Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale premiere

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Margaret Atwood, Elisabeth Moss, and the Women Behind the Disquietingly Vital The Handmaid’s Tale

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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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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Star Yvonne Strahovski: “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights”

In Hulu’s new series The Handmaid’s Tale—based on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name—Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski portray members of a “scary theocracy,” bordering too closely on the world we live in today.

In the dystopian near-future reality the series presents, the United States comes under the rule of Gilead, a totalitarian and Christian fundamentalist government which subjugates women, depriving them of their rights, their freedoms and even their names. With widespread infertility springing from environmental contamination, those remaining fertile women are forced against their will to bear children for the frightening leaders of this new nation— including The Commander, played by Fiennes.

For both Strahovski and Fiennes—who stopped by Deadline’s Tribeca Studio on Saturday—their attraction to the material stemmed from strong writing, on the part of Atwood and series creator Bruce Miller. “I was really taken with Bruce’s writing. I loved the fact that it was dripping with subtext, which I feel like is most actors’ dream, to have material like that, where so much of the tension isn’t in the dialogue,” Strahovski says. “Serena Joy has such a complicated burden, and there [were] a lot of dualities I found in her.

I think as an actor, when you get to delve into narrative so rich and complex, it’s a rarity. Margaret Atwood’s writing, her novel, is spellbinding, it’s beautiful, it’s inspirational,” Fiennes told Deadline. “It’s a story of inspiration, as much as it [depicts] a sort of dark, complex, depressing and haunting future.

Without question, The Handmaid’s Tale was a prescient work of fiction prior to the election of President Donald Trump, yet for the actors, the work has taken on a more profound resonance since November. Appropriately, Strahovski and Fiennes were in Tribeca discussing the series on Earth Day, as the March for Science went on in Washington and across the world, in defiance of government leaders who express little regard for scientific fact.

[It’s] amazing, we have an administration here that is happily denying the facts,” Fiennes says, taking note of those scientists who are working to get the truth out there. “Like the Women’s March, we now have scientists across the world, on the streets.

I think [the series] has come into sharper focus, and certainly women’s rights, autonomy of their bodies, it’s a hot debate here; less, for me in Europe,” he continues. “It’s a no-brainer: women have absolute rights of their own bodies.


‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Premiere

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Yvonne at Build Series

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