Writer ∙ Author ∙ Journalist

In ‘Pageboy,’ Elliot Page Traces His Journey

Zoomer / June 2023

The Hollywood star talks about transphobia, an obsession with the Halifax Explosion and his “emo” journals

Sixteen years after the Academy Award-winning film Juno turned the Halifax teenager into a household Hollywood name, Elliot Page has transformed from uber-private celebrity into tell-all memoirist. After a well-worth-it wait and plenty of hype, Pageboy: A Memoir is currently sitting atop bestseller lists, and was promoted in a massive New York Times Square billboard, which the 36-year-old Canuck posed in front of, with a wink, for his Instagram.

Pageboy is the no-holds-barred story of Page’s rapid rise to Hollywood fame via starring roles with everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Drew Barrymore, in genres ranging from indie darling to big-budget X-Men franchise. Little did anyone know, however, that Page hid a big secret beneath crushing emotional pain. “The success of Juno coincided with people in the industry telling me no one could know I was queer,” he writes. He wore the dresses and smiled in the photo shoots, but beneath the glamorous visage was a very different, very unhappy person. “I was struggling with depression and having panic attacks so bad I would collapse … Numb and quiet, nails in my stomach, I was incapable of articulating the depth of pain I was in, especially because ‘my dreams were coming true,’ or at least that is what I was being told.”

Despite what Hollywood producers would prefer, Page came out as gay on Valentine’s Day 2014 during a human rights speech in Las Vegas. He married a choreographer in 2017, but the short-lived union ended in mid-2020. That December, he took to social media to announce that he was trans. “My joy is real, but it is also fragile,” he wrote, a sentiment which perfectly captures the warm, shy, soft-spoken person I met in a sky-high HarperCollins office in Toronto. Zoomer sat down with the star halfway through a gruelling publicity tour that he doesn’t seem particularly comfortable with, though he is humble and grateful for a platform that felt impossible just a few years ago. In an intimate chat, he talks about Toronto as a second home, the Halifax Explosion, embarrassing teenage diaries, how to write your memoir in a cabin and the very best part of being Elliot Page.

Rosemary Counter: I just snuck a peek at your schedule on the way in. You poor guy! Are you exhausted?

Elliot Page: I’m maybe a little tired, but I’m okay. I’m a bit over halfway through now, and it’s going well. It’s been very meaningful for me, and I’ve met a lot of people who are trans or queer, and they’re excited and laughing and sharing space during this time.

RC: Do you mean this time like your book tour, or this time in history?

EP: The time in history. Any time the community comes together is such a beautiful thing, but I don’t want to create a false reality about the trans experience either. We’re seeing some awful rhetoric up here [in Canada], we’re seeing it manifest in the real world in New Brunswick with the Premier [Blaine Higgs]. All of these things happen in Canada, as well as the rest of the world, and I think it’s a dangerous thing to assume that Canada doesn’t have these issues or that they’re not so bad.

RC: That said, welcome home. Does it feel like a homecoming or does it feel like you never left?

EP: Thank you! I’ve been here so much lately, six years actually, filming The Umbrella Academy, which we just finished. Toronto has felt like a second home lately. But I usually live in New York, so I’ll probably go back there for a bit, and then I imagine to Nova Scotia for the summer.

RC: You did a lot of research about Halifax, specifically the [1917] Halifax Explosion, for this book. Why did you include that?

EP: I was already so interested in the explosion, probably having grown up right there in the Hydrostone neighbourhood, which was rebuilt atop the part of the city that had been completely flattened. This became such an important part of my childhood, then as an adult I learned more about the intricacies. I could go on and on about this, but my editors had to stop me. They’d say, maybe pull back on the explosion, just a bit.

RC: You did the all-out, cabin-in-the-woods writing experience in Nova Scotia. Literally. Why? And how did you stay motivated?

EP: Well, I wrote in my apartment in New York a lot, too, but I’m a nature guy, so it seemed nice to get into a different space. It was obviously very quiet, and I spent a lot of time alone. I’d wake up really early, be writing by 5:30 or 6 a.m., write for a couple hours, walk the dog, write for a couple more. Then work out, eat something. By three or four, I could feel myself shutting down. I’m definitely more of a morning writer. As for motivation, and I write about this in the book, I just never had the opportunity or focus or mental space to do this. The fact that I finally could was so exhilarating. I almost couldn’t stop writing. I also had a book deal already with deadlines, so that helped. Every Wednesday I’d deliver at least 5,000 words to my editor. Sometimes I’d take Thursday off.

RC: Did you do much writing before? Did you keep diaries or anything?

EP: Not really, no. Sometimes I’d have little sparks of moments where I might write something little, just for myself, but I could never sit long enough with myself to create much really. The idea of the book came from my agents, not long after I came out as trans. Everything felt beautiful and joyful, but also very overwhelming. When I finished shooting the third season of Umbrella, they suggested I write 20 pages or so to take to publishers. I think something clicked, because I walked right back to my apartment and started writing.

RC: So, no diaries to look to, but you do have all your films. Did you go back and rewatch them to remember? What’s it like to go back and watch yourself?

EP: Some I went back if I needed to reference something, like to describe a scene or get the dialogue. But it’s sort of weird; I feel almost a disconnect from them. Maybe this is because I’m trans, or maybe it’s just because I’m an actor, but those people aren’t me. You know what? Now that I think about it, I did find a few notebooks from when I was 16 or 17. They’re very emo.

RC: Your teenage self had a great relationship with your mom, as you do now, though I kept count, and you came out to her not once, not twice, but three times. Do you have any advice for someone to better support the LGBTQ+ people in their lives?

EP: It’s really not that hard. You should obviously love and care and respect them for who they are, of course, but you should stand up for them, too. If you’re hanging out with people and someone says something negative, or is regurgitating misinformation, step in and say something. That’s important. Stay up to date with what’s happening in the world. Check in on your friends.

RC: What makes you the happiest right now? What brings you the most joy?

EP: Oh gosh, just waking up every day and feeling present in my life. I feel a sensation of being alive that I really never thought I’d feel. I struggled to see a future and I couldn’t understand how people just went about their days while I was just so uncomfortable all the time. I enjoy existing now, so just to wake up in my body is such a massive shift. I feel so happy now and I’m happiest hanging with my other trans pals.