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Broad spoilers for Alias Grace Season 1 are below.
True crime has experienced a significant boom in recent years, both in scripted and unscripted forms, as audiences have shown a deep passion for diving in and trying to determine the guilt or innocence of a given subject or character. That's not necessarily what Netflix's Margaret Atwood adaptation Alias Grace is about in the grand scheme of things, however. In fact, star Sarah Gadon addressed Grace Marks' ambiguous guilt during a roundtable discussion at a press event attended by CinemaBlend, and she explained that she actually cared more about getting to the root of the character than discovering the truth, though she has her suspicions. Gadon said:
I met with Margaret in prep -- this is a real story -- and one of the things she told me was how important it was for me to maintain the ambiguity of whether or not she was guilty or innocent. So, of course I had my own thoughts about who Grace was and what she did, but I've been given strict orders from Margaret not to speak about those. But I will say that often I would become bogged down by the question of innocence and this idea of playing this enigmatic character and how do you really do that? One thing that really helped ground me was the notion that Grace Marks was a real person. She was a real girl that immigrated from Northern Ireland to Canada. She was a housemaid and she was subjected to this British colonialist society that Canada was at that time, and how that must've actually felt. Grounding it in a real person really helped me navigate that all of that ambiguity and all of that density of everything that it was to be her in that time.
Alias Grace is a show directed by American Psycho helmer Mary Harron, so as you can probably assume, there's a profound emphasis on ambiguity here. Was our heroine involved in the murders, or was she purely a victim? Those are questions that Alias Grace never really answers throughout its limited run, so they weren't questions that Sarah Gadon needed to focus on in her research.
Instead,Sarah Gadon focused on finding the authenticity of everything else that had less to do with the deadly crime itself. That wasn't just a personal preference, but something that author Margaret Atwood (whose work also inspired this year's hit new series The Handmaid's Tale) specifically requested in the live-action depiction of the character. As for what she actually thinks about the crime? Gadon is sworn to secrecy for now.
In developing her line-toeing performance, Sarah Gadon spent quite a bit of time focusing on the inner drive of a woman like Grace Marks. Doing thorough research on the real-life woman, Gadon learned just how strong, funny, and unflappable she was in the face of adversity. The actress continued:
I think that's one of the reasons that I loved the character so much and one of the things that I really hope people take away from the show is that she was this girl and this woman who was subjected to all of these hardships, but she survived them and she never really let it break her. One of my favorite things that I did in preparation for this role was I read Grace Marks' prison exit from the Kingston Penitentiary. They have to fill out a survey. The way that she answered this survey was so funny and aware of what she had experienced and the injustice of it, and she has this kind of Protestant work ethic. This willingness to move forward, and that's what I like so much about her character, and that's what I kind of hope people kind of takeaway, is that she survived it.
Alias Grace is now available to stream on Netflix, make sure to check out CinemaBlend's review of the new series and check out our fall premiere guide to see what else is coming to the world of television this season. To hear everything else we have to say about everything in the realm of streaming content, you can also listen to The Cord Cutter Podcast.