On Feb. 29, Viceland launches as a 24-hour cable channel focused on food, fashion, sex, music, sports, and culture. One of the shows on its slate is Gaycation, premiering on Wednesday March 2 at 10 p.m., which follows Ellen Page and her best friend, Ian Daniel, as they search for LGBTQ community in Japan, Brazil, Jamaica, and the United States.
It might sound like a standard queer travel show, but the first episode, in which they visit Japan, is surprisingly original and even profound. (Viceland has made it available a week before the premiere on its YouTube channel.) Page might be a movie star, but she approaches the people she meets on her travels with humility and curiosity, and her friendship with Daniel is downright aspirational in its closeness. While the show begins on familiar ground—with visits to Tokyo’s gay bars and interviews with straight women who are obsessed with graphic gay manga—some of the later scenes, including a young man coming out to his mother while Page and Daniel sit alongside them both, are wonderfully raw and real.
I spoke with Page and Daniel about traveling together, why they chose to interact with people who are hostile to LGBTQ culture, and whether making a show like this could harm Page’s career.
In the past, gay travel shows have tended to focus on bars, beaches, and hotties. It seems like you’re doing something more substantive than that. What’s Gaycation’s mission?
Ellen Page: I love travel shows. I love Anthony Bourdain. I love No Reservations. I always learn so much, and I wanted to see one from a gay perspective that explored LGBT communities around the world. Naturally, that becomes the joys, the fun, the scene, and then also the struggles, the triumphs, and the difficulties. By focusing on the community, you can learn more about the whole country.
Travel journalism, especially on television, has often had a boosterish quality: the best this, the best that. I know that some of the places you went are not LGBT-friendly. How did you deal with those negative experiences?
Page: A huge part of the show is talking to those who don’t like us, or are fine with us but don’t want us to get married, or want us to be dead, or think we have a disorder—different levels of hatred and fear and what have you. It’s a huge part of the show because we want to give a face to that, to what’s potentially inflicting the violence, to what’s preventing equality. A lot of those people are just a symptom of an issue. There is a core issue, and it manifests in this. Why is that? Really that’s what we’re trying to ask. We try to go in with an open heart and an open mind to figure it out. Because, yes, there are often times where you just want to be, like, why do you give a shit? Why do you give a shit if that guy wants to kiss that guy? Why do you give a shit if that person was born in the wrong body and is a trans woman? What is your problem?
Are any of the destinations that you go to places where you basically said: This is not a comfortable place to be queer?
Daniel: Absolutely. When there’s the first gay party, but you have to have bodyguards with machine guns to have a gay dance party, the whole trip is clearly colored by that energy, and that’s the important part of the episode. We came in as two gay people, and we’re going to places where probably two white gay people are not going to go, and that’s the part of the show. We’re not on a vacation. We want to go and see what’s going on, and then there are parts where, on some level, we do act as tourists. Like, what is the tourist experience, what is the reality of that?
You two seem to have a very intense bond. How did you meet?
Daniel: Ellen was doing her films, and I think she wanted a break. I was working in New York, and I wanted to do something different while I could. I was on a journey to learn about self-sufficiency, growing my own food, about community, all those things. So I ended up on a veggie-oil-powered school bus with people I didn’t really know, traveling cross country. I ended up at this place in Oregon where they teach a course in permaculture design. I’m taking the course, and I’m away from the world as far as I can go, and Ellen comes to take the course. We’re living in dorms, and we’re taking classes, and we’re learning how to grow things, peeing in buckets,
Page: It’s just such a special way to meet someone.
Travel journalism is one of those professions—like acting, I imagine—where people think it’s glamorous and want to get into it. And, actually, while it can be very cool, it’s also really hard work and not at all glamorous a lot of the time. What was your experience?
Page: I may be more used to being in front of a camera than Ian, but I’m not used to being in front of a camera as myself. I’m not used to watching myself as myself, you know. Look, of course you have days that are long, you’re tired, and things aren’t working out, and you can get frustrated, but I would say any of the things that make it less glamorous or cause some complexity or turn you down the road you weren’t expecting to go down is a part of the thrill.
Daniel: I think that if we were just having a vacation, having fun, we would be bored. We’re both very curious, and we want to be learning.
Page: Even if we went on a vacation, we would probably try to make it resemble these trips as much as we could.
Ellen, do you have any concern at all that doing a show like this could hurt your movie career?
Page: I certainly would like to think not, I’m just making a travel show about the community that I happen to be a part of, so it would be shocking to me if it did. I’m also not naive to the fact that I’m an out gay actor. All I can say is, we’ll see.
You might also face criticism from within the community.
Page: We are just trying to do the best possible job we can. We’re not perfect. All you can do is trust the positive intention behind it, and we’re always going to work to, hopefully, get better and better.
This interview has been edited and condensed.