Yvonne Strahovski Source

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June 5, 2019

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Like the character she plays in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Yvonne Strahovski’s early motherly instincts were tested by a raging fire.

We were holding our breath for a while because our son had just been born and here was this threat,” she says while nestled in a cafe nook that overlooks the Malibu shore not far from her home.

She’s thinking back to a windy November night last year, about four weeks after she had given birth, when the Woolsey fire was setting its destructive course inside the city limits.

I didn’t know there was a fire, but I was breastfeeding my son all night long, and I remember getting up and going outside to look over the hills and I just had a really bad feeling,” she says with her Australian lilt unconcealed. “And, sure enough, the next morning, our neighbor knocked on our door and said we had to evacuate. There we were, still trying to figure out what the hell we were doing with a baby, how to be parents, having to pack it all up.

It’s a strikingly different scenario than the one that unfolded in the Season 2 finale of Hulu’s dystopian drama, but no less emotionally charged.

In that case, a house in Gilead — the show’s brutal patriarchal base — is set ablaze as a distraction to enable June/Offred (Elisabeth Moss), the show’s central handmaid, to try to get her newborn out of the horrors of Gilead and into the safety of Canada.

In the process, she is stopped by Strahovski’s at times monstrous, at times sympathetic character, Serena Joy Waterford, the baby’s mother by forcible adoption and rape. In an emotionally charged scene, Serena says goodbye to the baby she’s long coveted and allows June to flee with her from the oppressive republic she helped forge.

It’s been interesting,” Strahovksi says of how her real life journey into motherhood is converging with her character’s. “I think so much of motherhood is putting yourself aside, putting aside all your fears and all your selfishness and all your flaws and giving the best self to your child. I think Serena did that at the end of the season. It took her a big, long journey to learn how to do it, but she did it.”

On this slightly overcast day in Malibu, Strahovski is more genial than the often miserable and hardened character that earned her an Emmy nomination last year. She gets animated when she spots an orange starfish adhered to a pillar of the nearby boardwalk — “I have scoured this beach so many times,” she recounts. “I have so many shells at home from here.

She’s been back home just a couple of days from wrapping production on the show in Canada. And continuing Serena’s evolution into Season 3, she says with hindsight, was a complicated undertaking. The actress gave birth to her son in October, about two weeks after her due date. That meant her planned eight-week maternity leave was cut to roughly six weeks. Production on the show was well underway, with Strahovski playing catch-up to shoot scenes that feature her character.

It’s really weird because I love my job and I love what I do and, of course, I wanted to come back to work and continue playing this crazy-amazing character,” she says. “But at the same time, I was devastated knowing that I would go back to work and have to spend any bit of time away from him.

She’s quick, though, to acknowledge it was hardly a dystopian nightmare. Her husband, actor and producer Tim Loden, and son came to work every day, and she continued to breastfeed on demand: “There were times, obviously, where I couldn’t break away,” she says. “I had to pump and send the milk to the trailer and my husband would feed him. But we did it as a family, we did it together — the dog came too!

Still, the juxtaposition of her mostly joyous real-life motherhood journey and her tumultuous fictional one was something Strahovski worried about.

That was the one thing I was actually unsure about,” Strahovski says. “I spend so much time in front of the camera being really miserable. So I’d be going from super miserable, then total joy going back to breastfeed. And then back to misery and then back to joy — every hour or two hours. Normally, I would just stay in that misery to keep myself in the zone. So it was a very different working process.

After a while, she elected to lean into pulling from her own emotions.

Unlike Season 2, where I really tried to separate my pregnancy from what I was doing, I think this time around I really used it,” she says of the new season. “I got a lot of inspiration from all the new-mom feels I was experiencing. Given Serena’s situation, having just let go of what she believes is her baby, coming into a very emotional story line after where we left her last season, it really worked for me to have all that going on in my personal life.

Full interview: latimes.com