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Ellen Page on Touchy Feely, Improv, and Kitty Pryde

Ellen Page. Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty

In Lynn Shelton’s Touchy Feely, Rosemarie DeWitt and Josh Pais play a sister and brother who kind of swap their mojo: She gets repulsed by skin (which as a masseuse, is a problem) just as he, a dentist, gets a magic touch and can seemingly cure temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). Caught in the middle of this is Ellen Page, as Pais’s daughter and DeWitt’s niece, who finds herself attracted to her aunt’s now-ignored boyfriend. Page, who is looking to direct a film of her own starring Anna Faris, chatted with Vulture about improv, learning from her directors, and returning as Kitty Pryde in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Lynn Shelton said that during the shoot, she was running around and giving you guys shoulder rubs.
[Laughs.] I’m not really a massage person. But I feel like, that’s Lynn, you know? Lynn is just like pure heart and could honestly not be a lovelier person. It’s a little shocking how wonderful she is. The kind of person you work with and you’re like, “Please be my friend? Please keep putting me in your movies!”

She also said that it was more structured and less improv than any of her past movies.
Oh! For me, it was a lot of improv. I mean, for Lynn, is more structured, and there was a script, and a great script, and a lot of scenes you totally just did as written because they were awesome. But she constantly loves having the space for that, for improv, and that to me was very scary but also intriguing, because that’s not something I’m used to. She works in this way that is so amazing, because before you go to shoot the movie, we would get on the phone and talk a lot about Jenny, and feelings, and my feelings, and then Lynn’s feelings. [Laughs.] And then we’d get on the phone with [co-star] Josh [Pais], and all three of us would talk, and then we’d get on the phone with Rose [DeWitt] and we would talk, and then all four of us would talk, and then we’d talk to Scoot [McNairy]. You sort laid the groundwork of understanding the dynamics of relationships with other people, your own inner emotional turmoil as the character, so when there are going to be those moments, you have that foundation in place. That was very new to me.

You also plan to direct. Have you been keeping an eye on the directors you work with on various films, to learn lessons or borrow techniques? Especially because you’ve worked with a lot of different types of directors, as well as a lot of female directors, which is cool.
Yeah, it is cool! How many have I worked with? At least four, I think. Which is probably a lot, yes, because some people have probably worked with none, sadly, which is the state that we’re in. But that’s obviously changing, thank goodness. But yeah … I think I’m always paying attention, but now to the things that are less familiar to me, the more technical dynamics. You always take away something because everyone’s kind of incredibly different in how they approach telling a story and how they approach talking to actors. Here’s what I respond to the most: I always appreciate so much a director who totally knows what they want, is very, very assured in what they want. They’re a guide, they have a direction, and they make you feel safe.

And then there’s also the quirky things, like when you did Whip It, and Drew Barrymore directed on roller skates …
[Laughs.] She did. Everyone’s different! And when I was working with Jason Reitman, Juno was like a tonally specific movie, and I think that’s what Jason is so incredible at. He just so understood how he wanted that story to be told and how he wanted to convey what Diablo [Cody] had written, and I had so much absolute trust in him. When he would want to push me further or bring it down, he was so amazing at being a guide in that. And then you work with someone like Chris Nolan [on Inception], who is so incredible, because the massiveness of what you could be doing that day, he creates such an amazing, intimate environment.

What was it like revisiting a character, but with a different director? Because the first time you played Kitty Pryde, it was with Brett Ratner, and this time, it was with Bryan Singer.
That’s sort of the wonder and mystery of making a movie, you know? Maybe because the first one was so long ago, maybe because it was like an eight-year difference, but it didn’t feel like there needed to be an adjustment period. Bryan, I don’t know how he pulls off everything he does in a day, I really don’t! He is really great with actors and really wants the truth of the performance to exist, to sort of elevate that kind of a film, which I feel he did with the first two X-Men movies. He was sort of the first to take that kind of a spectacle of film and tell a deeply, deeply human story.

Apparently, Singer said at the Fantasia International Film Festival that he was really happy that Ratner cast you in the third one, that he got a good Kitty Pryde.
Awww! That’s sweet of him to say.

And Joss Whedon’s a fan, too. He wants to do a whole Kitty Pryde movie.
I have heard that, yeah! Well, I’m available! [Laughs.] I love that. Kitty Pryde’s awesome. I’m super grateful to be the actress who’s gotten to be her, and you only desperately hope that the true fans who have a right to demand what they want and who have been passionate about these stories for a really long time, that you can pull it off for them. I would be so thrilled to play Kitty Pryde again. I really would.

Ellen Page on Touchy Feely and Kitty Pryde