in 2014 – or a mixture of the two.
“I know what it’s like to feel trapped in your mind. I think that’s what Vanya’s struggling with at the beginning, you know? She doesn’t even know how to have friendships. And what you’d say to people in that position who are maybe dealing with similar issues is that none of it is their fault: they’re entitled to their feelings and hopefully they could get support. The problem is a lot of people can’t access it. It’s not available to them, and our society doesn’t treat that in the way that we should.”
The Umbrella Academy season one is released on Netflix on Friday 15th February.