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The election “was horrible for the world, but great for me,” executive producer Bruce Miller says, as Elisabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, Yvonne Strahovski and Joseph Fiennes also talk about the series’ relevance.
The fascist themes in The Handmaid’s Tale, MGM Television and Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, gave it an organic (albeit disconcerting) publicity boost in the wake of the divisive 2016 presidential election. Showrunner Bruce Miller’s drama dismantles the familiar America into Gilead, a futuristic but simplified world where fertility is currency and the few women capable of bearing children are forced into sexual servitude for affluent couples. At the center is Offred, one such “handmaid” played by Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss. Per Hulu, the drama’s April 26 debut became the streamer’s most watched series premiere, earning it a swift renewal. Yet, for the team behind the series, the totalitarian society onscreen too closely parallels aspects of an America where President Trump has rolled back orders protecting women’s rights in the workplace and funding for reproductive health. (Hillary Clinton is among those who have cited the show’s timeliness.) During a lively April 21 conversation with THR, Miller, Moss and castmembers Samira Wiley, Yvonne Strahovski and Joseph Fiennes explored the series’ relevance and what they hope viewers will learn from it.

What’s the biggest pressure in adapting a beloved book?
BRUCE MILLER Not screwing it up. Any time you take something this popular that people have devoted so much of their time and attention and heart to, you just don’t want to ruin people’s perception of the book.

Your shoot in Toronto began in September. How did the presidential election affect production?SAMIRA WILEY There was a feeling from the beginning that what we were doing was important and relevant already.

MILLER It was horrible for the world but great for me. People were all of a sudden saying the venomous things that they had always thought out loud — things I didn’t think people thought anymore in my little bubble. It made me change one or two things, but I’m not going to tell you what they are.

YVONNE STRAHOVSKI [Fiennes and I] are the villains. Suddenly Trump is elected, and all this negative behavior comes to light. I start seeing these parallels between [my character’s] actions and what Trump’s doing. It’s in a weird way an inspiration but also a horrid parallel.

ELISABETH MOSS The great thing that Yvonne did is bring that vulnerability. I had times when we’d do a scene together and look at each other, and all of a sudden we were just two women in different — both terrible — circumstances.

Full interview:

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The sixth episode of Hulu’s celebrated series “The Handmaid’s Tale” dropped this week and, finally, we were given some information about the lives of the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy, pre-Gilead.

And it was pretty clear from what we saw that Serena Joy had a lot more going on than her husband and, in fact, might be rightly viewed as the architect of a society that eventually would have no place for her as a leader.

Yvonne Strahovski, the Australian actress who has done such a fine job of bringing some empathy and humanity to one of the show’s primary villains, stopped by The Times recently for a video interview, talking about what a trip it was to go back in time with the character.

It felt like we weren’t part of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ production any more,” Strahovski says. “It felt like such a leap to go into imagining what Serena Joy might have been like pre-Gilead. I spent so much time investing in this brittle, bitter, brutal — all the ‘B’ words, the nasty ‘B’ words, and there’s one more — investing so much of that into present-day Serena that the leap felt very huge going back into time.

The episode’s most pointed line came when the Mexican ambassador asked Serena Joy — the author of a treatise on “domestic feminism” titled “A Woman’s Place” — what it was like to live in a society in which women were no longer allowed to read her book.

What makes it complicated for Serena is that she is one of the people who wanted it to be this way,” Strahovski says. “Like with any movement, there was some pure, good integrity behind what she was trying to do. But somewhere along the line in constructing this new society, she lost her own voice as a woman and was told to step out of the room. You don’t have a voice any more. You’re not allowed to speak.

Strahovski also spoke about what to expect in the season’s final four episodes and how watching Lena Dunham’s “Girls” was the perfect palate cleanser to playing Serena Joy.


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In February of this year, a novel from 1985, by a Canadian author now 77, shot right to the top of the bestsellers lists. Though popular for decades, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s chilling vision of a near-future dystopia in what was once New England—where a toxic environment, a cruel theocracy, and a plague of infertility have turned a sector of women into enslaved concubines—suddenly seemed all too timely. It was then that a trailer for the book’s upcoming TV adaptation aired during the Super Bowl, just a couple of weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated and a nationwide spread of marches for women’s rights turned into the largest protest in American history.
Atwood did not seem upset by the sudden renewal of interest in the single most enduring work of her back catalogue, despite the fact that she’s still churning out book after book today. “How could I be?” she said on a recent morning in Washington, D.C., in the historic Hay-Adams hotel not even a block away from the White House. “But on the other hand, the circumstances that have given rise to it having this sudden uptick are quite frightening. If I had a choice of two things—book not popular, circumstances not arise, or book popular, due to certain circumstances—I would of course pick the first one. But those were not my choices.”
Right alongside her book on the current bestseller lists is another prescient dystopian vision, George Orwell’s 1984—which happened to be the year that Atwood started writing The Handmaid’s Tale on legal pads and a beat-up typewriter in West Berlin, punctuated by echoing reminders of the East German Air Force. It was not her first experience with political unrest. Born in 1939, which, as Atwood is wont to remind, “takes me all the way through World War II,” she seems to consider her “deep background in dystopias,” accumulated both in history books at Harvard and on the ground in places like Afghanistan, tantamount to her destiny.

Atwood grew up in Canada on a steady diet of dystopian novels like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which HBO will be making into another all-too-timely TV adaptation. Eventually, in her forties, Atwood decided to try her hand at writing one herself. She wanted to locate what she calls her “speculative fiction” in the real world; everything in the book, she decided beforehand, had to be something that humans had done at some point throughout history, meaning her primary sources were newspaper clippings and texts like the Bible. Humanity didn’t let her down—the world she built out of existing histories was chilling enough that the book, which has been translated into over 40 languages, has reportedly never gone out of print, a staple of both high school syllabi and banned-books lists alike.
Among her young readers was Elisabeth Moss, the 34-year-old actress who was first struck by the novel, which she now calls her favorite book, as a teen, and who plays the protagonist in Hulu’s 10-episode adaptation, which premieres on April 26. (The first three episodes will be available immediately, with one each week to follow.)

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Yvonne Strahovski is no stranger to the screen. The 34-year-old Australian actress has starred in critically-acclaimed films, voiced video games, and appeared in five seasons of the NBC hit series, Chuck. Now, Strahovski is ready to take on a new role; that of Serena Joy in Hulu’s new series, The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Handmaid’s Tale, based off of the original novel by Margaret Atwood, chronicles a dystopic society called the Republic of Gilead. Ruled under a theocratic dictatorship, women have few human rights and live under constant supervision by a secret police, known as the Eyes of God.

We chatted with Yvonne on the upcoming series The Handmaid’s Tale which premieres April 26th on Hulu.

Can you describe your character, Serena Joy?
Serena Joy is a complicated woman. She is extremely harsh, hard, unapproachable, unfair. BUT – I am biased. I had to sit with this woman who on paper is one of the ‘bad guys’ and try to figure her heart out. Why is she the way she is? I see a woman who has been stripped of her own personal identity, as a human, and as a woman. I see a woman who had a part of her connection to her husband taken away from her. I see a woman stripped of sexuality, and dignity. And I see why she is as closed and harsh as she has become. What makes it complicated, is that she was part of the equation in CREATING this world for herself. She was one of the people who believed in this new world of Gilead. Which makes me ask the very hard questions like – what woman would agree to partake in such a ‘religious ceremony’ where you watch your husband fuck another woman in front of you, because you yourself have been deemed barren? So I ask myself, at which point did Serena Joy no longer have a say in what her, and her fellow women’s rights would be in this new world? So many heavy questions like that craft Serena. I don’t even think I got to the bottom of some of these questions. There are so many.

Are there any similarities between you and Serena Joy?
Haaaa NO!!! I mean, I hope not 🙂 I found it pretty hard to play her. There’s a lack of empathy that Serena Joy has within her that I REALLY struggle to relate to.

How does this role differ from previous work you have done?
I think this is probably the most bitter character I have ever played. The closest I came to this kind of bitterness was when doing Broadway and playing Lorna Moon in Golden Boy. But there was a certain hopelessness to Lorna, a certain naiveté. An innocence almost. That is not the case with Serena Joy. She is calculating and manipulative. But again, I am biased – and I see where her manipulation comes from – she too, has to survive in this oppressive society. She might be at the top of the food chain when it comes to women in Gilead, but she sure as hell has a cage built around her. Even if she did build a large part of it herself. Not that any of this makes her actions okay.

What statement is The Handmaid’s Tale making?
How ugly we can be as a human society. How far can you take justifying horrid human actions. How far can we go with inequality and power and the impact it has on all of us. How far will we go in the face of adversity to still try to connect with each other. What are our core fundamental human needs, when all else has been stripped away from you.


Full interview:

Hello. I added to the gallery first still from the TV Series The Handmaid’s Tale. Enjoy!