Magazine article Variety

'Grace' under Pressure

Magazine article Variety

'Grace' under Pressure

Article excerpt

Margaret Atwood is having a moment.

To be fair, the 77-yearold author has been having one for quite some time, what with more than a dozen best-sellers to her name. But as she stood on the stage of the MicrosoftTheater last month, clutching an Emmy Award - and, charmingly, her purse - one thing was clear: Hollywood was embracing its new literary darling.

The critically acclaimed adaptation of her 30-year-old novel "The Handmaid's Tale" is now in production on its second season; up next is yet another adaptation of her work, the six-episode limited series "Alias Grace," which bows on Netflix on Nov. 3. ("Handmaid's," which won eight Emmys, is a favorite going into the upcoming Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe Awards.)

With her trademark nonchalance, Atwood dismisses it as "mere coincidence. However, it seems very appropriate, as it turns out, for the times we find ourselves in."

Indeed, both novels stand as powerful allegories for the current political climate. "The Handmaid's Tale" was in development long before Donald Trump was even a candidate, but the dystopian drama took on new meaning once he moved into the Oval Office. Similarly, filmmaker Sarah Polley has wanted to adapt "Alias Grace" for years - but the tale questioning the very nature of truth couldn't be timelier.

"I think she has X-ray vision into not just people but into a particular place and time," says Polley of Atwood, whose "Alias Grace" - a historical novel set in the 1800s about a servant who may (or may not) have committed a double murder - has long captivated her. "And I think that this is a moment where we're all looking for some kind of guidance," Polley adds. "Things are feeling pretty out of control and pretty dire. With 'Alias Grace,' she offers us a way of looking back at where we've come from. And with 'The Handmaid's Tale,' she's showing us where we might be going."

Screenwriters, along with audiences, have rediscovered Atwood because of how farsighted her novels have turned out to be, whether she's looking to the past or the future. Yet Atwood dismisses any notion of prescience. "All of this stuffwas bubbling away for years," she says. "That's how come I would write such a book, because I was reading the back pages of the newspapers. What usually happens when one's rambling appears now is things have moved to the front page. But it's not that they weren't there."

Both projects - which had long, tortured paths to the screen - have also benefited from the Peak TV boom, which rewards complex storytelling and complicated, layered characters.

"To really capture the spirit of her books requires a certain amount of bravery," says Bruce Miller, showrunner of "The Handmaid's Tale." "I think it's a very good match - her unflinching storytelling and the ability to put more unflinching things on TV."

ATWOOD HAS ENDURED enough adaptations of her work to know that the process "doesn't always work out well," as she puts it ever so politely.

"I have been in and out of the film world over all of these years, and I know how easy it is to have something go offthe rails," she says. "I also know that films are made on the cutting room floor. They're more like mosaics. But I happen to have been very, very lucky with both of these projects, because the teams involved with them are excellent."

And, she adds, "the results are stunning."

She's not one to give praise lightly. She wasn't fond of the 1990 film version of "Handmaid's Tale," where the director ultimately threw out the voiceover that would make the TV version so powerful. She's said no, too, to countless offers that failed to capture the essence of the book. "'Handmaid's Tale' could have so easily been a kind of sex-scandal, weirdo, maidens-inleather type of thing," she says.

But she embraced Miller's vision for translating Gilead - as she did Polley's interpretation of "Alias Grace." So much so that the award-winning writer let the showrunners take the lead with their scripts. …

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