Belfast Telegraph

Q: How does Hollywood star Sarah Gadon master Northern Ireland accent? A: By listening to endless podcasts of Radio Ulster

By Claire McNeilly

Hollywood actress Sarah Gadon has revealed the secret behind her flawless Northern Ireland accent - countless hours of listening to BBC Radio Ulster.

Gadon, who is from Toronto, Canada, plays Grace Marks - a real-life character from 19th century Belfast - in Alias Grace, a hit new Netflix series.

Marks was convicted in 1843 - when she was just 16 - of murdering her employer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, in Canada.

The six-parter, gleaned from The Handmaid's Tale author Margaret Lockwood's 1996 novel of the same name, is a harrowing tale of persecution and identity fused with a true crime story.

Gadon has earned rave reviews, not only for her performance, but for how well she puts on the accent of a teenage immigrant from pre-partition northern Ireland living in 1840s Toronto.

"I really worked hard on the Northern Irish accent," said Sarah, who spent five months in Belfast during the filming of Dracula Untold three years ago.

"I listened to a lot of Radio Ulster, which was great for getting the accent of someone who was originally from Belfast.

"I was even listening to their Gardeners' Corner podcasts. It's not the easiest accent to get your head around, and if I hadn't been immersed in it for that period of time, I'm not sure what I would have done.

"I also called up my friends in Belfast and asked them to record chunks of the script in their accents and send them to me."

The 30-year-old said portraying Grace - who emigrated to Canada when she was 12 - was the hardest acting job she had ever done.

The series portrays Grace Marks as a complicated young woman who endures abuse, oppression and degradation in a sexist society - but, unlike The Handmaid's Tale, this Lockwood-penned story is steeped in fact.

The televised version begins shortly after Grace is convicted of the double homicide but works as a maid for the prison governor.

Her conviction was a controversial one, inspiring a lengthy debate about whether Marks had actually played a role in the grisly murders or merely witnessed them. A group of local evangelists believed in her innocence and hoped to have her pardoned, employing a psychiatrist, Dr Simon Jordan, to help them.

The subsequent conversations, with accompanying flashbacks, span decades of Grace's life.

They delve into dark memories from her Belfast years, although the shrink is often left trying to separate fact from skilfully-crafted fiction.

"When I read the script and then the novel, I just knew that this was going to be so special," Sarah told Vanity Fair.

The mini-series has earned glowing reviews, with many critics saying it compares favourably with the other Lockwood adaptation, which swept the board at the Emmy Awards.

And the many hours of listening to the likes of Karen Patterson, Kerry McLean, Linda McAuley, Noel Thompson and Hugo Duncan have helped Sarah earn high praise from Tinseltown's entertainment writers.

"Finding an actress who could convincingly play Grace as a teenager, a young woman and in middle age - and, oh, yeah, do a perfect Northern Ireland accent - was no small feat," wrote Meredith Blake of the Los Angeles Times.

And Rolling Stone's Phoebe Reilly, describing how Alias Grace has become "the most relevant show on television", added: "This remarkable combination of talent resulted in a mini-series that demands to be quickly devoured, like so many successful true-crime offerings."

Belfast Telegraph

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