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The breakthrough: Sarah Gadon, star of 'Dracula Untold' and Cronenberg films

Actress Sarah Gadon talks about her new film "Dracula Untold," acting regularly for David Cronenberg and pursuing a degree in Cinema Studies.

Actress Sarah Gadon attends the UK premiere of her new film, "Dracula Untold." Credit: Getty Images Actress Sarah Gadon attends the UK premiere of her new film, "Dracula Untold."
Credit: Getty Images

Where you’ve seen her: A performer on TV and in film since she was a kid, the Canadian-born actress has appeared in three consecutive David Cronenberg films, including “Cosmopolis,” in which she plays Robert Pattinson’s wife of 22 days, and his film “Maps to the Stars.” Gadon also played the second Jake Gyllenhaal’s pregnant wife in “Enemy,” and played the half-sister in “Belle.”
Where she is now: She plays the goodly wife of Vlad III Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, in the origin story/reboot “Dracula Untold.”
Where she’s going: Gadon will be a young Princess Elizabeth in “Girls’ Night Out” and the thriller “The 9th Life of Louis Drax,” with Aaron Paul — both due next year.

Which “Dracula” she loves the most: “I grew up with ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula,’ the Coppola version,” Gadon says, citing that “Untold” essentially stretches out its first 10 minutes to feature length. She was also a total “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” head growing up.

Why vampires never die (as an artform): “We return time and again to vampires as a metaphor. It touches on basic human themes, of love and death and struggle. It’s a great catalyst to explore these ideas.”

What “Dracula Untold” does to the series: “Each version of the story speaks to its specific time. Our film is no exception. It’s taking the Dracula story and putting a contemporary Hollywood stamp on it. It’s using every special effect in modern technical filmmaking to add this visual element, putting it on the compelling aesthetic for which Dracula is so well known.”

And it’s about humanizing Dracula (to a point): “I think audiences are smart. They don’t want to see black-and-white. They want to see a character struggling with complexity and trying to live a good life.”

Graduating to giant productions after smaller films: “I thought it was going to be hugely different, but at the end of the day it was like any film I’d ever done. You find a connection with another actor and everything in the background just fades away.”

Sarah Gadon plays Mrs. Vlad the Impaler in "Dracula Untold." Credit: Jasin Boland Sarah Gadon plays Mrs. Vlad the Impaler in "Dracula Untold."
Credit: Jasin Boland

Gadon is also pursuing a degree in Cinema Studies at University of Toronto, with a few credits left. What she loves about it: “I love semiotics. I love psychoanalysis and how it pertains to film theory. I’m a big fan of Italian neorealism.”

How academia helps her acting: “I think when you have a film degree it helps you speak the same language as your director. It’s easier to understand the visual references, the visual impact they’re trying to make. That’s important in character development. If you don’t know the kind of film you’re going to be in, it impacts the world you’re creating.”

How cinephilia helps her prepares: “I usually like to watch a lot of movies before I start a project. I find it inspires me creatively. For this I watched a lot of samurai films. You can see the samurai influences when you watch some of these films. The hand coming out as the carriage pulls up unannounced [in certain “Dracula” films] is a very samurai moment. Gary [Shore, the director] asked me to watch a lot of early Spielberg stuff. The banter between men and women has the same tonal quality he wanted Luke and I to have.”

Working with David Cronenberg: “It’s amazing when you get one of his scripts, they’re always so dense and full of meaning, so rich. You spend time as an actor pulling back the layers of meaning, figuring out what he’s trying to say. The language of the scripts set the tone for how you’re going to act in them. He doesn’t like me to stray from the dialogue at all, but he’ll let me define how I can play a character. He gives you a very specific structure, but a lot of freedom inside the structure.”

What draws her to Cronenberg’s movies: “I think so often you go to the movie theaters and you enter this code of ethics of how we’re supposed to be watching a film. David’s films don’t do that. He doesn’t allow you to watch his films passively. You have to engage when watching them. He’s not afraid to challenge audiences or piss them off or make them work. I remember when I watched Michael Haneke’s ‘Funny Games.’ It was like getting slapped repeatedly. Sometimes you want to go to the movies and eat popcorn, and sometimes you want to go to the movies and get slapped in the face.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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