Bruce and his team were writing all the episodes over the summer. You guys had the green light, I’m guessing, in the beginning of the summer or the spring?
Yeah, early last summer. I’m gonna guess off the top of my head, May, June. Yeah.
At that time, everybody thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win and that Donald Trump would lose the presidency. In your guys’ mind, what was the context of the selling point of the series at that point? Cause in theory, you would have said, “Oh, we’ve reached a new progressive high on November 8th, and we’re moving even more forward than we did with Barack Obama.”
Look, the sun was setting on the two Barack Obama administrations — those two terms — but we had Brexit. We had a fierce rise of the alt-right in america and throughout the world. Those fires were really being fanned. And as we talk about it, Margaret’s book, many times in the past 32 years, would have been powerful and relevant and, in fact, it felt even with the anticipation of Hillary, it felt that we’re still, while we would have had a leader that would, for the first time, be a woman and would fight for women’s rights and funding, that battle, it was quite clear, was far from over. And so we knew that and felt that, and it felt incredibly relevant to us. And I think we felt a real responsibility to not screw up a brilliant dystopia that was created by Margaret that could resonate in the world. And then we were in production in Toronto and we woke up in November and it was, “Holy shit. We’re part of a Trump administration. How does that happen”? And then I think, in many ways, it pulled us even closer, if that’s possible, as a team of producers and actors and in what we felt: [an] even greater responsibility to not screw up what this conveyed. And we kind of watched in horror, and then quickly dove into the task of executing the show.
I interviewed Jeffrey Tambor last month and he says that, just by existing, “Transparent” is an activist show in this political climate. Do you think, just by existing, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is also an activist show?
Absolutely. I embrace Jeffrey’s words and Jeffery’s work. I think that that’s true. But first and foremost we need to have a thrilling dramatic narrative. This is a world that is dystopian, but it’s not post-apocalyptic. In fact, our world is deceptively beautiful. We hold up a mirror paintings and that’s what we aspire to do, and so we have a world that’s clean, that’s scrubbed and gorgeous until you look closely. And when you look closely, it’s horrific. And that’s part of our entry into Gilead. But yes, it does resonate where this is the vision of a government gone [horribly] wrong. We have echoes each and every day of the battle for, now more than ever, the battle for funding for Planned Parenthood, probably Roe v. Wade battled. It’s quite clear that [the] issues of women’s rights and issues of human rights are in greater jeopardy than I can ever remember, and I’ve been around for a while. And our job is to dramatically entertain. If we also can be a bit of a call to arms as we see women in Texas dressing as handmaids, showing up in front of their federal buildings in Austin in protest — if we can be a part of that, then that’s wonderful.
With the start of Emmy voting, Hulu had some women dress as handmaids in different parts of Los Angeles. Photos appeared on my friend’s social media, and they know what the show is, but their reaction was still, “This is freaky.” It really affected people. And maybe they haven’t watched the show yet, but just that image, it can be very powerful.
It is powerful image. And we thank Margaret for that inspiration. The visual is more powerful in many ways than words. And we know that. We feel the responsibility of it. But as I said, in Los Angeles, we’re responsible for those handmaids and not in Texas.*
At the end of the season finale, Offred is taken away and we’re not sure what’s going to happen to her, but she seems confident she’ll be fine because she’s pregnant (or we assume that). It did not end exactly how the book ended, but a lot of the source material was used for the first season. How do you plan on moving forward in relation to the book?
We have many seasons in store. The book highly informs season one, but you know, there are sentences in the book that provide us with an episode. I think [in] season two, we have characters that are entrenched in their lives — the characters that have been developed in year one — and there’s so much more of their stories to tell. And there are worlds like the colonies that Margaret refers to in the book but doesn’t go to in the book. So, we’re able to continue the journey and open it up. We’ll, of course, add more characters than we have. This is a survival story for Offred, but it also is [the beginning] of a resistance movement, right? And so we get to illuminate those voices and we get to play out what that looks like and the consequences of it in a world like Gilead. So, we feel like Margaret gave us a tremendous road map and, throughout the year, we’ve added to that — what Margaret gave us — and really feel like we have everything we need for year two.
From a production aspect, were there things that you guys learned in season one that you are taking in as lessons for season two?
Of course. On the page, Offered sitting in her room by the window, getting up, walking across the room and walking into the bathroom — that sounds pretty simple. There’s no dialogue. And yet the complexity of what’s going on for her, the complexity of the narrative, and then how we mount that sequence lying in her closet — it becomes a very, very sophisticated, detailed, exquisitely-lit scene that takes far longer than you ever would have imagined. On the page, it doesn’t look like a lot. And yet, it’s proven where we live. One of the most interesting relationships in the series is the camera’s relationship to Elizabeth Moss’s face. What that face, with almost no makeup — what that face reveals. And so, I think our biggest education is [that] that’s not a simple scene. Actually that in effect is a very complex scene.