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.”
Like her co-star, Strahovski is perturbed by parallels between the reality of the Hulu series and reality itself, finding the timing of the project to be particularly interesting, beginning production pre-election, watching the election results come in, and continuing on with the series following this apparent turning point. “The Handmaid’s Tale is a human story, and women’s rights are human rights, and it’s all about equality, but at the end of the day, it’s not equal,” the actress says of the series’ resonance. “You need a feminist movement—you need to label that with something in order to shed light on it, and I feel like there’s no way you can’t acknowledge those parallels, especially in today’s political climate.”
To view Deadline’s conversation with the Handmaid’s Tale actors in its entirety, click above. The first three episodes of the series will premiere on Hulu on April 26.