Sarah Gadon: Beauty and Denis

Sarah Gadon in Enemy.
Sarah Gadon in Enemy.

Often Canadian actors swear they want to build a career here before even considering to move south of the border. Sarah Gadon puts her money where her mouth is. A recent winner at the Canadian Screen Awards, Sarah has become a staple in David Cronenberg’s work (Cosmopolis, A Dangerous Method and the upcoming Map to the Stars) and his son Brandon (Anti-viral).

The young thesp has now joined forces with Quebecois filmmaker and Oscar winner Denis Villeneuve for the mind-bending thriller Enemy. The film follows a man and his doppelganger (both played by Jake Gyllenhaal) as they force themselves into each other’s lives. Gadon plays the pregnant wife of one of them. It’s a quiet role: She holds the key to the mystery, but as much as it pains her, must let the men figure it out alone.

Over the phone, Sarah is nothing like the cold, unreachable women she often plays. Gadon is chatty, almost bubbly, and whip smart. It took one question to make me realize I was way off in my interpretation of Enemy.

– How is Denis Villeneuve different from any of the other directors you have worked with?

– He is very… French. Denis is so kind and giving and passionate. My closest experience to working with someone like that is David (Cronenberg). He gives his actors a lot of space, but at the same time he is very technical in his approach to filmmaking, he doesn’t want to spend a lot of time talking about the psyche of the character. He expects us to do that on our own and start working, whereas Denis wants to have all this conversations with you. He wants to talk about Antonioni, or alienation or all the things he wants to see in his film. On set, he gives you the freedom to explore, make mistakes and improvise.

– Since Jake Gyllenhaal plays two characters in Enemy, did you relate differently to each one of them or did you treat them as two sides of the same person?

– It was a big concern while we were shooting. I thought, if I was in a relationship and I wanted my partner to be a better version of himself, what would happen if one day that better version walked through the door? Would I acknowledge the difference? Or would I be grateful, accept this new person and move on? That’s what Helen is working through.

Enemy is a film that allows a number of interpretations. What is yours?

– For me, the film is an exploration of the male psyche and a man’s fear of female intimacy. I was aware of that while shooting and used it to navigate my relationship with Jake. So often in relationships men are afraid to give women power, give themselves wholly to their partner. That process can create a lot of tension. The most interesting matter to track in the film is Jake’s fear of women and how it plays in his relationship with his lover, his mother and his wife. I love the physical representation of that fear in the motive of the spider. The spider is a woman but threatening.

Yep, that sounds about right (don’t look at my review).

 SUBVERSIVE SARAH

Given her filmography, it’s not surprising Sarah is drawn to movies and filmmakers that entice audiences’ imagination. Besides acting, Gadon is pursuing a degree in Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto.

– What did you learn working in Enemy that you didn’t know before?

– Artistically, I learned to be more fearless. It’s so difficult to get a movie made, the stakes are so high, sometimes you believe you don’t have the time to try something. Denis and Jake gave me the space to do whatever I wanted. It was an exploration we all were in. It didn’t always work, but I wasn’t ashamed for trying.

– Have you ever come across your doppelganger?

– Yeah, in fact, you are not even talking to Sarah Gadon right now.

She is funny.

– You have made three movies with Cronenberg. Do you have developed a shorthand?

– No, I’m pretty terrified of him still (laughs). Every time I get a script from him is like getting a giant toggle and I get to have fun putting it together. It’s such a privilege.

– Considering your filmography, how has been the experience of working in a tentpole movie, like The Amazing Spider-Man 2?

– I don’t feel that I have to limit myself to do certain kind of films. I’m motivated by people. If there is someone I want to work with, I will do it whether they are doing a movie for Warner Bros, BFI or for peanuts. I’m a huge fan of directors like Douglas Sirk, who worked within the system and made films believed to be melodramatic B-movies for women, but were actually subversive.

– Can you confirm you’ll be playing Mary Jane Watson?

– No, I’m not. I’m definitely not.

Enemy is now playing at the Galaxy Cinemas.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.

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