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).