Margaret Atwood will be stepping back in time and in front of the cameras for the TV adaptation of her novel “Alias Grace.” The Canadian literary legend said she’ll have a cameo in the upcoming six-hour miniseries, which will air on CBC and stream on Netflix outside Canada.
“Alias Grace” is based on Atwood’s Giller Prize-winning novel about Grace Marks, a young Irish immigrant and maid convicted of murder in Upper Canada in 1843. She was exonerated after about 30 years behind bars.
Atwood recently visited the set for the series, where she was placed in a corset and had her measurements taken. She said she’s slated to film her role on Aug. 16.
“By that time, they’ll have my disapproving bonnet and dress ready for me,” she said. “Once you put on one of those things, you realize why everybody in Victorian pictures looks like this,” Atwood added, stiffening her spine to sit upright. “You don’t bend…. No slumping.”
Atwood was impressed by the level of detail being paid to translate the story to screen. “It was easy for me as a writer. All I had to say was: ‘He got on the train.’ They have to say: ‘What kind of train? What did the train look like? What did the train look like from inside?”’
Extensive work was done researching the clothing for the series, which takes place over three different periods, spanning from the time of the murders to Marks’s release, Atwood noted. “It’s quite a difference in fashion, and the fashions changed during those periods. We think Victorian, but you have to say: ‘What moment of Victorian?’ And they’ve just got that so well done.”
Atwood recently met with “Alias Grace” writer-producer Sarah Polley and star Sarah Gadon, and had high praise for their contributions to the project.
“She’s a pretty brilliant writer,” Atwood said of Polley. “I saw the first script she did which was a movie…. Then, she said it’s just not long enough to get in all the levels of nuance. So that’s when she made it into a six-part miniseries…. Who would have predicted in the ’50s and ’60s that daytime soaps would have morphed into such an expressive and well-produced kind of thing,”
“We’ve had some riveting ones miniseries and longer series of which the production quality has been very high, and the acting has been spectacular.”
Atwood was also impressed by the range of Toronto actor Gadon. “She has a very plastic face, by which I mean … it’s mobile, and she can do innocent-looking, and she can also do chillingly cold-looking and sinister, sort of cunning. So, I’m very much looking forward to watch what she’s going to do.”
Atwood’s award-winning dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” is also being adapted for TV, with “Mad Men” actress Elisabeth Moss and Samira Wiley of “Orange is the New Black” as stars. The series is being produced by U.S. streaming service Hulu and MGM Television, and is slated to premiere in 2023. Atwood, who is a consulting producer on the series, said she’s fielded a lot of questions from the Canada and U.K. regarding distribution.
Atwood said she wrote for the screen in the ’70s and ’80s, but isn’t inclined to make a return to the format.
“It is a lot like summer camp in that if you like the people and the weather’s great, and it’s a project that you’re devoted to, it’s a wonderful experience,” said the 76-year-old writer. “If you don’t like the people, and the weather’s terrible, your parents aren’t going to come and get you, you’re stuck.