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Elliot Page on Improvising a 53-Minute Take for ‘Close to You’ and Finally Being Able to Wear What He Wants on Red Carpets

Elliot Page conquered a new challenge for his first movie role in six years. In “Close to You,” an observant drama that premieres on Sunday at the Toronto Film Festival, there’s basically no written dialogue in the script, so everything that you hear in the movie was improvised by the actors on the day of shooting.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Page told Variety in a recent Zoom interview prior to the film’s premiere. (“Close to You” has secured an interim agreement, meaning SAG-AFTRA has allowed the actors to promote the film while the guild is on strike.) “I found it incredibly intimidating.”

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In “Close to You,” Page’s character Sam hasn’t visited his family since his transition four years ago. It’s not that he thinks his family isn’t supportive, but Sam doesn’t want to be treated like a different person — or have to bear the burden of their ignorance or discomfort. On an eventual trip home for his father’s birthday, Sam has a chance encounter with an old friend (“Sound of Metal” actor Hillary Baack) that forces him to confront long-buried memories and reexamine the way he wants to live his life.

“I orchestrated the film to allow for moments that aren’t expected,” says director Dominic Savage. “That’s when I get really excited. When we shoot a scene, it feels like the actors are actively living it. It’s a work of fiction, but there’s realism to it.”

Savage has called the movie a “very poignant, personal and important story.” Though Page is, of course, playing a character in “Close to You,” there are parallels with the 36-year-old actor’s own experiences. Page, the Oscar-nominated star of “Juno,” came out as transgender in 2020 and, like Sam, is familiar with people’s well-intentioned clumsiness with misgendering or using the wrong pronouns. But in his real life, Page says he doesn’t take those missteps personally. “These things take a second,” he says. “It’s all good.”

How did this collaboration come together?

Savage: It started with a Zoom meeting, like this. Elliot saw a film of mine [“I Am…”] that I made with Samantha Morton. He saw my approach to realism and the general way in which I make my work. When Elliot and I met, which is always the crucial thing, we immediately bonded and felt a sense we could do something together.

Elliot, this is your first feature film role since 2017. What was it like to be in front of the camera again?

Page: This was absolutely thrilling every single day. Because of the process, I’ve never done anything like this before. The script has a description and just that. There’s zero dialogue. You’re walking into every scene totally bare. I found it incredibly intimidating leading up to the shoot. I was like, “I’m going to be such a disappointment to Dominic. What am I doing? I can’t improvise!” Our longest take was 53 minutes. It’s like a dance. You’re really existing in it. It had me tired in moments but incredibly exhilarated.

How did you prepare to film without scripted dialogue? Was there time to rehearse?

Page: No, [laughs] and that was the part that was fascinating to me. When we were developing it, [Hillary and I] discussed little things, but not a whole lot. I’m so used to approaching work in a certain way… very scripted and everything is prepared. So I was like, “How does Dominic do this?” Next thing you know, you’ve completely disappeared in the scene as if you’ve stepped into a different dimension. The joy of acting in this way is that it wasn’t just a two-minute take that we did a couple of times. It was very long, lived-in experiences.

Savage: It’s about instinct and choices. When I choose the locations, it’s really important that they have an atmosphere about them, and they are not just places that look interesting. Everything about how I like to work is how it feels. I don’t like to overdo things. Our takes are long, but it’s good to know when you’ve got something and you can say “Well, that’s our day.”

Part of Sam’s fear in going home is more about unsolicited comments and questions he’ll receive about his transition. What kind of support can friends and family offer in wanting to learn more while still being respectful?

Page: For me, it’s about people taking individual time to educate themselves. There are a lot of resources out there to learn more about trans people and the reality of our experiences. A question isn’t always a negative thing, but there’s a time and place and context and tone.

In one scene, Sam’s mom cries after accidentally misgendering her son, and then he ends up having to console her. What’s a better way for someone to react in that situation?

Page: In those situations, I know the intent of people close to me in my life who are wanting to get it right. If someone misgenders me, I don’t take it personally. When someone does go to apologize, it’s great. But let’s move on to the next moment in our interaction. Let’s move on before it turns into a bigger thing and becomes about the person who did the misgendering and turns into this whole other energy. These things take a second. It’s all good.

Elliot, you’ve been on the picket lines this summer. What are your feelings about the ongoing strike and how it might be resolved?

Page: I want there to be a fair deal for people to be paid appropriately. I hope it gets resolved so everyone can get back to work. I mostly think about the many people who can’t work right now and the consequences of that on people’s lives.

You wrote in your memoir “Pageboy” that you have been forced to wear dresses while doing press. Are you looking forward now to being able to wear what you want?

Page: Of course. I get to enjoy every aspect of my life more now because of finally being able to speak who I am. It’s a beautiful feeling.

What are you looking forward to about watching the film with an audience at TIFF?

Savage: It’s such a massive thing when the audience first sees the work. You spend so long making something. You put so much love into it. You want everyone to feel what you feel when you were making it.

Page: I always get nervous. But there’s something so special about an audience seeing such a rare experience in this way. You get to see how it makes people feel. It always surprises me how people react.

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