Sarah Gadon On ‘Indignation’, Slut-Shaming And Defying Hollywood Convention
Sarah Gadon is an actress who is difficult to pigeonhole. At 29, her resumé is impressive in both its eclecticism and its star power. In the past few years alone, she’s worked with JJ Abrams on his time-travelling period piece 11.22.63, held her own opposite the likes of Julianne Moore and snagged the lead in Netflix’s Alias Grace, a miniseries based on Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed novel.
No stranger to book-to-film projects, her latest is Indignation, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel. Set in 1951, the coming-of-age story sees Marcus (Logan Lerman) move away to college to avoid being drafted to Korea – only to find that his school is even more oppressive and straight-laced than his family home. Immediately drawn to his classmate Olivia (played by Gadon), he’s forced to confront his own conservatism, too: while she may look like the paradigm of ‘50s femininity, she soon proves to be a far more complex – and, for the inexperienced and sheltered Marcus, puzzling – prospect.
Ahead of the film’s release, we caught up with Sarah to talk about Olivia’s enigmatic character, sexual double standards and why milking a cow could be the new meditation…
In Indignation, Olivia seems so poised from the outside, but she’s dealing with so much underneath that. How did you go about getting into character?
When James [Schamus, the director] and I sat down to talk about the film and the novel, he mentioned to me that he thought that Sylvia Plath was a huge influence on Philip Roth’s writing of this character, and so that was a really good way in for me. I revisited a lot of Plath’s writing; the angst and the intensity of her work really helped me to understand Olivia.
Indignation, adapted from the Philip Roth’s novel of the same name, tells the story of Marcus Messner, who on moving to Ohio on a college scholarship in the 1950s meets Olivia Hutton. There, against the backdrop of McCarthyism and the Korean War, he comes up against the Christian conservative forces of the college whilst also trying to handle his feelings for Olivia. She too is more than she seems, and they struggle to exist within the stifling college environment. We caught up with Sarah Gadon, who plays Olivia Hutton, to talk about why Indignation is so relevant to our current times, the difficulties faced by female actors in Hollywood today, and working with Logan Lerman, who plays Marcus.
What were your initial thoughts about the film and your character when you read through the script for the first time?
Well, I knew it was going to be very special because James is just great, and I was curious to see how he would take on Philip Roth. But then I think my second reaction was just admiration for how well he had adapted it and I was fascinated by Olivia and her character, and I wanted to be a part of the project immediately.
Canadian culture is shining especially brilliantly right now, and when it comes to film, Toronto-born Sarah Gadon is one of the country’s brightest lights. The talented 29-year-old actor, who starred in three consecutive David Cronenberg films – and earlier this year, appeared at both Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival for the movie Indignation – is making her mark on the cinematic world. She’s also dazzling fans on the red carpet, earning her a starring role in campaigns for Giorgio Armani Beauty and Jaeger-LeCoultre timepieces.
Raised by a teacher mother and a psychologist father, Gadon began acting at the age of 10. She studied dance with the National Ballet School and film at University of Toronto, and has cultivated a reputation as an artist who makes careful choices, both cinematically and sartorially. I spoke with Gadon about her work and developing a sense of style at home.
You started acting at quite a young age. A lot of people who were child actors lament the fact that their childhood was spent that way. How did it affect you?
It’s really a testament to my parents, because I was active, curious and creative as a child and my parents nurtured that. But I wouldn’t say that I was a professional child actor at all. I was never the breadwinner of my family. It was something that my parents really tried to temper. I was never allowed to miss a lot of school and I did the majority of [work] on summer vacation. And they insisted that I go to university. They allowed me to indulge in my curiosity for the arts, but it really wasn’t until I was an adult that they gave me their blessing to go and be a full-time actor.
Sarah attended the Indignation New York premiere at the Museum of Modern Art (July 25).
Sarah Gadon to Star in Netflix’s Margaret Atwood Drama ‘Alias Grace’ (Exclusive)
The Canadian actress most recently co-starred opposite James Franco in the Hulu limited series ‘11.22.63.’
Sarah Gadon is going from Hulu to Netflix.
The Canadian actress has been tapped to topline Netflix’s Margaret Atwood drama Alias Grace, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
Gadon, who most recently co-starred opposite James Franco in Hulu’s Stephen King limited series 11.22.63, will play Grace Marks in the streaming giant and Canadian broadcaster CBC’s adaptation of Atwood’s award-winning novel.
Published in 1996, Alias Grace follows Grace Marks, a poor, young Irish immigrant and domestic servant in upper Canada who, along with stable hand James McDermott, was convicted of the brutal murders of their employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, in 1843. McDermott was hanged, while Marks was sentenced to life imprisonment. She became one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of 1840s Canada for her supposed role in the sensational double murder and was eventually exonerated after 30 years in jail. Her conviction was controversial and sparked much debate over whether she actually was involved in the killings or merely an unwitting accessory.
The six-hour miniseries is inspired by Marks’ true story and will be written and produced by Sarah Polley (Looking for Alaska, Away From Her). Mary Harron (American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol) will direct. Production is slated to begin in August in Ontario. Polley, Harron and Noreen Halpern (NBC’s Working the Engels) will executive produce; D.J. Carson (Spotlight) is on board as a co-executive producer. A premiere date has not been determined.
The Netflix adaptation, like Atwood’s novel, will introduce a fictional young doctor named Simon Jordan who researches the case and falls in love with Marks. He soon becomes obsessed with her as he seeks to reconcile his perception of the mild-mannered woman he sees with the savage murders of which she has been convicted.
For Gadon, the role marks her first stateside starring TV vehicle. In addition to 11.22.63, her credits include the feature Indignation. She is repped by WME, Creative Drive Artists and Jackoway Tyerman.
After surviving eight near-death accidents throughout his unlucky life, Louis Drax [Aiden Longworth] plunges off a steep cliff on his ninth birthday. While police investigate the cause of Louis’ near-fatal fall and the whereabouts of his violent father Peter [Aaron Paul], acclaimed neurologist Dr. Allan Pascal [Jamie Dornan] uses unorthodox techniques to try to tap into the boy’s unconscious mind and reveal the truth about the events that led to his condition. But as he’s drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of Louis’ seeming ability to cheat death, the doctor finds himself falling for Louis’ mother, Natalie [Sarah Gadon]. As new clues emerge in the case, a shocking revelation changes the fates of Louis Drax and everyone around him.
Sarah attended the Max Mara presents The Power Plant’s Power Ball XVIII: Pleasure Principle event at Power Plant Gallery in Toronto, Canada (June 2).
I’ve added some photos from Sarah’s New York Times photoshoot! I’ll work on the site as soon as possible, to become a better resource for everything Sarah 🙂
Back In January, V Caught Up With All Of The Stars Of This Year’s Sundance Film Festival For Our Fashion & Film Issue. Here, Indie Darling Sarah Gadon Talks About Her Upcoming Film Indignation
It’s hard to believe that this year’s Sundance Film Festival marked the first for Toronto-born Sarah Gadon. The 29-year-old indie darling has developed somewhat of a cult following among film buffs, thanks to her roles in not one, but three David Cronenberg features (A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis, and Maps to the Stars). Gadon’s newest endeavor comes with the same kind of built-in following: Indignation, the adaption of Philip Roth’s 2008 novel, has landed her a spot at the top of just about every must-watch list to come out of the festival.
Gadon had yet to read Roth’s novel when she auditioned for the part. Still, the actor had little difficulty bringing the troubled character of Olivia Hutton to life, thanks to the academic tutelage of director James Schamus. “James is also a university professor, so making this movie with him was a lot like taking a course. He gave us reading material, references, and a lot of homework,” gushes Gadon, whose enthusiasm on the subject demonstrates a genuine dedication and love for the craft. “He believes that Philip Roth had women like Sylvia Plath in the front of his mind when crafting Olivia as a character, so I revisited a lot of Plath’s work and read her journals. I think getting into her head space really helped me identify with Olivia and lift her off the page.”
Set in 1950s America, in the midst of the Korean War, Indignation follows Marcus Messner (played by Logan Lerman) as he recounts his experiences at Winesburg College in Ohio, where he’d met Olivia, a suicide attempt survivor whose dark, quirky persona quickly became the object of his desire. The attraction between the two characters culminates when they drive to a cemetery after their first date, and she performs oral sex on him—a scene that Gadon recalls with a mix of pride and mortification. “Logan and I had spent so much time with the script that I felt totally at ease and completely comfortable when we were shooting the scenes. Then, when I watched them at Sundance, I was completely embarrassed! I couldn’t believe that I had done that.”
While it is a period piece, Gadon believes (and rightfully so) that younger audiences will have much to connect with in the story: “Philip Roth writes about young people at a time when they were bumping up against the power structures of America. He paints a very dismal picture about what it meant to be on the outside. That’s something you can identify with today.”
Incidentally, Gadon is coming off the heels of another adaption of a period novel, 11.22.63, the eight-part Hulu series costarring James Franco, based on the book by Stephen King. “It was great because I did mid-’50s right into early ’60s, so I was just following the chronology of American politics. I feel like one of the best and most exciting things I get to do as an actor is to just lose myself in someone, and I really get the opportunity to do that when it’s someone from another time.”