Sarah Gadon talks ‘Alias Grace’ and milking a cow
TORONTO — Sarah Gadon is diving into what she calls “pioneer boot camp” as she prepares to play the lead in a much-anticipated adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace.”
The Toronto actor is in pre-production for the six-hour miniseries, which is inspired by the true story of Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant and maid who was convicted of murder in Upper Canada in 1843 but exonerated decades later.
Sarah Polley wrote and produced the project, which will screen on CBC and Netflix.
“Oh, you know, I’m just learning how to milk a cow and sew and churn butter,” Gadon, 29, said Thursday in a phone interview to discuss her role as a jury member for this year’s Air Canada enRoute Film Festival.
“I’ve been working on my Belfast accent. I’m doing all sorts of things. I’m reading some interesting books, watching some great films, just kind of immersing myself in that world and in that time period.”
The Air Canada enRoute Film Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, will showcase 20 short films on its flights around the world from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31. The shorts will also be available at enRoutefilm.com, where viewers can vote for their favourite. Other jury members include actors Jason Priestley and Karine Vanasse.
Gadon is so busy juggling multiple projects, she expects she’ll have to watch the finalists on her laptop while in the air over the next few months. It’s a labour of love, though.
“I love film and I love short films,” said Gadon, who was also a jury member in 2013 and has been in many short films.
“I think it’s the most experimental way you can make a film.”
Gadon is currently shooting “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan,” which marks the English-language debut of Montreal filmmaker Xavier Dolan. She’s also promoting her upcoming films “Indignation” (out Aug. 5) and “The 9th Life of Louis Drax” (out Sept. 2), among others.
Meanwhile, “Alias Grace” is set to begin shooting in Ontario next month. Gadon calls it “a massive undertaking.”
“It’s a really important project to (Polley),” she said. “She said to me that it’s the kind of piece of literature that has affected everything she’s ever done in some way — so no pressure there.
“But she’s also very open. Our director, Mary Harron, is an incredible woman as well and the three of us are still in those early discussions of how we’re going to tell her story.”
Marks, along with stable hand James McDermott, were convicted of the murders of their employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery.
McDermott was hanged while Marks was sentenced to life imprisonment. After 30 years in jail, she was freed.
Gadon said she’s trying to find ways to humanize an enigmatic character who “has become this kind of icon or archetype.”
She hopes to get direction from Atwood herself when the two meet for dinner next week.
“It’s so great to be able to work with two women at the top of their game, using source material of one of our greatest writers — who happens to be a woman as well,” she said.
“I think it is kind of important that they’re both women (at the helm), because for me ‘Alias Grace’ is very much a piece about female identity, female identities as they’re recorded throughout history, and getting into the feminine psyche.”
Sarah Gadon is doing “pioneer boot camp” to prepare for “Alias Grace.”
Sarah Polley wrote and produced the miniseries for CBC and Netflix.