From the Archives: Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovsky and Ann Dowd Talk ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
Note: the below post originally ran in June of last year. We’re re-running it here, with minor edits to the original text. Season Four of The Handmaid’s Tale is now streaming on Hulu.
Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel of the same name, Hulu’s award-winning original series The Handmaid’s Tale has reliably kept audiences engaged, empathetic, outraged and generally enthralled ever since its 2017 premiere. In anticipation of the show’s forth season [now streaming on Hulu] Film Independent Presents hosted a special online Q&A with three of the shows stars: Elizabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski and Ann Dowd.
The June 18 conversation was moderated by Film Independent Senior Programmer Jenn Wilson and was streamed live to Members of Film Independent and SAG-AFTRA. The conversation largely focused on Season Three of the series, with the cast reflecting on their characters and discussing their eagerness to get back into production. Watch the entire panel below and keep reading for highlights…
First things first. What’s happening with Season Four? Said Dowd, “I had one fantastic day on the set with the commanders—it was just so good to be back, and just so quickly [we] shut down.” She also commented, on the chilling fact of the show’s close mirroring of current events: “I don’t know if shock is the right word for me, personally. It’s more disheartening, I suppose. Or heartbreaking”—art imitating life, and vice-versa.
Two-time Emmy winner and recent Film Independent Spirit Award Best Female Lead (Her Smell, 2020) nominee Moss added: “We shot an episode; we’ve done something, and then six months, nine months later when the episode airs, somehow politically or socially we’ll be going through something that is very similar—it’s not intentional.”
Wilson asked to what degree the three performers each contribute to the evolution of their characters. Strahovski—who plays conservative societal figurehead Serena—said that although each season is pretty much written in full prior to filming, there’s still a ton of back and forth that happens between the actors and the collaborators.
“Bruce [Miller, showrunner] and the writers, before we start shooting, to get an overall sense of the arc and then as the scripts are coming in, go over them [character arcs] thoroughly before we start shooting, and [we] raise any questions or anything that we’re bumping on,” she said. “For Bruce and I, we’ve had a couple of moments where he’s really been strong on one thing and I’ve been strong on another thing,” she added.
Moss—who executive produces The Handmaid’s Tale and toplines as rebel Handmaid Offred—says that the actors on the show have deep respect for their characters and proudly take ownership of them. “As producers, we’re always saying yes, this is a great idea; we love this, this works here. But we have to see what Ann thinks, what Yvonne thinks and have those conversations.” Because, as Moss says, “It’s their characters now.”
Recognizing the mutual respect between one another as colleagues and collaborators in service of realizing the same vision, Moss touched on the subject of getting back to work, saying that all departments are trying to figure out what they need to do to be safe—and what needs to be adjusted moving forward for a safe production environment.
“It’s an ongoing conversation that sort of seems to be escalating obviously now as we’re kind of getting maybe towards going back to work,” Moss shared, tentatively. “[We] just have to try to figure out what is safe because human life is more important than getting an episode done. We’re just trying to figure out how [to] merge the two.”
The trio of women discussed filming flashback sequences on the show. Moss noted that, for her, these scenes are when she “gets to go watch another show” and “feel like I’m not making it [The Handmaid’s Tale]—I’m watching it now.”
Dowd added that after shooting her character Aunt Lydia’s flashback during the most recent season, “All time disappeared… I had no sense of time. I could have gone from morning to whenever. It was exhilarating.” Said Strahovski: “That certainly was equally as fun to dive into for me, with Serena’s mom coming in [to do] our flashback episode. It really is a moment of revelation, what her childhood might’ve been like with this next-level horrendous woman, who shaped Serena into this next-level horrendous woman.”
When the conversation turned to fighting for survival in the world of Gilead, Strahovski concluded, “I think every single woman or every single person on the show is in some kind of a survival mode, because you can’t [live] any other way. The choices have to be made to preserve your own power and your own status,” she said.
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