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Toronto Life Q&A with Sarah Gadon

In the new CBC/Netflix series Alias Grace, Sarah Gadon plays Grace Marks, a real-life 19th-century housemaid who was convicted of murdering her employer and his mistress, spent almost three decades in the Kingston Penitentiary and eventually received a pardon. The six-part series is based on the 1997 historical novel by Margaret Atwood (maybe you’ve heard of her) and came together under producer Sarah Polley, who also wrote the screenplay. We spoke to Gadon—a former TIFF Rising Star and unofficial David Cronenberg muse—about what it was like to play an infamous murderess, how she handles selfie-seeking fans and why Margaret Atwood doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to sex.

How did you get involved with the project?
My agent sent me the script. When I saw it was a Sarah Polley project, I flipped out. Growing up in Toronto, I had always looked up to her as an actress, and I’ve watched her evolve into a director, producer and writer. I’ve always carried around a secret dream that maybe one day I might get to work with her. When I read the script, I instantly knew this was going to be really special and smart because Sarah is those two things.

Did you have to audition?
Yes. I met Sarah and Mary [Harron, the director,] the next day for lunch. Sarah told me how she had read the book when she was 17 and how it was the most important piece of literature in her life. She said, “I feel like this book has informed everything I have done since I read it.” And I thought, Oh God.
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Sarah Gadon on ‘Alias Grace’ Role

Alias Grace dives into the true story of Grace Marks (played in the miniseries by Canadian Sarah Gadon): a poor, young Irish immigrant and domestic servant who finds herself accused and convicted of murdering her wealthy employer and his housekeeper.

Though the story is set in the 1800s, Gadon also considers the miniseries timely.

“It’s where we’ve come from, at a time when we are re-examining — and we should be re-examining — things like immigration,” she told CBC News on Wednesday, “how we are treating immigrants coming to Canada and what are the things that we should be changing and aware of … for women and where we are at right now with women.”

Gadon’s role is a daunting one: she portrays Marks from age 16 to 40, as the character struggles with an identity crisis and people’s changing perceptions and expectations of her.

“Playing such a complicated character is a huge gift from Sarah and Margaret,” said the Toronto actress, calling the role the most challenging she’s ever taken on.

Read the full article on CBC News.

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TIFF: ‘Alias Grace’ World Premiere – Sarah Gadon on Tackling Grace

Sarah Gadon describes the experience of taking on the role of Grace in ALIAS GRACE.

A layered historical drama based on of Margaret Atwood’s Giller Prize–winning novel about a poor Irish servant accused and convicted of murder, from screenwriter Sarah Polley and director Mary Harron.

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Variety ‘Alias Grace’ Review

It’s hard to not compare Netflix’s “Alias Grace” with that other streaming platform’s adaptation of a Margaret Atwood novel, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The Hulu series, starring Elisabeth Moss, debuted just this past April; “Alias Grace” premieres at the Toronto Film Festival Sept. 14 and then on Netflix Nov. 3. For fans of Atwood, being suddenly blessed with two weighty productions within six months of each other is a rare gift.

Though there are obvious similarities between the two — it is almost funny, that both stories focus on one particular wide-eyed white woman wearing a demure cap — they are quite different interpretations of Atwood’s prose. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a drama, softens the brutality of the plot with exceptional, masterful visuals. “Alias Grace,” a miniseries, is much less cinematically adventurous, but much more narratively complex. This is in part due to the vast difference between the two Atwood novels. “The Handmaid’s Tale” presents a dystopia; “Alias Grace” is a piece of postmodern historical fiction — one that incorporates fragments of actual historical record with first-person narration and epistolary structure. The patchwork narrative is brilliantly deliberate, because throughout the book, Grace is piecing together quilts.

It makes for a story that is a lot more challenging to bring to life than its staid setting in Victorian Canada might appear. For a book that is essentially un-adaptable, though, “Alias Grace” presents a remarkably faithful and dazzlingly complex portrait of servant girl Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), a real-life “celebrated murderess” who was found guilty and imprisoned, at 16, for the killing of her master and mistress. The details of what exactly happened cannot easily be summarized, because questions remain to this day — about her intent, her involvement, and the story’s primary concern, her character. “Alias Grace” is an attempt to understand her, but the viewer will likely find, by the end, that that attempt raises more questions than it answers.

“Alias Grace” introduces us to Grace through the attentions of Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft), an early practitioner of what we now call psychiatry. Dr. Jordan’s mission is to investigate whether Grace is now insane, or was insane at the time of the murders, as that might be an avenue to pardon her. At first Grace is skeptical of his questions, but as she grows more comfortable, her story expands. But, counter-intuitively, the more she says, the less clear it is what she actually means. “Alias Grace” is built around the unrelenting ambiguity of its protagonist, and it manages the Herculean effort of making a six-part miniseries thrum with that same sense of being adrift in a woman’s story without having any idea of who she really is.
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Buzz for ‘Alias Grace’ makes Toronto’s Sarah Gadon feel like a “silly pretender”

By 3:45 on Wednesday, Sarah Gadon and Edward Holcroft had been shuffled around Toronto’s new Bisha Hotel by publicists for hours.

It was the last day before the TIFF premiere of Alias Grace — the new miniseries from CBC and Netflix, based on Margaret Atwood’s Giller Prize-winning novel of the same name. And despite the co-stars’ glittering résumés, for Toronto-born Gadon, doing the whole press-and-publicity dance in her hometown is weird.

“I woke up today in my own bed, then I go put on some fancy clothes and go around a hotel,” said Gadon, 30, who was named one of TIFF’s “Rising Stars” in 2012. “It makes me feel like a silly pretender.”

Her family would be in the audience for Thursday’s premiere at the Winter Garden Theatre. More likely than not, she added, she’d know the festival volunteers working the event.

“It’s kind of like being the home team playing the home game,” she said.

And though their newest project is a brooding, gothic take on the real-life 19th-century story of accused murderer Grace Marks, Gadon and Holcroft’s interactions were light and teasing on Wednesday afternoon.

Read the full article on The Star.

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THR ‘Alias Grace’ Review

Writer Sarah Polley, director Mary Harron and star Sarah Gadon deliver a twisty tale of murder and transgressive femininity in Netflix’s Margaret Atwood adaptation.
With its Margaret Atwood pedigree, concealing bonnets and backdrop of a society in which women are either decorative or chattel, there will be an instinct to compare Netflix and CBC’s miniseries Alias Grace to Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

It’s an instinct best avoided, because for all of the ways in which The Handmaid’s Tale is bombastic and incendiary, Alias Grace is internalized and simmering and harder to instantly mobilize around. Consistently literate, thoughtful and insinuating, the mini also boasts an intriguing and deliberately evasive lead performance by Sarah Gadon, work that again probably shouldn’t be compared to the juggernaut that is Elisabeth Moss’ Handmaid’s Tale work.

So from here on, there will be no more references to Handmaid’s Tale.

Written in its entirety by Sarah Polley and directed in its entirety by Mary Harron, the six-episode Alias Grace won’t air until Nov. 3 on Netflix, but had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and will launch on Sept. 25 on CBC. I’ve seen the entire miniseries.
Continue reading THR ‘Alias Grace’ Review