Filed in Alias Grace Gallery Updates Interviews

Sarah Gadon on Becoming the Next Margaret Atwood Heroine

Sarah Gadon’s latest project was at once the hardest thing she’s ever done and a “mind f–k all the time” at that. Luckily for the actress, the shoot schedule in her native Toronto meant both the comforts of her own bed to crash into each night and, of course, some help from mom.

“I don’t think I would’ve made it through the project if I didn’t get to sleep in my own bed and have my mom help me out,” she says.

Gadon is the lead character Grace Marks in “Alias Grace,” the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel, which comes to Netflix on Nov. 3 on the heels of the Emmy-winning success of the Atwood-adaptation “Handmaid’s Tale,” done for Hulu.

The series tells the true story of Marks, a Northern Irish immigrant who worked as a housemaid in Upper Canada and was convicted of a double murder and imprisoned at the age of 16.

“The trial was totally sensationalized in the media — it was that generation’s version of the OJ Simpson trial. She was made infamous because she was this young working class girl who murdered above her station,” Gadon says.

That quest for her true identity is entirely what drew the actress to the project.
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The wonder women behind Alias Grace’s TV adaptation
Filed in Alias Grace Gallery Updates Interviews

The wonder women behind Alias Grace’s TV adaptation

I meet Sarah Gadon at the Drake Hotel. The first thing I ask the Alias Grace star after we pick a table and order some snacks: “Have you Googled Grace Marks?”

She shoots me an amused “Well, duh” look. Of course she’s Googled the 19th-century Irish-Canadian maid convicted of murder, sparking fierce debate regarding her innocence and pardoned after being incarcerated for nearly three decades.

Google was the basic first step in Gadon’s extensive research on her Alias Grace character, which included reading and re-reading the Margaret Atwood novel that the miniseries is based on; learning how to perform tasks like cooking, cleaning and sewing in the exacting ways a 19th-century housemaid would have performed them; and practicing a Northern Irish accent to the point that it gave her migraines because the “tight-jawed” dialect worked muscles in ways most of us never have to.

Gadon spent many sleepless nights preparing for the role, and would sometimes have to go for a run just to sweat off the anxiety.

But what I meant was: Has she Googled Grace Marks recently?

Gadon whips out her phone and there at the top of the search is the Wikipedia entry for Marks, with an accompanying picture. But the image is not a likeness of a 19th-century Irish maid. Instead, it’s a glamour shot of Gadon with flowing platinum-blond curls.

As far as the Interweb is concerned, Gadon is now the face of Grace Marks, the historical figure consumed by the actor interpreting her in the 21st century. According to Gadon, Grace consumed her, too.

“This role has kind of taken over my life,” says Gadon, who wrapped post-production on the series just a month before our mid-July meeting.
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Filed in Alias Grace Gallery Updates Interviews

The Globe and Mail: Alias Sarah

The multi-faceted Sarah Gadon tells Randi Bergman how she tackled a uniquely complex role in the latest Margaret Atwood screen adaptation.

As a Canadian woman, it’s hard not to worship at the altar of Margaret Atwood. But lately, her pre-digital prose has felt like sustenance for a new generation of feminists persisting in a precarious era for women’s rights. Hulu’s television adaption of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has struck a chord, inspiring new dialogue and even protests with its dystopian depiction of womanhood under theocratic rule. The forthcoming Alias Grace, a CBC and Netflix miniseries based on Atwood’s novel of the same name, feels equally timely.

Alias Grace tells the story of a 19th-century maid, Grace Marks, who was convicted and then later pardoned for the double murder of her employer and his mistress. Through Atwood’s interpretation of real-life events, Marks becomes an enigmatic mix of murderer and metaphor for the female experience. Written and produced by Sarah Polley, the series represents a shift for the CBC, whose earlier portrayals of Canadian Victorian life (à la Polley’s pastoral debut in Road to Avonlea) could be considered reductive. Alias Grace, on the other hand, is more nuanced. Case-in-point, its protagonist’s plea in the opening episode: “I’d rather be a murderess than a murderer, if those are the only choices.”

The narrative of a complicated woman seems just what the world needs right now, and actor Sarah Gadon, who portrays Grace Marks in the six-part series that debuts on the CBC on Sept. 25, is ready for the challenge. I meet the 30-year-old on a discreet café patio in Toronto’s Summerhill neighbourhood on a summer Sunday afternoon. Fresh faced and with her hair pulled back, Gadon’s striking, Hollywood-ready beauty explains why she was plucked from relative obscurity to star in an Armani Beauty campaign in 2015. She’s magnetic, inquisitive and palpably excited about Alias Grace and, as she describes it, “the task of trying to crack Grace.”

“I got so wrapped up in whether she did [commit murder] or not and the various layers of preparation, that I’d wind myself up into this ball of anxiety that I would just need to go for a run,” she says of preparing for the role.
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