When we go to see a Marvel movie in the theaters, everyone knows to look for the Stan Lee cameo. The man who created the Marvel universe is only too happy to spend his last years as the ultimate fan easter egg. But, it looks like someone has decided to give him a run for the cameo money: Margaret Atwood, who has two adaptations of her novels already on screen, with a third somewhere in the pre-production phase. But Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace cameo isn't just one that's there for the fun and games of it. She's there to be a thorn in everyone's side.
Netflix's adaptation of Alias Grace is a sumptuously detailed period piece, set in the 1840s and 50s, drawn from the true life tale of Grace Marks, who was accused and convicted of murdering her employer and his housekeeper at the tender age of 16.
But the show's real power is how timely it is as well as thrilling, with a philosophical deep-dive into how powerless women have been sexually used and abused by the men who can get away with treating them this way for hundreds of years, and how that oppression made them act out.
Such a story doesn't seem a fun place to throw a cameo, but then again, neither did the story of The Handmaid's Tale, which Hulu released on their streaming service last spring. And yet, there Atwood was, cast as one of the "aunts" at the handmaid retraining center. She didn't get a large part, but she did get to hit Elisabeth Moss upside the head as part of her punishment for hesitating to "slut-shame" her fellow handmaid who had broken the rules.
In Alias Grace, Atwood appears a little further along in the story, in Episode 4, to be exact. In that episode, Grace is recounting her life with her employer Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, who was also his lover.
Though no one ever says out loud what is happening between Nancy and Kinnear, everyone knows, from the cook — who tries clumsily to tell Grace not to take the job — to the wives of Kinnear's friends, to the townspeople who attend their church. Nancy tries to pretend everything is fine. After all, by sleeping with him, she's raising herself up to a semi-faux "lady of the house," practicing the piano and taking breakfast in the dining room with her master.
But when Grace accompanies the two of them to the church for services, she immediately sees that something is very wrong, as the parishioners stare at Kinnear and Nancy and whisper in disgust. One of them, the one that's old enough that she can't be bothered to whisper her outrage, that's Atwood.
She's overheard grumping loudly enough for the whole church to hear: “It’s an outrage. An outrage.”
Does her character have a name? Sort of. In the script, she's called "Difficult Woman." Somehow, I think Atwood got a kick out of that.
Talking to the Huff Post, director Mary Harron said it was one of the most fun scenes to film, even if it was a little nerve-wracking.
Oh, it was fun. I didn’t have to do too much directing. There was a lot of panic because the schedule had gone wrong. It was like the second day of shooting, and she was waiting around in a heavy costume in 90-degree heat for hours and hours. We were like, ‘Ahhhh.’ But she was very good about it. And I think she was very amused, because on her trailer it said, ‘Difficult Woman.’ That was her name.
Here's to Atwood continuing to be a difficult woman in all her adaptations. Alias Grace is currently streaming on Netflix.