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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Ellen Page is young, but she's quickly becoming a respected actress. She's only 20, and is best known for some roles she had as a child. But Page is from Canada. And she says there, child actors are able to take their craft, not just their fame, seriously.

NPR's Neda Ulaby reports on the star of "Juno," the movie opening this week. A note to listeners, this story includes some subject matter and language that some might find offensive.

NEDA ULABY: "Juno" is about a pregnant teenager unfazed by her predicament.

(Soundbite of movie "Juno")

Ms. ELLEN PAGE (Actress): (As Juno MacGuff) I'm going to give it up for adoption. And I already found the perfect couple. They're going to pay for the medical expenses and everything. And 30 or odd weeks, we can just pretend that this never happened.

ULABY: Motor mouth Juno is a real kid, the type you see in high schools, but not often in the movies. As played by Ellen Page, Juno is prickly and loyal, ferociously smart but defensive. You can hear it when she asks an adoptive couple why they didn't go to China.

(Soundbite of movie "Juno")

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those T-shirt guns, and shoot them out at sporting events.

Ms. JENNIFER GARNER (Actress): (As Vanessa Loring) Your parents are probably wondering where you are.

Ms. PAGE: (As Juno MacGuff) No. I mean, I'm already pregnant. So what other kind of shenanigans can I get into?

ULABY: Right now, Ellen Page, planted on a Toronto park bench, says she picks only parts she considers genuine, ones where the girls she plays don't feel like stereotypes. In the past, that's meant a number of dark, often violent roles. Page has played endless runaways, a mutant schoolgirl in the movie "X-Men III" and a teenager tortured to death by Catherine Keener in the yet to be released "American Crime."

Ms. PAGE: I've been approached with the, oh, wow, it's really amazing that you take on these feminist roles. But often I'm like, you know what? I'm actually just playing honest, whole young women.

ULABY: Page reflects, this never seems to come up with her young male peers.

Ms. PAGE: Oh, wow. You're playing really wonderful, strong, complex male roles. I don't think that question would be asked.

ULABY: Page had her breakthrough role three years ago in the movie "Hard Candy." She played a 14-year-old vigilante who lures online pedophiles, tortures and kills them.

(Soundbite of "Hard Candy")

Mr. PATRICK WILSON (Actor): (As Jeff Kohlver) Who the hell are you?

Ms. PAGE: (As Hayley Stark) I am every little girl you ever watched, touched, hurt, screwed, killed.

ULABY: The pedophile was played by Patrick Wilson of "Angels in America" and "Little Children." He says Page attacked her role like Joan of Arc.

Mr. WILSON: I like the fact that they - you know, by going with her, they won't go on with some glamour girl who's in magazines and trying to act like she's 25.

ULABY: Page says that's in part because Canadian child stars are not like American ones.

Ms. PAGE: I wasn't 11 and being forced into tap lessons and singing lessons and sent to auditions by, you know, my overly tanned mother in California.

ULABY: Instead, Page attended a Buddhist school in Halifax. Its lessons about withholding judgments are clear as Page considers the scandalous, self-destructive women her age who command tabloid attention.

Ms. PAGE: They clearly haven't had much control. They seem like individuals that have been pushed into situations that have been hyper-sexualized at a really young age. And now, there is no compassion. There's no one saying, why? Everyone is just judging.

ULABY: Page says she feels compassion for these young women, just as she is beginning to achieve another level of fame. She's a devotee of Converse sneakers and flannels, so she was shocked when Vanity Fair asked her to model in a spread of young actresses.

Ms. PAGE: I was just like, really? Maybe you should double-check. Because they know - do they know how tall I - do they know what I - how I dress?

ULABY: Page, among her peers, is distinctive for taking on projects that examine girls' experiences through the lenses of power and control. Most of her role models are two generations older.

Ms. PAGE: I'm a huge Sissy Spacek fan. I love "Badlands." I love "Carrie." I just think she is so good. I wish I was a teenager in the 1970s right now, to be honest, to make those movies. I mean, I've been making great movies and I'm really grateful. Sorry, that came out the wrong way. But I guess, like, you know, a film like "Carrie" coming out now, I just - I don't know how that - I don't even know if it would get made, you know?

ULABY: Ellen Page has another movie coming out in the spring, "Smart People," with Sarah Jessica Parker. She plays an arrogant young Republican. After that, Page hopes to start shooting a Canadian indie about teenage lesbian werewolves.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

BLOCK: You can find an extended version of that interview with Ellen Page, including a conversation about her favorite recent reads, at npr.org.

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