Actress Ellen Page, who first made a name for herself when she earned an Oscar nomination for her role in 2007’s Juno, has thrown herself into LGBT activism since she came out as a lesbian during an inspiring speech at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to Thrive conference in 2014. Page has promoted LGBT rights in her feature film work, too, co-producing and co-starring alongside Julianne Moore in last year’s Freeheld, which told the story of a lesbian couple battling for equality. But she didn’t necessarily imagine herself using a television series to educate and enlighten—not until she had a conversation with Spike Jonze, the co-president of Vice’s new cable network Viceland.
“Spike Jones is a very good friend of mine, and essentially Spike was like, ‘Hey, we’re launching a network if you ever have TV ideas.’ I think the next day I was like, ‘I do have an idea!’ ” recalls Page, who pitched Jonze a documentary-style travel series that would have her touring the globe to explore LGBT life in different countries.
Jonze liked the concept for the show, which would ultimately become Gaycation, one of the first series to debut on Viceland, but he didn’t think Page should go it alone. So Page suggested she host the series with her best friend Ian Daniel, a documentarian who began his career as an associate producer at NBC’s Today. After meeting with Daniel, who is gay, and conducting a screen test, Jonze was pleased with the pairing, and Page and Daniel packed their bags and began production on the series that takes them from Japan to Jamaica.
The duo, who became fast friends after they met at an ecovillage in Oregon eight years ago, have a natural onscreen chemistry that can’t be faked, and Page can’t even imagine what it would have been like to make Gaycation without Daniel. “We’re able to really understand each other, quietly, without even speaking. That helps when we’re going to all these places, doing interviews that might be difficult,” she says. “I think it enables us to reach our full potential because we have each other to rely on.”
While the title Gaycation makes it sound like the four-episode docuseries is a lot of fun, and there are plenty of light-hearted and joyful moments, each episode goes beyond gay bars and beaches to make the audience aware of the struggles—and in some places, the life-threatening violence—members of the LGBT community face.
Page and Daniel find themselves in some pretty intense situations, and one of the most startling encounters is seen in an episode devoted to Brazil that debuts on March 9—Page and Daniel conduct an interview with a former cop turned hitman, who, in disguise, casually talks about killing gay people, even running them down with his car because he hates them so much.
Watching the interview is disturbing, but it drives home the point about how dangerous life is in Brazil for members of the LGBT community in a way that simply telling the audience that the country has the highest LGBT murder rate in the world doesn’t.
Talking to the hitman was scary but a last-minute opportunity that neither Page nor Daniel wanted to pass on. “We’re going face-to-face with people that do and don’t like us, and we want our viewers to have the same experience,” Daniel says. “So, of course, we’re going to jump at the chance to talk to someone who says, ‘You’re the scum of the Earth, and I’ll run you over if I see you on the street.’ “
Page felt pretty calm in the moments leading up to the interview held on the roof of a favela. It helped that there was security off camera. The experience became more unsettling as they spoke to the man. “The big thing was, he didn’t know we were gay,” says Page, who mid-interview has to decide whether to tell him. After whispering to a producer who is off camera, she goes for it.
In the episode of Gaycation devoted to Japan, which first aired on March 2, we see that although the LGBT community there doesn’t face the same level of violence present in Brazil, societal pressures do keep people in the closet. Page and Daniel meet one young man who decides to come out to his mother. Sadly, he doesn’t have a real friend to be there with him, so he makes the declaration to his mother with a rented “friend”—yes, you can rent friends in Japan—sitting by his side to offer moral support. Page and Daniel are also there observing the emotional moment. “We were kind of in shock that that was something we were going to experience first-hand,” Daniel says. “We had a lot of questions about the ethics of it. Ellen and I, though, feel like it’s such an important scene because maybe you haven’t quite seen anything like that on TV.”
Upcoming episodes of Gaycation focus on Jamaica and the United States. Page, a native of Canada who lives in Los Angeles, says it was important to shoot an episode in the U.S. so that it didn’t appear as though they were traveling the world passing judgment on everyone else. Beyond that, there is plenty of material right here at home. “There is so much to celebrate in the United States—the recent Supreme Court decision [to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act] is one of those amazing things, but trans women of color have a life expectancy of 35, which is absolutely horrific; and 40% of homeless youth are LGBT; and in 31 states, we can be fired or denied housing just for being a member of the community,” Page points out.
While Gaycation isn’t at all preachy, Page does hope that the series will make anyone who is complacent realize that a lot of work still needs to be done so that LGBT people everywhere can live in peace and equality. “We want to help people understand what the situation is, and if that means you take action, amazing. If that makes you treat people in a more kind way, or look at situations differently, or you look at the rhetoric coming from certain politicians and understand that it is really destructive, great,” says Page, who famously had an exchange with Republican senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz about gay rights at the Iowa State Fair last year that will be seen on the U.S.-themed episode of Gaycation.