The women (and two men) be­hind AliasGrace tell all.

Alias Grace, adapted from the Mar­garet At­wood novel of the same name, tells the story of a young Ir­ish maid con­victed of two bru­tal mur­ders in 19th-cen­tury Canada. Here, the cast and crew talk about the mak­ing of this much-hyped CBC-Net­flix pro­duc­tion.

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SARAH POLLEY “I read this novel when I was a teenager, and I fell in love with it; I read it over and over again. I ac­tu­ally tried to get the film rights when I was 17, but they went to some­one else and then some­one else. At one point, I ended up get­ting hired to write and di­rect a ver­sion of it, but that com­pany’s rights ended up laps­ing. That’s when I scooped them up...but I got preg­nant and then got preg­nant again, so it took a re­ally long time be­fore I wrote th­ese six episodes.” NOREEN HALPERN “A few years ago, Sarah and I had a meet­ing at By the Way café in Toronto. She asked me if I’d read the book. I’ve been such a huge At­wood fan ever since I started read­ing. I even made a hor­ri­bly em­bar­rass­ing Hand­maid’s Tale in­stal­la­tion piece when I was in art school, en­ti­tled No­lite Te Bas­tardes Car­borun­do­rum. So I took her scripts home and read them in one sit­ting. I was com­pletely blown away by the fact that she’d taken this mas­sive book and turned it into a beau­ti­ful, heart­break­ing and, weirdly, some­times funny six hours of tele­vi­sion.” SP “I ini­tially wrote a treat­ment for Alias Grace as a film, but to make it into a two-hour fea­ture, I would be elim­i­nat­ing most of what I loved about the novel, like the so­cial and po­lit­i­cal con­texts of im­mi­gra­tion, women, class and do­mes­tic work. Even so, my en­tire mind­set when I was writ­ing th­ese episodes was ‘This is far more dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cated than I thought it would be.’ Even struc­turally, be­cause the novel is so com­plex, try­ing to un­tan­gle and pull apart and match things up with other things was prob­a­bly the most chal­leng­ing part.” MARY HARRON “When Sarah and Noreen ap­proached me to di­rect, I ac­tu­ally tried to per­suade Sarah to at least do some her­self. Six episodes is a lot for one per­son to di­rect, but she said: ‘You’re do­ing them all. All of them.’” NH “Sarah was also very clear that she only wanted to make this if we could get the big bud­get it needed for full his­tor­i­cal au­then­tic­ity and for the set pieces [like the ship on which Grace comes to Canada]; this was not some­thing we were go­ing to CGI in. Within a cou­ple of weeks, we hired our pro­ducer, D.J. Car­son, and he took the scripts and bud­geted them. We all choked—it was clear that we were go­ing to have to raise a lot of money.” MH “We needed it to have full his­tor­i­cal au­then­tic­ity and look like a movie. Tele­vi­sion au­di­ences are now vis­ually so­phis­ti­cated, and they have high ex­pec­ta­tions. It’s not BBC drama in the 1970s, you know?” SP “I hon­estly think Mary was like, ‘It’s nice to sup­port this thing, but it’s very un­likely they’ll get the money for it, so what’s the harm [in say­ing yes]?’” NH “We did nine pitches in three days to stu­dios in Los An­ge­les. CBC had al­ready com­mit­ted to the project, know­ing it would be the most ex­pen­sive show they had ever pro­duced, but we needed a part­ner out­side of Canada. Net­flix was our first meet­ing, and they re­ally got it. In the end we got mul­ti­ple of­fers, but they were the ones

who were ag­gres­sive and cre­atively in sync with what we wanted to do. That was in Jan­uary, and we started pre-pro­duc­tion in the spring.” SP “We had all worked with Sarah Gadon be­fore. From the very be­gin­ning, she was some­one we were ex­cited about [get­ting] to play Grace, the lead role.” MH “The net­work wanted to see a range of op­tions, so we saw other peo­ple for the part. Ini­tially, we thought we were go­ing to cast some 19-year-old Ir­ish un­known, but when we got Sarah in, we were like, ‘Here she is.’” SARAH GADON “My prep for the show was in­tense. Grace em­i­grates from North­ern Ire­land, so I had to learn that ac­cent, which is a very tough one to do. I did a lot of read­ing about life as a house­maid in the Vic­to­rian era, like Mrs Bee­ton’s Book of House­hold Man­age­ment. They also sent me to a kind of boot camp at [Black Creek] Pi­o­neer Vil­lage in Toronto, be­cause I had to do house­hold tasks for real in the show, like milk a cow, make a bed, feed chick­ens. I also had to learn to quilt by hand, be­cause that’s what Grace does through­out her in­ter­views with Dr. Jor­dan.” SP “Cast­ing Si­mon Jor­dan was tricky be­cause it’s a hard role. He has a much tougher job be­cause he has to elicit this in­for­ma­tion from Grace, and you have to feel for him with­out very much screen time to look at his life.” SG “I was ex­cited to meet Ed Hol­croft! We had guys read from all over the world, but we couldn’t find the per­fect per­son to play [Dr. Jor­dan], so when we found Ed, there was re­joic­ing!” ED HOL­CROFT “I’d heard of Mar­garet At­wood, but I didn’t quite fathom what a big deal she is. Peo­ple speak about her like the Queen.” SG “We shot 60 pages of script in six days.” EH “It was the hard­est thing I’ve ever done. The ma­te­rial it­self was also dif­fi­cult—any scene where you’re just sit­ting and talk­ing is hard; it’s di­a­logue heavy. And then we had planes con­stantly in­ter­rupt­ing the sound....” SG “We were shoot­ing in a sound stu­dio in Toronto, and ev­ery five min­utes, we’d have to pause when the planes flew over­head. It was usu­ally right in the mid­dle of an im­por­tant scene; there wasn’t enough time to cut and start again, so we would have to just pause.” EH “After six days of this in­tense film­ing, we were just fin­ish­ing up at, like, 4 a.m. when some­one came run­ning in say­ing ‘We’ve lost the mem­ory card.’ All the close-ups had been lost, so we had to do that chunk all over again.” SG “At the end of those six days, Ed and I went for a spa day!” RE­BECCA LIDDIARD “The first scene I shot—it was the first day of the whole pro­duc­tion— was the scene where Mary, my char­ac­ter, who is Grace’s best friend, has an abor­tion. There was a lot of fake blood in­volved, and I was ac­tu­ally glued to the bed. That stuff is like liq­uid ce­ment! You could hear the sound of it stick­ing when I was rolled over. It was an in­tense start, but luck­ily that was fol­lowed up by all the fun scenes with Grace and Mary. Mary’s the only nice char­ac­ter in the show.” KERR LO­GAN “I play a sta­ble hand at the farm when Grace ar­rives from Ire­land. Sarah and I have an ag­gres­sive sex­ual scene to­gether, and we were both very un­com­fort­able about do­ing it. We spoke a lot about it, and sup­ported each other, but it was still har­row­ing. She ac­tu­ally ended up fall­ing off a safety mat and get­ting hurt. We were both kind of shaken up after it.” RL “The na­ture of the show just made it dif­fi­cult emo­tion­ally. I car­ried around this sense of im­pend­ing doom.” KL “I kind of stomped around and kept my­self very low-key the en­tire time. That’s why I was so amazed by Gadon. She’d spend th­ese long hours do­ing horrific, abu­sive scenes, and then she’d come knock­ing on my door like, ‘Hey, Kerr!’ She was able to just drop it.” SG “That at­tempted-rape scene with Kerr was def­i­nitely one of the tough­est. When you’re shoot­ing those kinds of things, your adrenalin is in­tense, and I only re­al­ized af­ter­wards that I’d bruised my­self a lot. I rode home in the van with ice packs all over my body. I stayed up un­til 4 a.m. and then slept all day.” NH “I slept very lit­tle dur­ing the en­tire shoot, but all that mat­ters is that we have a se­ries we’re all re­ally proud of. We felt a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity to tell this story well.” SP “Mar­garet At­wood has seen it, and she was happy. She didn’t know I was there, but I got to see her watch the first two episodes in a the­atre with her friends, and I got to hear her com­ments. That was big.” SG “After I was done, I took a trip with Brett [Tyne, her di­alect coach]. He said, ‘Let’s go to Nashville and purge the Ir­ish out of you.’ But, you know, a char­ac­ter like Grace never re­ally leaves you. She was a real per­son who lived a ter­ri­ble life, but by play­ing her, I met some of the most in­cred­i­ble women I’ve ever worked with. It was the ride of a life­time.” n

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