The Class Act | Sarah Gadon
(Photo by Caitlin Cronenberg)
Anyone with the advantage of first-world problems knows celebrity is just another subset to this so-called modern life. In the new sci-fi thriller, Antiviral, however, Toronto’s rising it-girl Sarah Gadon takes life in the limelight to a darker decree. In a world where obsessed fans pay top dollar to be injected by celebrity sicknesses, super starlet Hannah Geist (played by Gadon) is in the utmost of demand. The film’s mind-bending unveil of a cultural psychosis isn’t for the squeamish, as blood, needles, and distortion offset its jeering commentary on the thrones of obsession, desire, and fame.
Gadon’s become somewhat of a family jewel for the Cronenberg clan through her back-to-back triad of films by both David and Brandon Cronenberg. A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis catapulted her into international acclaim in– what seems like– a blink of an eye, but the 25-year old actor and university student is moving fast with two new films set for release in early 2013 and her own self-directed documentary about her work with photographer Caitlin Cronenburg on Antiviral.
Read on as Sarah talks Cronenbergs, horror flicks, and her plans for future filming.
In your new film Antiviral, you’re a hot prospect for the obsessed-fan demographic. Did any of your own experiences with fame help you hone into the role?
Initially, I was unsure about the role because I didn’t feel much of a connection to Hannah in the script. She was this glitzed-out “icon” type, and I was concerned she was just a bit static. I had a sit-down with Brandon who really stressed the dimension he wanted to build for this starlet– she is an icon but also a young woman with a great deal of vulnerability. As an actor, you’re always looking for an emotional challenge, and so once I got the full picture the prospect of being in the eye of this commentary was very intriguing.
You were initially concerned about being portrayed as just a pretty face?
Well, I was also taking feminist film theory course at the time and had just come off of Laura Mulvey’s“Visual Pleasures in Narrative Cinema”. I was nervous that Hannah Geist was really just a fetish object. I tried to convince Brandon to give me the part of the villain. (laughs) But delving into Hannah’s character turned into something really fun and fascinating– the idea of wrenching out her many conflicting qualities and giving her a more human side.
Did you take any inspiration from real-world figures?
There were a lot of different ideas for Hannah. We didn’t want base her on a specific person because we didn’t want her to be located anywhere in time. However, we did look to borrow pieces from women like Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana– women who spent their lives being immortalized into complete icons.
The film is loaded with visual imagery– lots of adverts, background photography, etc. How did this play into your work the film?
We spent a week alone just doing pre-production which was interesting because it was shooting before shooting, and that was a different experience for me. All the pre-production ended up being a huge part of the set deck that further added to the film’s course. I was able to shape my character through the images you see of Hannah through the film. I got to work closely with Brandon’s sister, Caitlin Cronenburg, on this since she did the photography for the film. That was fun.
You study film theory. How does this align with your work as an actor?
I’m eager to learn about film and the culture of film. I’m always looking for ways to contribute to the art form, and so my studies help fuel me in this respect. I think a lot of actors look to storylines and character when considering projects and that’s definitely on my list, but I often think about how roles fall within a greater body of work– whether its my own or the director’s or another actor’s. I guess my studies allow me to be aware of film in its grand scheme.
So you’re a film buff?
I’d say so. I love Italian Realism– Momma Roma, Shoeshine, Ossessione. The humanity and the struggle draw me in. I also adore Philippe Falardeau’s work. Tarantino. Scorsese. The list goes on…
Do you see yourself writing or directing at some point?
I’d like to experiment. I’ve been dabbling a bit lately with a half hour documentary about my work experience with Caitlin Cronenberg (who did the photography) on the set of Antiviral. I’m editing that now and learning a lot. But I think if I were to direct a feature, I’d want to go to study to learn a lot more technique than what I have right now. I’m pretty consumed at the moment between acting and academia, but I’d definitely like to go behind the lens at some point.
What’s a great script?
The context of a script is always key for me. For example, everyone is so interested in the excess of fame and how it develops to affect our day-to-day culture. I read the Antiviral script and thought: hey, someone has taken this huge topic and written a really elegant dialogue about the industry and the excess of it all. This is something I talk about with my friends all the time, and now it’s all here in a very well-thought satire.
Is there a family resemblance to the Cronenbergs as directors?
I’d definitely say they’re different in the sense that they’re in very different places in their career. This is Brandon’s first feature film, and so he is still very much a student as he leads the pack. It was so beautiful to see him blossom through the duration of the film. With David, he’ll walk onto set and you know that he’s a master filmmaker. He’s got years behind him. That said, I think the way they command their crew and treat the people they work with is similar. There is thoughtfulness and an intelligence that seems to run in the blood.
Three words to describe Cronenberg Senior?
Genius. Terrifying. Sweetheart. (Terrifying because I’m sure he’d love me to say that…)
Awkward. Intelligent. Sweetheart. (the biggest sweetheart)
Speaking of obsessed fans, how was working with Rob Pattison on Cosmopolis?
Hmm.. it was pretty serious business. (laughs) Although, working on this film opposite Rob was such a rich experience because we had this great complexity to hash out together with our characters. It’s the kind of film that I’m still talking about with people– some people think my character represents autonomy, others will say sex, and then other people think I’m void of sexuality. Everyone has an opinion on that and I really love hearing it. It’s a challenging film, so I think people really like to share their opinions about it.
The last year has been a big one for you. Can you give us a highlight?
I had a great moment with Juliette Binoche at Cannes this year who was also in Cosmopolis. We hadn’t actually met until we were all on the red carpet together as a cast, and it was very chaotic. We got shoved into private cars for transportation, and all of a sudden I found myself alone in a car with Juliette Binoche–just the two of us. She looked at me and we had this really odd exchange. She said to me that Cannes was such an important festival to her because she was born there… and she told me that she thought I was“very beautiful” in Cosmopolis. And she then told me to make art. ( “Make Art, Make Art.”) It was just one of those surreal pockets of time. A real life moment– and so yes, I think I’ll make art…
What’s next for you?
I’ll finish editing my documentary and gear up to promote two films that I’m so excited to have been a part of, “An Enemy” and “Belle”. I want to keep working in Canada and internationally, and to continue working with auteur directors who can provide me with new challenge and experience. There are a few prospects for the new year… so we will see!
Top 3 Sci-fi / Horror Film picks?
The Fly by David Cronenberg (1986)
1986 classic Cronenberg: A wild and brilliant scientist transforms into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.
Blade Runner by Ridley Scott (1982)
Action movie meets science fiction. It’s a story about a blade runner who has to track down and terminate 4 robots who hijacked a ship in space and have returned to earth seeking their maker.
This one is less sci-fi and more horror. It’s about the wife of a cruel headmaster and his mistress who conspire to kill him. However, things go awry when the body disappears and strange events begin to haunt the two women.