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September 15, 2017

States of Grace

Amy Amatangelo
  • Stefano Ortega

Pioneer boot camp. That’s how Sarah Gadon describes preparing for Alias Grace, the Netflix miniseries debuting November 3.

To play Grace Marks, Gadon learned how to build a kitchen fire, milk a cow, feed chickens and sew a quilt.

“Everything I was doing, I was doing for real,” she explains. “So if Grace was hauling buckets of water, I was hauling buckets of water. If she was out in the heat in a corset doing laundry, I was out in the heat in a corset doing laundry.”

Gadon strived to capture daily reality for Marks, a maid in the home of a wealthy Ontario farmer. Brought to Canada from Ireland by her family at age 12, she was accused of murder in 1843, at 15. “Even though she was this sensationalized character in history, she was a real person,” Gadon points out.

But the actress won’t say whether she believes Marks — whom she plays from age 15 to 40 — was innocent or guilty. “There are so many versions of Grace and so many versions of the story. What makes the show work is the ambiguity.”

Growing up in Toronto, Gadon long admired actress Sarah Polley, who went on to write, produce and direct and is an executive producer and the writer of Alias Grace. “She was a huge influence on me,” Gadon says. “She was one of the few actresses I knew in Toronto who was having an international career.”

Gadon’s career has included acting and dancing: her early love of performing led to Canada’s National Ballet School and, later, film studies at the University of Toronto. An audition for David Cronenberg landed her a part in 2011’s A Dangerous Method, and a flurry of film roles followed.

In the Hulu series 11/22/63, she played opposite James Franco. Her film work continues with the upcoming The Death and Life of John F. Donovan from director Xavier Dolan.

The actress hopes that Alias Grace, adapted from a novel by Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), will help viewers reflect on society’s treatment of women. “The show is a full expression of the way we project our insecurities, fears and societal woes onto the female identity.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2017

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