A little indie grows into a surprise blockbuster embraced by Hollywood as a Best Picture nominee, as its title character is adopted by young moviegoers as a rare kindred spirit. Star Ellen Page talks about success, stereotypes, and the whole surreal deal

By Christine Spines
Updated February 01, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST

She comes shuffling through the dining room of the Four Seasons Hotel wearing jeans and magenta high-tops. With her hands thrust deep into her front pockets and her brow tilted toward the floor, Ellen Page looks like a kid who has wandered into enemy territory in the high school cafeteria. She sits, and at one point pulls her hoodie up over her head and tightens the strings, hiding all but her eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s about as close as a human can come to disappearing in plain sight. ”This is all definitely surreal,” she says.

Hoodie or no, it’s impossible to miss the 20-year-old actress at the center of the indie comedy sensation of the season. In Juno, which was directed by Jason Reitman, Page stars as a wisecracking 16-year-old. Juno gets knocked up by her track-nerd best friend (Michael Cera) and makes a series of unexpected choices, carrying the baby to term and offering it up for adoption to a couple of suburban yuppies, who are more, and less, than they seem (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman).

On paper, an underage-pregnancy saga doesn’t sound like the sort of movie that would pry teenagers from their laptops. But Juno has become a massive crossover hit, sailing past $100 million and landing Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. The Best Picture race may include such high-pedigree contenders as There Will Be Blood, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and Atonement, but little $6.5 million Juno has surpassed them all. ”It’s hard to even wrap my head around,” Page says of the Oscar nominations. ”The people I got to work with were just insanely awesome. And most importantly, it was something that everyone’s hearts were just fully thrown into.”

Juno has become a bona fide phenomenon — a rare cultural touchstone for millions of young female moviegoers. That’s something that nobody anticipated. Log on to YouTube and you’ll find scads of homemade videos with girls (and guys) singing songs they’ve written about the film (”Good morning, Juno/You’re going to get through this…”). Others are stenciling their favorite Junoisms onto T-shirts (”They call me the cautionary whale”), while Facebook and other websites are quickly filling up with breathless declarations of Juno love: ”[Juno] is everything a girl like me wishes she could be,” writes one. ”Blunt, brave, chill, caring, hilarious, ingenious, mirthful…totally boss…alive, sparkling…retro…and nonchalantly kick-ass.”

After years of being served mostly bland good girls and ciphers — from Molly Ringwald in the ’80s to Alicia Silverstone in the ’90s to Lindsay Lohan in the ’00s — teenage girls are clearly starving for a female antihero, as are their mothers, fathers, older sisters, and even some of their brothers. In Juno, the story of a pint-size badass who also happens to be a romantic idealist, Hollywood has finally delivered. ”It’s a teenage female lead we’ve never seen before,” says Page. ”She dresses like she wants, says what she wants, and doesn’t apologize for it…. Girls haven’t had that sort of character before. We don’t have our Catcher in the Rye.” In what may be the ultimate sign of success, there’s even a cranky backlash bubbling up, much of it from adults who question whether teenage girls are really all that clever.

Regardless, Page and the film have been on an awards-season rocket ride for weeks now, picking up trophies from the National Board of Review, the Chicago Film Critics, and the Gotham Awards, as well as three Golden Globe nominations. Not that Page is counting. On the contrary, the 5’1″ actress seems relieved that the Globes got canceled because of the writers’ strike. ”Sometimes I think I come off as a Hollywood-hater, and it’s not true. I’m not some judgmental prick,” she says. ”It’s not like I’m ‘Boo hoo! People like the movie.’ You know what I mean?” Hollywood’s hottest new starlet spent the day ordinarily devoted to the Globes frolicking at the Six Flags amusement park instead.

NEXT PAGE: ”It helps that I had a very cynical attitude going into this. I didn’t ever think this film would be produced. So that gave me the freedom to write the kind of movie I wanted to see.”