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July 19, 2012

Ellen Page is ‘Beyond’ real in ‘emotional and subversive’ game

Posted in: Games

Ellen Page’s character in “Beyond” (Credit: Sony Computer Entertainment)

Ellen Page is no stranger to the role of an outsider soul flirting with the desperate edges of life — she’s been there before in “Whip It,” “Mouth to Mouth” and “Super” — but now she’s skirting the emotional ledge for a video game.

In “Beyond: Two Souls,” Page plays Jodie Holmes, a young girl with an eerie–  and deadly — imaginary friend. For players, meanwhile, the creepiness is only deepened by some truly unsettling graphics. Developed by Quantic Dream, “Beyond” features the sort of photo-realistic facial animation that leads to a lot of double-take glances. Quantic unveiled a demo of the animation engine in February to a rapt audience at the Game Developer Conference. Rather than the plasticky pseudo-humans found in so many games, the demo showed the face of Kara, a robot with translucent skin and expressive gray eyes. Kara is designed to trick viewers into thinking she has a soul.

Likewise, “Beyond” pushes the same buttons in the player’s mind — so real and yet not. Page’s role was no simple run through in a mo-cap suit and a few lines of drive-through speaker dialogue. She was brought in to give a performance that would knock aside any nagging notions of “not real” and pull players deeper into the narrative of plot-driven horror game. Page, along with the game writer/director David Cage, took a few minutes after her Comic-Con International panel to talk about the challenge of starring in her first video game.

Ellen Page stars in “Beyond: Two Souls,” an upcoming PlayStation 3 video game developed by Quantic Dream. Credit: Sony Computer Entertainment.

HC: Ellen, how did you get involved in this project?

EP: It was David that did it. I was intrigued by the idea of doing something like this, but I didn’t really understand what being in a video game meant. After talking with David, I was so moved and so intrigued by what Quantic Dream was doing, that I was completely on board. It was the combination of interactive game play and a story that was profound, emotional and subversive that inspired me.

HC: David, how did you come to select Ellen for the role of Paige Holmes?

DC:  Before I wrote the first scene, I try to pick a photo of an actor or an actress as a visual tool. The first picture I found was of Ellen. Her head was shaven, and she was everything I had in mind for this character. She was tough. At the same time, she had a depth of emotion and vulnerability.

EP: That was a rad picture. It was taken for a movie I did called “Mouth to Mouth.”

HC: How is acting for a game different than the work you’ve done for film?

EP: There’s no set. No wardrobe. The only reference point I had was what David told me. It’s also not shot remotely in a linear way. Film isn’t either. But this is to an extreme. It’s a 2,000-page script. We’d do 30, 40 pages a day. It’s insane compared to a film. Just the mere scope of the dialogue was overwhelming. On top of that, we didn’t have a lot of time. I had to walk in and get to be where I needed to be quickly. Jody goes through a lot. This is an incredibly emotional story and journey for this girl. Because it’s a game, you’re also having to record multiple responses for any one scene. So you’re having to make these snap transitions between an incredibly wide range of emotions. Going from one response to the other in rapid succession within the same scene and making sure that each one was an honest moment was difficult. But it also ended up being my favorite part.

Ellen Page and David Cage, the writer and director of “Beyond: Two Souls” on a motion capture set. Credit: Sony Computer Entertainment.

HC: David, can you describe the game?

DC: It’s as much a story as it is a game. As a player, you can switch between Jodie and The Entity that can go through walls, see people’s auras and move objects. But it doesn’t fit in any specific game genre. There aren’t any puzzles to solve. The player just makes choices, and their choices affect the narrative of the game.

HC: So players end up being in the driver’s seat of the story. Was it frustrating for you not to be able to control your character’s story arc, Ellen?

EP: As an actor, you don’t have tons of control anyway. But this takes it to a whole new level. You’re creating something that could go in so many different directions. You’re acting out elements of a story with an emotional intensity that a lot of people might never see. Every single person who plays this game will have their unique journey.

– Alex Pham

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