Canadian culture is shining especially brilliantly right now, and when it comes to film, Toronto-born Sarah Gadon is one of the country's brightest lights. The talented 29-year-old actor, who starred in three consecutive David Cronenberg films – and earlier this year, appeared at both Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival for the movie Indignation – is making her mark on the cinematic world. She's also dazzling fans on the red carpet, earning her a starring role in campaigns for Giorgio Armani Beauty and Jaeger-LeCoultre timepieces.
Raised by a teacher mother and a psychologist father, Gadon began acting at the age of 10. She studied dance with the National Ballet School and film at University of Toronto, and has cultivated a reputation as an artist who makes careful choices, both cinematically and sartorially. I spoke with Gadon about her work and developing a sense of style at home.
You started acting at quite a young age. A lot of people who were child actors lament the fact that their childhood was spent that way. How did it affect you?
It's really a testament to my parents, because I was active, curious and creative as a child and my parents nurtured that. But I wouldn't say that I was a professional child actor at all. I was never the breadwinner of my family. It was something that my parents really tried to temper. I was never allowed to miss a lot of school and I did the majority of [work] on summer vacation. And they insisted that I go to university. They allowed me to indulge in my curiosity for the arts, but it really wasn't until I was an adult that they gave me their blessing to go and be a full-time actor.
How does it feel being an actor from this country at a time when people are looking at Canada with renewed interest? You've cultivated an international career for yourself, but I know you see yourself as Canadian first.
Absolutely. I think my generation is defining themselves as Canadian artists. It was a very critical moment for me when I began working with David Cronenberg and seeing this amazing director and creator choose to base himself out of Toronto. I was getting a lot of pressure to go to the States but I never really wanted to. I saw Cronenberg forge his own path and that made me believe that I could do that, too. Right now I'm working on this fantastic project called Alias Grace that's written and being produced by Sarah Polley and directed by Mary Harron. We're shooting it all over Ontario. We were on a giant tall ship on Lake Ontario, and after a day's work, I jumped in this speed boat and we were racing pass the SkyDome and the CN Tower. It was this immaculate view and I had this complete emotional swell in my heart thinking that I'm so happy I stayed here. I never would have been surrounded by the intelligent, creative women on this project if I had moved.
You have a wonderful sense of style. I know designers are eager to get their clothes on your back, and with the Toronto International Film Festival, there will be lots of opportunities for you to dress up. How much fun is that for you?
Oh, it's fantastic. We have so many incredible designers here to wear. I've been able to foster these nice, natural relationships with designers and it's really great because I need dresses!
I would think that the responsibility of having to look fabulous on the red carpet night after night must be a little unnerving or even annoying at times.
It can be. It's daunting, and exciting, but it can be very frustrating and time-consuming, and sometimes I think, "What's my job here?" I'm just an actor; I can't coordinate all of these outfits. But I made good friends with Nicholas Mellamphy, formerly of The Room at Hudson's Bay, when I was a rising star at TIFF, and he was so supportive in terms of helping me navigate designers. Through Hudson's Bay I've have met so many incredible designers in Canada and all over the world. It's been a really special thing to have because we don't have a lot of major fashion houses in Canada that have in-house tailoring and the ability to ship clothes all over the world at their expense. It becomes difficult when you're doing independent film and you're going to the Cannes Film Festival and [the production company doesn't] have a styling budget. It's a lot easier for younger actors to go to major fashion houses, because they'll dress them, and they'll deal the with the tailoring and send stuff to the hotel and the actors don't have to pay for anything. But a lot of young designers can't afford to do that. They have to pick and choose [who they dress]. It's tougher to navigate but if you have people like Nicholas or Megan Loach at The Room, who helped me dress this year for Sundance and put together a bunch of looks and tailor them and send them over… Well, it's just been so helpful.
Do you feel pressure to look a certain way here in Canada?
I did in the beginning. I'm being very frank here, but generally, with young actresses, there's a lot of pressure to make an impact on their first red carpets or the red carpet that coincides with their films, because that's the best kind of press they're are going to get and that can be a massive opportunity. So often there's a lot of pressure to wear a certain hot designer that will get in the magazines, and it is this kind of machine. In the beginning, I always felt a little bit susceptible to that kind of pressure, but through meeting designers and forming relationships and knowing my own sense of style, I've been able to have the confidence to say, "You know what? I'm going to wear a Greta Constantine dress to the Berlin Film Festival because that's a great label, I like their stuff and I have one." You feel less pressure to be super current or super trendy and just wear what you want to wear and who you like.
How would you describe Canadian culture beyond fashion?
I would say that we're very transient and adaptable and we have this objectivity, which I think allows us to stand alone. I know I certainly feel that way in terms of my own career. With Hollywood or the States or the rest of the world, it's like we're up here in Canada looking down on it all, and we absorb it all culturally but we have this distance from it. And I think we used to be ashamed of that, but now it's become this massive tool that's making us stand apart.
What are you looking forward to the most about the film festival this year?
I don't have a film opening but I will be working throughout the festival. I am really excited to see Xavier Dolan's film It's Only the End of the World at TIFF. I just played a part in his next movie, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, which will be his first English-language film, and I had a blast working with him. He is like Bob Fosse and Terrence Malick and everything amazing wrapped into one little beautiful French-Canadian package.
This interview has been condensed and edited.