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Ellen Page On New Film's Heart: 'All We Want Is To Love And Be Loved'

Ellen Page appears in a scene from <em>Freeheld</em> in this image released by Lionsgate. She tells NPR that the film captures the special emotional and practical impacts of same-sex marriage discrimination.
Phil Caruso
Ellen Page appears in a scene from Freeheld in this image released by Lionsgate. She tells NPR that the film captures the special emotional and practical impacts of same-sex marriage discrimination.

The new film Freeheld tells the real life story of Laurel Hester, a New Jersey police detective, who is diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.

Hester, played by Julianne Moore, tries to get her pension benefits extended to her domestic partner Stacie Andree, played by Ellen Page. But local officials deny the request.

Ultimately the case makes national headlines, and when the city council finally rules in her favor, it's seen as a crucial victory in the civil rights movement for same-sex marriage.

For Ellen Page, the story of Hester and Andree had personal resonance. The actress signed onto the film while she was still closeted — she came out in 2014.

Page talks to NPR's Rachel Martin about how her personal life strengthened her connection to the film and what she hopes the audience will take away from it.

Interview Highlights

On what moved her most about the true story of Freeheld

They were two women who loved each other so much, and they were so, so, so dedicated to one another. And how can that not move you? I always feel that that's all we want, is to love and be loved, and of course, that's what moved me the most. And then to watch what they went through: It's a story that you feel needs to be told. And Cynthia Wade did it beautifully with the documentary, and then to have the opportunity to fictionalize it, and hope that potentially maybe their story could reach more audiences — they deserved that and Laurel deserves that.

On the fear she felt before coming out at the Human Rights Convention last year

It's a combination of things. I think a lot of people in the LGBT community, of course, go on an internal journey, navigating — whether it's shame, navigating what it means to fully, fully, fully accept and be excited and proud of who you are. I think making this speech and doing this final step was interesting, because I think there were moments that I was fine about being gay, and thought I felt totally comfortable. It's not until I came out that I really, really could understand what I was carrying. Because it did feel like, in an instant, it all went away.

On how she felt after fully coming out

I remember it was a very interesting feeling. I was so excited to be ready to finally be fully out. You know, honestly at that point in my life, I was as out as I possibly could be, and that was the last step, I'd say ... It used to surprise me if someone didn't know I was gay. So I was already in that space, so excited to be ready to do it and to feel so ready to do it, because in the past I really did feel like that was impossible. I remember believing that. I remember having these fears that I look back on now that I don't understand.

On how her role as Stacie Andree matches her personal growth today

It's funny, because this all came up when I was 21. I was very closeted then. I'm slightly embarrassed to say, very, very closeted and afraid ... The way I feel now, I just on a human level ... wish I had come out sooner, 'cause of the difference in how I feel on every level. I really mean this when I say that the ripple effect is profound. I feel like it affects every element of my life.

On Freeheld, set in the 2000s feeling like a different time

I think what struck me the most is what they went through was so mind-boggling. It just feels so completely unnecessary. And you watch the situation happening, whether it's in the documentary or in the film, or you speak to Stacie directly, and I really just don't understand. Laurel Hester spent her entire career protecting the citizens of New Jersey. And she was domestic partners with Stacie Andree. And then when she was dying, and asking for her rights and for her pension to go to Stacie and to have people look at you and say no, and they are saying no because you're in a same-sex relationship. It's hard to wrap your head around that.

On what she hopes the audience will take away from Freeheld

I think it is special to try and convey what it means to feel like when your love is devalued and how that then makes you feel like you are less valued and you are less than. That is the emotional impact of that form of discrimination. I hope the film also conveys the logistical and practical impacts of discrimination. It really, really really affects peoples' lives and I hope that comes across in the film.

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