“In the time of ‘Alias Grace,’ if you were an immigrant or a woman you didn’t have any rights,” reveals the series star Sarah Gadon in our new webchat (watch the exclusive video above). “These are things at the forefront of our mind right now. There is a lot of anxiety concerning gender politics and immigration. There’s a real continuity between the experience we are having now and the experience we were having then.”
The Netflix limited series is an adaptation of the historically fictionalized novel, “Alias Grace,” by Margaret Atwood. Gadon plays Grace Marks, an immigrant from Ireland who becomes a housemaid and is imprisoned in 1843 for murdering her employer. A young physician is hired to do a psychiatric evaluation of Grace. This presents the unraveling of her life story before the murder and subsequent trial, drawing viewers in to understand the many layers and identities of Grace Marks.
This new Atwood adaptation has been streaming soon after the impressive eight Emmy wins, including Best Drama Series, for “The Handmaid’s Tale” (also based on Atwood work). Gadon confesses, “I was worried critics would say ‘we’ve had our female driven adaptation of the year and that’s enough.’ If I’m being honest, I was a bit nervous. But ‘Handmaid’s’ really struck a chord with everything that’s happening right now in our culture and people are hungry for more. They want to continue this dialogue — because we are feeling so much anxiety about gender politics, about reproduction rights, about immigration and about how we treat each other. ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ is a look at where we are potentially headed and ‘Alias Grace’ is this look back at where we’ve come from. Even though they are very different, they are connected to each other. It’s really positive for me as a performer and woman, that people want more content like this.”
The “Alias Grace” story is an “exploration about identity. How we form our identity. Is Grace really who she says? And as much ambiguity as the show has, when I think about Grace Marks, I think about everything she’s been through: I see her as a survivor. She’s been subjected to so many hardships but nothing really broke her. So I see a real strength when I look at Grace. That strength really stays with me.”
On the different identities, Gadon says, “I grew to love every version of her. But the most difficult thing was playing her older. I’d never been at that age yet in my life. You might be playing into an idea of what someone older might be, but you wanted to stay grounded and real. So that was the most daunting to play. She’s been through so much by the time she’s 40. There’s a weight and gravitas to that.”
The series is adapted by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sarah Polley (“Away From Her”), and all episodes are directed by Mary Harron (“American Psycho”). Gadon explains in our interview that she ” heard that Sarah Polley was adapting the book. If I could be a part of something she was doing I was going to jump at the opportunity. I met with Sarah and Mary. We had an audition where we work-shopped three scenes. Sarah actually read with me in the audition which was super intimidating. It was really incredible to work with them and try and crack this character. I came away thinking it was amazing to work with women I really respect and admire. Even if it didn’t go my way it was pretty freakin’ cool. But I’m really happy it did go my way. Also, I remember thinking in the audition ‘Sarah’s such a great actor. I really want to work with her as an actor.'”
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