Sarah Gadon Reveals the Hardest Part of Adapting Margaret Atwood for Netflix

Photo Source: Jan Thijs/Netflix

As Grace Marks, the real-life inspiration for Margaret Atwood’s 1996 novel and now Netflix’s buzzy miniseries “Alias Grace,” Sarah Gadon was faced with a tall order. The role of a Northern Ireland immigrant living in 1840s Toronto, who’s accused and convicted of murdering both her housekeeper and master of the house, is drenched in mystery—to the point where even Gadon wasn’t sure of her innocence. The Ontario-born actor came by our Brooklyn HQ to discuss the new series and her audition tips.

Maintaining ambiguity was key to the series’ tone.
“When I first read the scripts, I got really wrapped up in the question of [Grace’s] innocence. And then when I sat down with Margaret and we started to talk about Grace and the whole project, she reiterated how important it was for me to maintain the ambiguity of Grace’s actions—whether or not she actually did it. That was a real guiding light: to maintain [that question was] more important than what my feelings were about [her].”

Atwood’s success on TV this year is no coincidence.
“ ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is this look forward at this dystopian future of where we’re headed, potentially, in terms of gender politics, and ‘Alias Grace’ is this story of where we’ve come from in terms of reproductive rights, immigration, gender politics—and we’re in the middle right now, in this place where we’re very unsure of where we’re going. For both pieces to come out in the same year feels like a very kind of poignant response to that anxiety.”

READ: Why ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Cast for Diversity in Dystopia

She relished rehearsals with director Mary Harron and writer Sarah Polley.
“Sometimes film directors are afraid of rehearsal because they don’t understand what it is or know what they can gain from it, or they can find it confining, as if their material could become stale or dry. But the rehearsal space is unconditional positivity. Nothing is wrong. It’s just a place for you to explore. Most importantly, it’s a place for you to gain a real sense of trust with the people you’re working with.”

She perfected the Northern Irish accent after weeks of work.
“It was a fully immersive experience, and it was so amazing because so often now you don’t have the time to prepare. I worked really hard with a dialect coach on the Northern Irish accent, and I actually shot a film in Belfast and called up my friends in Belfast and asked [my friends there] to record chunks of the script for me. I [also] listened to a lot of BBC Radio Ulster, which was really great for the accent. [And] I worked with an amazing dialect coach named Brett Tyne, and she just drilled me. That’s how you do it: You just work the muscles of your jaw and your mouth and you get to that place.”

Consider volunteering as a reader for others’ auditions.
“When I was first starting out, I asked to be the reader in auditions so that I could kind of see how it worked from the other side of the table. That was an incredible exercise, and I would highly recommend any actor do that. Before, I always thought that I was the least talented, the most unprepared, the least qualified for the job, and I would kind of cycle in those negative thoughts as I waited to go in there and read. I feel like a lot of actors think that way. When I was a reader, it totally changed auditioning for me because I realized that actually, everybody in the room just wants you to come in and be the one. They don’t care if you get it word-perfect; they don’t care if you stumble. They just want to see something authentic in you.”

Want to work for Netflix? Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!