Elliot Page on How Making 'Close to You' Reignited Love for Acting

Elliot Page heads to the U.K on Thursday to open the BFI Flare, London’s LGBTQIA+ film festival, for the European premiere of “Close to You.”

Written and directed by Dominic Savage (behind the recent acclaimed “I Am…” anthology series that has starred the likes of Kate Winslet and Letitia Wright), the film — which bowed in Toronto — marks Page’s first feature since 2017. It’s a return to the big screen he says “felt amazing,” allowing him to experience the “joy of what it means to get to create and being creative.”

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It was also an acting experience unlike anything Page had undertaken before, with much of “Close to You” improvised. Savage claims that the lack of scripted dialogue made the on-screen interactions appear “as natural as possible,” although Page admits it was, at least initially, “terrifying.”

In the film Page plays Sam, a trans man returning to see his family in small town Canada. It’s a trip he’s been putting off for several years, his first time home since transitioning and finding the sort of inner peace he’d once thought impossible. An extra emotional burden comes when Sam meets an old school friend (“Sound of Metal” actor Hillary Baack), forcing him to confront long-buried feelings.

For Page — who himself came out as a trans man in 2020 and devised the film’s story with Savage — making “Close to You” proved extremely cathartic, reigniting a “very specific certain love” for acting he had a long time ago. And it’s something he’d love to do again, if only Savage wasn’t so in demand.

Below, Page and Savage dive deeper into the making of “Close to You.”

How did the two of you first meet and start working together?

Page: We just had a general meeting. The first thing had seen of Dominic’s was the episode of “I Am…” with Samantha Morton. Still, when I think about it, I can feel it in my chest. The film and her performance just blew me away, how natural it felt and how impactful it was. It has this lingering effect that stays with you. So I was delighted to meet him and on our first Zoom we just chatted away about all things.

Savage: I actually met Sam a few weeks ago when she won her BAFTA Fellowship and she said, “Promise me we can do another one, just like we did that one.” Because she said it was one of her favorite experiences. And I think that’s actually part of what I really enjoy about filmmaking. It’s not just the end result. It’s the fact that the journey is so powerful. And I think we definitely had that with “Close to You.” Every day we looked and hoped for those special things to happen, and they did.

Was there a kernel of a story before or did you devise it entirely together?

Page: It was really just that someone meets someone from their past that they had love for that could never be. It was very general. It’s interesting how it ended up building out and forming.

Savage: Yeah, it was about meeting someone from the past, which then developed into the business of going back to the family and the town you grew up in and all that started to emerge. And it became a really important element in it, and it’s something we can all relate to. Everyone can relate to that thing of going back. And some people literally can’t go back. So it’s quite a big deal to do it, and that’s what I like about films that deal with a common experience for all us — not necessary exceptional things but things that become exceptional. There’s a real importance to these small events in our lives.

Elliot, how much of the story came from your own experience?

Page: Not really too much. I feel like my personal experiences would be arguably similar to many. Like there being someone from your past you loved, but it couldn’t be, and the experience of seeing them again. And someone who truly saw you and you saw them and what that meant, the value of that connection and how it will always remain mixed. But in terms of my actual life or family dynamics, as a trans guy it’s different.

Much of the awkwardness in the film with Sam’s family is over their attempts to say the right thing and not use the wrong words. Are those experiences you’ve had?

Page: Oh yeah, all those things! Those things are very frequent in real life. And here’s the thing, most of the time people are absolutely so well intentioned and really trying. The only time I’ll have an issue is when someone’s clearly doing something purposefully, and they absolutely have to be hurtful or what have you. But a lot of those other sorts of moments are definitely frequent occurrences.

Was working on “Close to You” cathartic at all?

Page: It was for me, absolutely. There was a very specific certain love that I felt for acting a long time ago I felt so deeply doing this, and that itself was so healing and beautiful. To wake up every day and get to go and have that experience with Dominic and that incredible crew and group of actors was undoubtedly one of the best experiences I’ve had working. And it’s just something I would absolutely love to do again, as I think Kate [Winslet] has expressed as well. Dominic is in demand!

Savage: The only way to do it is to have a film with all of you in it.

Page: Wow. If you’d told 15-year-old Elliot that at 37 you’d be making that movie …wow! But it was just incredibly healing. It was definitely something I would not have been able to do pre-transition, with regards to the degree of presence and comfort and ability to just truly be. And yes, going through some of the things and expressing some of the things in the film of course had a catharsis to it, I think for a lot of the actors.

Dominic, you’re known for deploying improvisation in your projects, but I understand there was a lot more in “Close to You.”

Savage: It’s an unusual way of making drama, definitely. Because in doing it I’m allowing for the dialogue to be as natural as possible. For me, it’s about all the actors absolutely being in their space, in their character, in the reality of their character. And then the scenes are like provocations, if you like, as to what they will then come out with. So it’s just incredibly natural. There’s realism there. And I really enjoy that, because it’s unexpected and surprising, and it allows the actors freedom.

Elliot, how was it for you working without a script?

Page: The leading up to it was terrifying. I was like, “Oh, no, what have I done, I’m just going to disappoint, I don’t know how to improvise.” But then it really was actually remarkable and I have no other way to describe it other than it did just happen. And the next thing you knew, you were disappearing into another space and it could be like, “Cut!” and you’d have no concept of the fact that you’d just done a 26-minute take. I think our longest was 53 minutes.

For me, that magical joy, that special sensation of acting, this indescribable sensation of emotionally transcending somewhere else, while also being extremely present… this lets you fully disappear into that. And you get to stay there. It’s not two minutes and then cut and then we’re going to wait half an hour for the camera to be turned. Some days, it was like waking up and feeling like you were going up the roller coaster and being like, “Oh no, we’re not going to be able to do it today,” and then next thing you’re like, “Woohoo!”

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