Sixteen years ago, Elliot Page took the Toronto International Film Festival by storm as the breakout star of Jason Reitman's Oscar-nominated comedy, Juno. Flash-forward to 2023, and the actor returned to TIFF for his latest film, Close to You — Page's first leading man role since coming out as transgender in 2020.
The movie's director, Dominic Savage, confirmed that the movie is very much rooted in Page's own journey.
"This film was made with Elliot, for Elliot and because of Elliot," the filmmaker said ahead of Close to You's Sunday world premiere, which Yahoo Entertainment attended.
Page himself also attended the premiere — one of the few actors who appeared on a TIFF red carpet amid Hollywood's dual strikes by the Writer's Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. (As an independent production, Close to You qualified for an interim agreement with SAG-AFTRA, which allowed Page to attend the festival.) After the screening, the actor took the stage to cheers and applause from the audience and called the film, "one of the most incredible experience of my career."
Close to You casts Page as Sam, who is returning to his hometown of Cobourg, Ontario, for his father's birthday after four years in Toronto. It's not going to be an easy homecoming: after battling depression for most of his adolescence, Sam has found happiness as a trans man. But his family is still wrestling with his evolution, and the lingering tensions are evident as soon as he walks through his front door. His mother accidentally misgenders him, and berates herself for her mistake; his older sister confesses that she feels as if she doesn't know him; and his brother-in-law makes openly bigoted comments and offers half-hearted apologies under duress.
At the same time, Sam also experience moments of love and joy. Both his mother and father are fully supportive of his transition, and tell him how proud they are that he's living his truth. And Sam also reconnects with his high school crush, Katherine (Hillary Baack) — a reunion that stirs long-buried feelings within both of their hearts. And it's Katherine who really sees the person Sam always was. "You look so good," she tells him at one point, to which Sam replies: "It's good to look in the mirror and go, 'There's that guy. I was wondering where he was.'"
According to Page, the Sam and Katherine relationship was the jumping-off point for his early conversations with Savage. "When he first talked about this idea, it was mostly about meeting someone from your past — that was the initial spark that interested us," the actor recalled. "And then it turned into going home to the family. That journey and the complexities and the nuanced elements of those relationships with family were all things that ended up being a big part of the story."
Page also revealed that Close to You is entirely improvised — something that worried him at first. "I was so nervous before going into this," the actor admitted, adding that some takes stretched on for as long as 50 minutes as the cast made up their dialogue on the spot. "I was like, 'What the f***, I can't improvise!' It was nerve-wracking, but then we started and you disappear."
Speaking with Variety ahead of the film's world premiere, Page addressed the way that his own experience as a trans man became part of Sam's DNA. "If someone misgenders me, I don't take it personally," he noted, referring to the scene where Sam's mother says "her" instead of "him."
"When someone does go to apologize, it's great," Page continued. "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."
Close to You also features Page's first love scene as a leading man, and the actor also have several shirtless scenes that reveals the scars from his chest masculinization surgery. "Shooting on the day, I was getting out of bed and getting dressed, it was sort of clumsy, like, 'Oh, it would be great, he sleeps shirtless,'" the actor recently told Entertainment Weekly. "It just felt natural. Showing this dude who's comfortable and present and waking up in his body, that means a lot to me. I never thought I'd feel that way, so it's nice to get to act it."
Speaking to an enthused audience after Close to You's world premiere, Page made it clear that he's eager for more opportunities to stretch his acting muscles. "I'd really love to work with Dominic again," the actor said, praising the director's improv-friendly approach. "It's the purest joy of acting — [the scene] goes on and on and on and deepens."