Public Appearances > 2018 > September 17 – 70th Emmy Awards
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Serena Joy is one of the many wicked characters on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but she’s also one that fans found more and more understandable as Season 2 went on. And viewers of the Hulu drama who struggle with their empathy for Serena can thank actress Yvonne Strahovski for their turmoil, as she worked hard to create that feeling.
“It’s important for me to try to make this character as relatable as possible, even though she’s despicable,” said Strahovski, whose first-ever Emmy nomination was one of eight acting noms for the show that won eight Emmys last year, including Outstanding Drama Series.
(The other acting nominees: lead actress Elisabeth Moss, supporting actor Joseph Fiennes, supporting actresses Alexis Bledel and Ann Dowd and guests Samira Wiley, Cherry Jones and Kelly Jenrette.)
For the actress, Season 2 was an extended case of what she called “navigating a really fine line between the Jekyll and Hyde of Serena — her ice queen fighting the sensitive, vulnerable side that was revealing itself slowly.”
Throughout the season, Serena, the wife of Commander Fred Waterford (Fiennes) would do something kind for the handmaiden Offred/June (Moss), who was carrying a child for the couple.
But in the next moment, driven by jealousy and fury, she would become more wicked than we’d ever seen her before. Episode after episode, Serena grappled with her desire to become a mother, which naturally put her at odds with June — the woman whose biological baby she was trying to snatch from her womb and mother herself.
“I was really excited when I sat down with [creator] Bruce [Miller] before we started filming and he told me about the motherhood storyline that Serena was going to have this year,” Strahovski said.
“He did leave a few things out, so I was still surprised by some of the things that come up in the scripts. But I love that Serena has this unrealistic view of what motherhood means to her and it totally breaks down and changes towards the end. She basically does a 180 that has the worst outcome for her and the best outcome for the baby. Her journey this season was about learning what motherhood really means.”
And it finally changes the Offred-Serena relationship, which Strahovski said reminds her “of a volatile lovers’ affair where they would come together and break up again, and come together and break up again. Ultimately there are so many reasons why they can’t come together. But the baby is one big reason why they can.”
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ star discusses her Emmy nomination for best supporting actress in a drama series.
“I’m really stoked, actually. I woke up in the morning really late to a lot of missed calls on my phone,” The Handmaid’s Tale actress Yvonne Strahovski told The Hollywood Reporter of getting the news of her Emmy nomination.
Unlike season one, Strahovski said she was able to explore her character Serena Joy at length in season two of the Hulu series. “It’s allowed me to deep dive into her emotional psyche and vulnerability. And to break down the iciness that we had seen in season one.”
One of those dives came in the episode where Joy decides to return to Gilead despite seeing life outside the suppression. Strahovski said of that moment, “It was so confronting on so many different layers. She’s watching women on phones and being independent.”
Strahovski said she feels a little dirty playing a character who has to justify what she’s doing. “Ultimately I’m on Team Audience who loathes her and wants her to be a better person,” she said.
The actress revealed that she kept her pregnancy in real life secret for a few weeks during production. When she had to film a scene where she is beaten, she said it was time to let producer Bruce Miller and actress Elisabeth Moss know the situation.
On working with Moss, Strahovski said, “It’s like having the greatest sparring partner ever.” She added that they are able to get in and out of their characters and get along between takes.
Strahovski, originally from Australia, said she wasn’t privy to American politics, although being on a show like Handmaid’s Tale has made her more aware and active in the conversation. “The show has been enlightening and empowering,” she said.
The actress also revealed that she’s not sure whether she will attend the Emmys given her pregnancy, but she hopes to be there to support her cast and crew, a group that’s brought in 20 different nominations this year.
Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera. In this week’s episode, Variety‘s executive editor of TV, Debra Birnbaum, talks with “The Handmaid’s Tale” star Yvonne Strahovski.
The conversation with the actress, who received a 2018 supporting actress Emmy nomination for her work as Serena Joy in the sci-fi drama’s sophomore season, spanned topics ranging from the age-old Serena as victim-versus-villain debate, as well as Strahovski’s speculations into her character’s Season 3 arc.
The second season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” pushed Serena to the edge emotionally and physically, with Strahovski and Elisabeth Moss as Offred/June facing off in no shortage of intense scenes. With Season 2 having officially left Margaret Atwood’s source material behind, Strahovski was pleased at the writers’ decision to complicate her character beyond the bitter wife.
“I’m so grateful that they really took a deep dive with Serena Joy this season and fleshed her out even more, in a way where I was given an opportunity to really access her vulnerability and get real raw — raw in all the crevices with her — and break down that iciness that was first established in Season 1,” Strahovski says. “It’s been such a tumultuous but rewarding ride.”
The series’ sophomore scripts also forced Strahovski to participate in several disturbing scenes, whether Serena was enduring a finger amputation and belt buckle beating at the hands of her husband, or perpetrating an organized rape of Offred. Her problematic journey sparked debate among viewers as to whether Serena should ultimately be viewed as a villain or a victim.
“She’s clearly a villain for so many reasons, but she’s also human, and that was the first thing that stuck out to me way back when I read the pilot,” Strahovski says. “There was distrust there to begin with, and there’s another woman moving in to reproduce with my husband. I mean, those were the basics. Those were the raw elements that made me think, that would drive anyone crazy on an emotional level. The misery and the anger that that would provoke is very powerful, so to me, she was always very human.”
Eventually, Strahovski believes all of Serena’s harrowing experiences throughout the second season informed her shocking — and potentially redeeming — decision to release her kidnapped child to June, her biological mother.
“To really see that moment in the end after all the impactful things that happened to Serena this season, like Eden’s execution, losing her finger, and the beating, as well,” Strahovski says. “There were so many pivotal moments that, I think, contribute to her making that decision in the very end.”
The Season 2 finale left Serena in a precarious position going into Season 3, living in a household with an abusive husband and without a child, and Strahovski isn’t convinced their marriage can recover from the blows it took in the last few episodes.
“I don’t know if that relationship is redeemable,” Strahovski says. “It would be interesting if it was, but in the same way, I didn’t know if Serena was redeemable after something like the rape scene.”
Also up in the air is the reunion of Serena and Offred, who is set to return to the Waterford household sans-child — a situation Strahovski doubts Serena will take in stride.
“I can’t imagine that going down very well,” Strahovski says. “I don’t think Serena’s gonna be like, ‘Great! Well done.’ Who else does she trust with that baby? There’s no one else who is going to protect that baby in the way that she knows Offred would.”