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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