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[WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the film Enemy.]
If you’re an actress starring in a movie about two identical characters, playing a woman who’s married to one of them, how do you know what your role is when the relationship between the two look-alikes is never explained and they could be two sides of the same person?
That was the complicated question faced by actress Sarah Gadon when she joined the cast of the Jake Gyllenhaal starrer Enemy, directed by Prisoners‘ Denis Villeneuve. Gadon plays the wife of one of Gyllenhaal’s characters, actor Anthony St. Claire, who’s contacted by history teacher Adam Bell after Bell notices the two look exactly alike. A series of contentious encounters ultimately lead the two men to switch places.
While the relationship between the two Gyllenhaal characters is left intentionally ambiguous, Gadon says she tried to focus on the idea of wanting to change the person you’re in a relationship with.
“I just thought about the times when you’re in a relationship that are not great and you want to change the person you’re in a relationship with, and I thought, ‘What if you really want to change that person and then one day the person that you wanted them to be walks through the door?’ ” the actress tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Would you just be able to accept it? Would you question it or would you push it yourself?”
Among the many questions viewers are left pondering at the end of the film is the meaning of the movie’s shocking final image, a giant spider that appears in the bedroom after Gadon’s character walks into the room, shocking Gyllenhaal’s character.
While Villeneuve declined to divulge the meaning of the last shot, wanting to let viewers figure it out for themselves, Gadon has a theory about the spider.
“I think the spider is a sign of his fear of female intimacy; it’s a physical manifestation of his fear of female intimacy,” she tells THR. “I think at this point in the film where he’s able to achieve closeness with a woman, he freaks out and all of a sudden I turn into the symbol of his greatest fear.”
Indeed, the concept of female intimacy and the closeness between two people were some of the things Villeneuve said he wanted to focus on before he even cast the film, according to a letter he wrote that was attached to the script during the process, Gadon explains.
“[The letter] basically said that he was very curious about exploring the notion of female intimacy and intimacy between two people and what that meant and how that changed us and relationships and what they were about,” the actress says. “And he said that this script was very open, and he wanted to go on an exploration with people.”
Gadon adds that she “knew that the filmmaking process would be very unique and experimental,” which is exactly what she wanted.
She tells THR that she had been a fan of Villeneuve’s more unusual films like Maelstrom and Polytechnique, and when she found out the French-Canadian director was making his first English-language film in Enemy, she knew she had to do whatever it took to be a part of that film.
” ‘He’s making his first film in English, I have to be in this film,’ ” Gadon says of her thought process. “So I tracked the project, and this was before even Jake was attached and they were looking at potential leads. … Once they had settled on Jake, I basically badgered them (laughs) to audition me, and I auditioned with Jake and I got the role, thankfully.”
While filming, Gadon and Gyllenhaal had a lot of freedom, she tells THR.
“For the interior scenes between Jake and I, [Villeneuve] would write the scenes, and we could move anywhere we wanted to in the scene,” she explains. “We could improv. We could, you know, do what we wanted to. And, I mean, of course he created boundaries and there was a structure and we talked extensively about scenes, but it was very open. … Working with Jake was amazing, too. He just keeps you on your toes and keeps teasing out a scene, and he’s just fearless about where he will take it.”
Gadon, who previously starred in A Dangerous Method and Cosmopolis, is currently in Finland filming The Girl King, about Queen Kristina of Sweden and her love affair with her lady in waiting Countess Ebba Sparre (Gadon), “just a casual period lesbian art film,” she says.
It was her traveling, and tendency to often watch movies on her laptop while she’s away, that made her more open to Enemy‘s early DirecTV release. It debuted on the satellite provider in February before getting a limited theatrical release last Friday.
She adds that she thinks this strategy is one of the ways companies like Enemy distributor A24 are dealing with the difficulty of releasing independent films.
“I think that the distribution market right now is in kind of a state of crisis,” Gadon tells THR. “I think that people don’t really know, and people are having a difficulty releasing independent films, and I think that unless you have a Cinderella story where you’re getting massive, wide distribution, films are being seen many different ways now.”
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