Elliot Page hasn't appeared in a scripted feature film in six years, and his grand return to the big screen reintroduces the Oscar-nominated actor in a deeply moving way.
The 36-year-old devised the story for, produces, and acts in British director Dominic Savage's highly improvised independent drama Close to You as Sam, a trans man who reconnects with a former flame (Sound of Metal's Hillary Baack) while traveling to suburban Canada for a discomforting reunion with his family. The project — Page's first movie since coming out as trans in 2020 — opens with a quietly powerful scene that sees a shirtless Sam getting out of bed, peering out his bedroom window, and putting his clothes on before heading downstairs to make a cup of tea. It might read like a routine sequence if it had starred another actor, but it's the first time audience will see Page on screen, living as his authentic self — and the impact isn't lost on him.
TIFF Elliot Page in 'Close to You'
"Shooting on the day, I was getting out of bed and getting dressed, it was sort of clumsy, like, 'Oh, it would be great, he sleeps shirtless.' In the moment when you're making this, you're making it from this instinctual place that I don't know how to describe. It just sort of happens, but at the same time, it just felt natural," Page tells EW in a joint interview with Savage and Baack, just ahead of the film's world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. "Showing this dude who's comfortable and present and waking up in his body, that means a lot to me. I never thought I'd feel that way, so it's nice to get to act it."
He calls the process of playing a trans man grappling with relatable issues a "liberating" experience and a highlight of his career, mostly because he's never felt more comfortable expressing himself inside a character before.
"The way I get to feel working now is far more embodied coming from that foundation, versus entering and not feeling that way. It's a huge shift. Doing something like this, complete improv, before, would've been close to impossible," Page explains. "The sensation of being able to do it and feel that present enough to do it, I just felt exhilarated every day. What a special film to do, first time [back on film], because it lets you feel embodied to the extreme."
The Juno and Umbrella Academy star notes that watching the film back for the first time was a unique experience, to be able to see himself at ease while inhabiting a character, after he previously wrote about feeling so out of place on film sets in the past that he developed stress-induced shingles on the set of Christopher Nolan's Inception.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Elliot Page at the premiere of 'Close to You' at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
"When I was the most uncomfortable, those [past] performances, you're a little more stiff, you're less loose," he recalls. "There's less ability to kind of go with the flow in the present moment."
Savage adds that he approaches each scene with little structure, which he suspects "somehow allows the actors to feel that they're safe in what they're doing, and that they're respected, and that they feel comfortable" going to deep places in the film — such as a scene that sees Sam confronting a transphobic in-law, or delicately addressing his mother's pronoun usage.
"They trust me in that, and that's important," Savage says. "Of course, I offer ways into the scenes and I'll offer places to go, but, really, I'm empowering them, too."
Close to You does not yet have an official release date, though it will screen again for TIFF audiences on Monday at 12:15 p.m. ET.
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