THE HANDMAID'S TALE - Teaser poster | ©2017 Hulu

THE HANDMAID’S TALE – Teaser poster | ©2017 Hulu

Margaret Atwood’s novel THE HANDMAID’S TALE has been considered a classic of dystopian fiction since it was first published in 1985. It is set in a near-future where a quasi-religious, fascist government has taken over. The subjugation of women by men is absolute. Fertility is rare. Women who can bear children are taken by powerful men as “handmaids” who are impregnated in a ceremony that involves not only the men, but their infertile wives.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE has been adapted as a 1990 film and a 2000 opera. Now it is a series on Hulu, starring Elisabeth Moss as June, renamed Offred by her captors and sent to live as a handmaid in the home of Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski). June was previously married; her husband was murdered by the regime, but she secretly hopes to be reunited with her young daughter.

Los Angeles native Moss is a six-time Emmy nominee for her work as ‘50s/’60s ad woman Peggy Olson in MAD MEN. She also played Zoey Bartlet, daughter of Martin Sheen’s President Josiah Bartlet, on THE WEST WING. More recently, she played Robin Griffin, a troubled and abused Australian police detective working in New Zealand, in the miniseries TOP OF THE LAKE.

ASSIGNMENT X: You said you had read THE HANDMAID’s TALE novel earlier and thought it was great, and then this project came together …


AX: Do you feel there’s any kind of continuum from Robin Griffin in TOP OF THE LAKE to June in THE HANDMAID’S TALE?

MOSS: Hmm.

AX: Because they’re both women who have these horrible things done to them, and then they come through it with a sort of determination …

MOSS: I think the correlation is, for me, I am interested in playing complex women. It doesn’t necessarily have to be strong women. I’m interested in complexity. So I feel like, for me, Robin has so much duality to her, she’s so strong yet vulnerable, smart yet naïve. And same with somebody like Peggy. I’m just drawn to that as an actress, I’m drawn to playing that. So I wouldn’t draw any direct line between them, but as an actor, yes, I’m interested in playing characters that are complex.

AX: How is it dealing with that nun-like handmaid costume?

MOSS: It’s so comfortable. Which was our intention when we made it. I said, “I need this to be so comfortable, I need this to be something that I cannot wait to put on every day. I want it to be something that women want to wear.” [During filming], I wear it almost all day, every day, and I needed it to be something that was comfortable. So they intentionally made me that.

AX: How is it playing the scenes where June is being a mother to daughter Hannah, who is played by Jordana Blake?

MOSS: She’s an angel, and she’s so professional, and smart, and sassy, and she’ll be joking around about something, and then you’ll say “Action,” and she just drops right into it. So we got really, really lucky, because working with children can be difficult, and we’re so lucky to have her.

AX: Alexis Bledel plays Ofglen, another significant handmaid in the story. In real life, she is married to your MAD MEN costar Vincent Kartheiser. Did you suggest Alexis Bledel for the role?

MOSS: Not at all. It came up completely randomly as a name for Ofglen, and [executive producer/series adapter] Bruce Miller asked me what I thought about her for Ofglen, and I said, “She’s absolutely perfect. She’s also one of the nicest people, and she’s so great to work with.” So it was totally random.

AX: The story is told from June’s point of view, so you do a lot of voiceover work for the series. Do you gear up any differently to do the voiceovers than you do your on-camera scenes?

MOSS: No. What’s great is now what we’re doing, what we didn’t do in the very, very beginning – the voiceover that you hear in Episode 1 has been recorded after we shot it. We did do one that was before we shot it, and scrapped it. We realized it was very important to shoot the scenes first, for obvious reasons. There does take some gearing up – I do consider it as much of a performance as when I’m on camera and I treat it that way, being in a certain place, being in a certain head space.

AX: What’s different for you about THE HANDMAID’S TALE than other projects you’ve done? I mean, this would always be timely, but right now, it’s like, if it didn’t exist, you’d have to invent it with everything going on in this country.

MOSS: Yes. What’s different is, I would never be a copywriter in the ‘60s. I would never be a detective in Australia. If there was a Gilead regime in America, I would be a handmaid. That’s what’s different. That’s what struck my heart when I read it is, I don’t have a child, I would like to, but I would be her, and I feel that’s what’s different for me. It’s closer to me in that way than any character I’ve played.

AX: Do you have any other projects going on that we should know about?

MOSS: The second season of TOP OF THE LAKE. We shot that last year.

AX: And what would you most like people to know about THE HANDMAID’S TALE?

MOSS: Oh, I think that it is for people who have read the book and for people who have not read the book – it is for men, it is for women, it is for every race, creed, religion and country. It is a human story, ultimately.

This interview was conducted during Hulu’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) winter 2017 press tour at Pasadena, California’s Langham-Huntington Hotel.

Related: THE HANDMAID’S TALE: Actress Yvonne Strahovski – exclusive interview

Related: THE HANDMAID’S TALE: Exclusive Interview with Director Reed Morano on the acclaimed Hulu series

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Article: THE HANDMAID’S TALE Elisabeth Moss on the new Hulu series – Exclusive Interview

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