Interview for FILLER magazine
There is something immediately disarming about Sarah Gadon. Characterized by a cool breed of beauty that would have turned Hitchcock’s head, this blue-eyed, fair-haired actress negates any misgivings one may have of her as the reticent Hollywood starlet with her candid conversation and easy laugh. There is no aloofness to chip through when meeting the 25-year-old actress for the first time, and, comparatively, zero indication of mannered charm waxing an “average Jill” persona. She’s the type of person that, were you to arrive 10 minutes early for an interview with her, she’d already be there at the coffee shop waiting, passing the time reading, not messaging and Twittering on her phone.
Exemplifying archetypal Canadian humility, the actress is genuinely still wide-eyed by how her experience with the international film festival circuit — TIFF in particular — has come full circle with the success she’s had as director David Cronenberg’s new muse. Taking me back to her introduction to the festival scene, Gadon recalls her earliest experience at an official TIFF press conference, where the guest talent from the 2007 programming line up included herself, there as one of the representatives from Canadian short Burgeon and Fade, and her future director, Cronenberg, attending with his Eastern Promises star, Viggo Mortensen. While her film got less then desirable media attention at the conference, Gadon watched in awe as the Eastern Promises‘ duo basked in the spotlight and fielded the bulk of the journalists’ questions. “The Canadian press erupted for them when they walked into the room. All the women laughed extra loud at Viggo’s jokes. And nobody talked to us,” she shares, laughing. “I remember looking over at them and thinking ‘Those guys are so lucky…they’re so lucky…I can’t believe they have this platform. I wish one day I could be part of something like that. I wish one day I could be a part of a film that people wanted to talk about and care about.’”
Well, “one day” has arrived, and that buzz Gadon remembers longing for is exactly what does encircle the films her named is attached to as of late. From last year’s international film festival staple A Dangerous Method (her first Cronenberg feature), to American Psycho director Mary Harron’s horror drama, The Moth Diaries (premiered at TIFF 2011 and in theatres across North America this month), on to playing the wife of Robert Pattinson in the upcoming Cronenberg adaptation of Don DeLillo’s apocalyptic tale, Cosmopolis, and starring in Antiviral, the feature debut of Brandon Cronenberg (son of David), there’s no doubt, Gadon is a part of films people want to talk about.
Age and looks would dictate that Gadon — who began her climb through the ranks of television over a decade ago — pursue casting as the syrupy sweet girl-next-door in any number of blockbuster rom-coms, but as the actress’s most recent roles in the aforementioned films reveal, she is intent on playing characters distinguished by personality layers of a darker dye.
Shaking off the reserve demanded by her Dangerous Method role, the actress swaps the inhibitions of her Emma Jung character for the modern liberty of Cosmopolis’s Elise Shifrin, the eccentric poet and heiress, whom 28-year-old Eric Packer (Pattinson) put a ring on not 22 days prior to when the narrative action begins.
“She’s an oddball,” says Gadon of Elise. “When I read the script, I almost thought that she was kind of a hermit, even though she is a socialite, because she’s kind of inaccessible. I almost feel like she’s the type of person that doesn’t see the light of day very often.” Detecting a touch of the Grey Garden recluse in her character, Gadon researched “Big Edie’s” generation of atypical socialites for insight into the enigmatic Elise and her relationship with husband Eric. “She doesn’t really surface, she’s just right under the surface. And, I think her interactions with her husband are all about trying to figure out who he is and what the hell he does. I feel like they’re constantly trying to communicate, but they’re speaking two completely different languages,” the actress explains.
Gadon’s two turns at playing “wife” see her flexing a chameleon knack for transformation. “It’s funny because people don’t recognize me at all, which is kind of what I like,” she giggles. “I go on the red carpet and people are like, ‘You were in A Dangerous Method? Who were you?’” Even co-star Vincent Cassel didn’t recognize the actress out of character during camera call at the Venice Film Festival, a confusion which does nothing but please the actress. “I get so into characters…in ways that I can’t even tell you about,” jokes Gadon about “method” acting. “I like morphing into these characters…I like to create little worlds for them.”
The intimacy of her acting process nearly kept Gadon from taking the role of Hannah Geist in Antiviral, for fear she would not be able to relate to the character. “The character [the director] had me in mind for was an iconic, celebrity female starlet…something that I don’t identify with at all,” explains the actress, who felt “uncomfortable” with the idea of being immersed in the objectification of Hannah. In fact, it was a male role that most intrigued Gadon, who evidently prefers to play against her empirical beauty. But after meeting with director Brandon Cronenberg to discuss the inner-workings of the Hannah character, the actress was convinced she could find her way into the role. “He is extremely persuasive and very specific about his vision,” says Gadon of the director. “He really shed light on the character that I really didn’t see when reading the script.
Content with the character, and ready to sign on to the picture, the concern was now one of public perception. As the son of a prolific Canadian filmmaker — a director whom played a significant part in introducing Gadon to international audiences — critics might cast a negative slant on the shared pool of talent, but as the actress shares, the first-time feature film director was resolute in his refusal to let his last name factor into any aspect of his filmmaking. “When I sat down with Brandon for the first time, I asked him, ‘Are you sure you want to work with me? Because people are going to compare you to your father, and I will just be another link to that comparison,’ and he said what I thought was very admirable: ‘I think you’re right for this role. I’m not looking at any other factors or anything else that would affect that kind of judgment. I think you are perfect for this character.’”
A critique on celebrity culture, Antiviral, which co-stars up-and-comer, Caleb Landry Jones (seen later this year in Byzantium starring British A-listers Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Jonny Lee Miller and Sam Riley) was the ideal successor to the pop culture-laden Cosmopolis. “Coming off of the film with David and Rob, it really got my wheels turning about the whole idea of cultural phenomenon, pop stars [and] celebrity-ism.”
Having been plunged into the media shark tank/celebrity blogosphere last summer by rumours circulating about an off-screen romance with co-star Robert Pattinson during the production of Cosmopolis, Gadon knows something of the cultural phenomenon that is R. Patz. “You’d have to be living under a rock not to realize the far reach of his fan base.” Quick to deny the rumours and highlight the brevity of their working relationship (“I get asked so frequently about Rob and working with him, but we didn’t spend very much time together…we did our scene and then left.”), it’s evident the actress is combating the gravitation pull of the R. Patz orbit. “It’s kind of like this whole different force beyond it. I really honestly feel like I exist on a different planet than he does…I do,” she trails off, laughing. “I don’t live in that world…I go home…living in my bachelor apartment, taking the TCC, reading my school work…it’s weird.”
One Tweet from our photo shoot with the actress alerted a mass of Twilight fans across the globe on the hunt for any morsel of information leading them back to the whereabouts of their deity, something Gadon has becoming familiar with since opening her own Twitter account this January. “My Twitter account is open so anyone can follow me, and it’s really not particularly interesting. I tweet things like ‘Going to New York!’ and I have like R. Patz Venezuela saying, ‘Have a great trip’….it’s so bizarre.”
Asked if her glimpse of R.Patz fandemonium has since made her more protective of her personal life, a reverent Gadon insists: “I just don’t think I will ever achieve that sort of fame. It’s reserved for the teen heartthrobs, it doesn’t exist for us ‘normies.’” There’s no feigned humbleness when Gadon shrugs off any possibility of becoming a cultural icon, though readers would do better wagering the opposite, judging from the momentum of the actress’s rising star.
With Cosmopolis rumoured to be an official selection at this year’s Festival de Cannes in mid-May, and Antiviral vying for a spot in the competition, and of course both being optimal possible CanCon selections at this September’s TIFF, it would appear that Gadon is in for a rapturous international film festival season.
Cannes on the horizon (fingers crossed), the actress is feeling more prepared for this year’s tour of the red carpet. As she shares, last year’s premiere frenzy over A Dangerous Method at its Venice Film Festival screening came across almost “silly,” what with all the flashing cameras and elaborate dresses, both alien to what had constituted her acting career up to that point. “It was my first big red carpet: tons of journalists and celebrities, and I remember stepping out of the car and people were screaming and yelling, and I felt so awkward and uncomfortable that I wanted to start laughing,” she recalls. “After that, I told my mom, who was with me, that I thought it was so silly, and my mom said ‘Well, you shouldn’t, you should take this really seriously.’” And she did, from that moment onward. Gadon now perceives waving at fans and press on the red carpet in a pretty gown as a practice in audience-building. “This is a part of my job and a part of the industry,” she remembers thinking after Venice. “I believe in accessibility, and I really think that the fashion component of it all is a big part of that. I feel like my whole perception of fashion has really changed.”
Admittedly a tad wet behind the ears still when it comes to the industry’s off-screen facet, Gadon credits TIFF’s Talent Lab for guiding her via their Emerging Artists Project. “TIFF is amazing because as an organization, beyond the festival, they’ve really gotten behind me and helped support me as an emerging actor. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am, and how valuable I think that is to the trajectory of my career,” gushes Gadon. “Not only did it create a community of people to talk about film with and appreciate film with, but it also became a pool of resources for me to draw on when I was promoting my film, getting myself out there to the Canadian press and the international press…I’m really, really appreciative.”
Doubly proud of TIFF itself, while the low-profile actress prefers the mellow vibe found at smaller festivals like Venice, Toronto’s festival is dearest to her heart. “It’s a proud moment being from Toronto. I hear so much criticism about the Canadian industry and Canadian film, but I just think it’s such a proud moment that we have such an important festival…internationally. It says a lot about the neutrality of Canada in terms of the film market, but it also says a lot about the platform that we have,” says Gadon. “As Canada emerges on the international stage as a filmmaking nation, it’s really important to have young filmmakers and young directors that the Canadian audience can point to…that the international audience can point to, and it ultimately propels our own film industry.”
As contemplative in her approach to character development as she is with her strategy to manoeuvring the industry at large, Gadon esteems a balance between craft and trade. “I think that in our industry, you’re constantly fighting between art and industry; you have to find that balance,” she explains. “You’re trying to live and survive, but you’re also trying to stay stimulated as an artist, so I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way.” It’s the appreciation of the art form and “how far reaching a medium it is” that motivated the actress to enroll in the Cinema Studies program at the University of Toronto. “Every time I’m confused [about the industry], I walk into class and fall in love all over again.” Adding with a chuckle, “That’s why I stay in school.”
Intrigued by humble origin stories, Gadon own modest demeanour is anchored by the lack of get-famous-quick tales shared by co-stars like Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen, whose frank reply to how he became Cronenberg’s foremost leading man was, according to Gadon, along the lines of “he was the only one who employed me.” “It doesn’t matter how often you hear how much people have to struggle in this industry to make it, its just refreshing to hear great people talk about it,” says the actress. “It’s so great to be around people like that…it’s humbling.”
A self-possessed screen presence, a pronounced wit with awe-shucks appeal and a Golden Age screen beauty to boot, don’t eliminate the possibility of Canada’s Sarah Gadon advancing to international pop icon stature; from what we gathered, all signs point to an S. Gadon Venezuela Twitter account in the not-too-distant future.
TEXT BY JENNIFER LEE
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