Elliot Page pulls off two big roles at TIFF 2023: starring in one film, producing another

While marking his Canadian film festival homecoming this weekend, Elliot Page wore two hats.

The Oscar-nominee has a pair of movies playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. He plays the leading man in one Canadian drama — and is the executive producer of another.

Page stars in Dominic Savage’s Close To You as a trans man who encounters an old friend during a visit to his hometown in Cobourg, Ont., for a family reunion.

Meanwhile, D.W. Waterson’s Backspot, a queer sports drama about a cheerleading couple who are both selected to compete on an all-star team, was produced by Page and his company, Pageboy Productions.

While on the red carpet for the Sunday premiere of Close To You, the 37-year-old actor said it was “an absolute thrill” to be sharing the film — an intense drama that marks his first lead film role as an openly trans man — with festival audiences in Canada.

“I just feel so grateful to be here in a city I love, at a festival I love, with a film that was set here and in Cobourg,” he said. “It’s been a dream experience of a project. So finally getting to share it with an audience is special.”

WATCH | CBC’s full interview with Page on the Close To You red carpet: 

Page, who came out as trans in 2020, released the memoir Pageboy earlier this year. It partly recounted the challenges of publicly sharing his gender identity amid, as he described in a June interview with CBC News, a climate of “intense hostility” toward trans people.

With the Oscar-nominated actor now representing two films at the festival featuring LGBTQ protagonists, his co-star Wendy Crewson — a Canadian actress who stars in both Close To You and Backspot — told CBC News that she was proud of him.

“I can’t believe the courage that it takes to step up in the way that he has, to reveal himself in the way that he has,” both in his memoir and in his films, Crewson said, and “to really sort of be his authentic self without apology and without backing down.”

Despite Page’s high profile, he is quiet and reserved, Crewson said.

“There is a depth in that soul that is so deep, you look into those eyes, you just go back centuries.”

Close to You stars Halifax native Elliot Page as a transgender person heading home for a tense family reunion.
Close to You stars Canadian Oscar nominee Elliot Page as a transgender person heading home for a tense family reunion. (Courtesy of Me+You Productions)

British film director Dominic Savage — who became close friends with Page while collaborating on Close To You and writing the script together — said he approached the filmmaking process differently because of Page’s involvement.

After all, Close To You echoes Page’s own life, as his character Sam returns home for the first time after coming out as trans. It relies heavily on improvisation by the performers.

“Normally with actors, you cast for the part that you [have] in mind,” Savage said. “But this was about always working with Elliot and making the film with him and for him.”

Hands-on approach

While Page didn’t give interviews during the Friday red carpet for Backspot, the actors, directors and producers he worked with described a collaborative, hands-on approach that is unusual for an executive producer.

The sometimes-symbolic role often has more to do with elevating a film project’s visibility than it is about working in a deep capacity with the production.

Martin Katz, a prolific Canadian producer known for his collaborations with director David Cronenberg, said the Backspot team reached out to Pageboy Productions in hopes that Page would contribute his name to the project.

Instead, the famous Canadian and his team were involved from day one, said Katz.

“I think that [Page] felt like it was a very true story,” said Katz.

He described the film’s central conflict as being two cheerleaders who “underestimate how much mental anguish” it takes to be on a highly competitive squad.

Like Close To You, the movie has queer protagonists — but that’s just about where the resemblance ends.

“It’s not a queer coming-of-age story, it’s not a who-am-I story, it’s [an actual] sports story that happens to have a queer couple in it and that’s what’s great about it,” said Katz.

Devery Jacobs, the Mohawk actor and writer who starred in Reservation Dogs, plays teen gymnast Riley in Backspot and also co-produced the film.

“I don’t think we were anticipating for [Page and his production company] to be such close collaborators with us in the process,” Jacobs said. 

“I honestly don’t think we could’ve made this movie without [their] support.” 

Still frame from the film Backspot. Devery Jacobs does push-ups with a look of focused intensity.
Devery Jacobs is shown in a still from Backspot, executive produced by Page and his company Pageboy productions. (TIFF)

The sentiment was echoed by director Waterson, who noted that Page and Pageboy were entirely supportive of the project.

“They were on set every day, they were giving notes on the script, they were asking us, checking in and asking us how we were doing and how they could support us,” Waterson said. “Ultimately we could all just make the best movie possible, which is the best form of collaboration.”

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