Returning for its highly anticipated second run on April 25, The Handmaid’s Tale‘s upcoming season was teased today at PaleyFest. On hand to discuss the series following a screening for the Dolby Theatre audience were many of the cast and crew of the Hulu original, including series creator Bruce Miller and executive producer Warren Littlefield. They were joined by stars Yvonne Strahovski, Max Minghella, Amanda Brugel, Madeline Brewer, Samira Wiley and O-T Fagbenle.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Elisabeth Moss stars as June, a woman who is forced to bear children for leaders of a new elite class, operating within a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship. In the politically resonant series’ second season, Offred (June)will confront her pregnancy and continue her fight to free herself from the dystopian hellscape of Gilead, where she has been separated from her husband and child, stripped of her given name and her rights as a citizen.
Miller and Littlefield started the afternoon’s PaleyFest conversation by touching on the themes that will be at hand in Season 2. “I think one of the thematics from this year that Bruce really used is, ‘Gilead is within you.’ The other big theme is motherhood,” Littlefield offered. “When we start the season, [Offred] has an unborn child. So in this extremely volatile chess game of Season 2, all her moves are about her unborn child and what life will be for that child.”
Promising a season that will be even more ambitious in scope — as characters intersect in new, exciting ways — the EPs examined the ways in which the series will expand its world going into Season 2.
“There’s a lot about what exists in Gilead that we haven’t seen yet?” Miller said, teasing a storyline surrounding The Boston Globe, and journalists caught up in America’s rapid descent. “I think that we take things that were mentioned [in Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel], and we just follow our curiosity.”
“It was a very ambitious year for us, as well as, how does this all happen? I think more traditional network television would have been forcing Bruce to say, how do we get from America to Gilead in the first couple of hours? Bruce, of course, didn’t do that,” Littlefield added. “You want to know, how did it happen? So part of the ambition of Year 2 is to show that, the moment where we went from America to Gilead. That’s very powerful and only brings us closer to these characters and understanding this world.”
With regard to Season 2 worldbuilding, one subject of particular interest was The Colonies, a nightmarish, contaminated space to which dissenters are banished that was hinted at in Season 1. “The colonies are horrible. They’re an extrapolation of how they think about women as disposable,” Miller said, noting that Brewer’s Janine and Alexis Bledel’s Ofglen will experience The Colonies’ horrors this season. “Alexis was astonishing and continues to bear up under incredible brutality all the way through. They both find ways to live a life there, the same way people did in the concentration camps.”
“The thing I love about the colonies [is], I feel like it’s so aligned with, when I read in the book, what I pictured,” Brewer added of her experience of The Colonies on set. “Which is aesthetically beautiful, rolling hills and cornfields, and then you put a magnifying glass on it, and it’s incredibly sinister and gut-wrenchingly terrible.”
During the panel, each actor examined the paths their characters will take in Season 2. Brewer’s Janine is “happy to be alive after a few brushes with death,” making the best of life in the colonies; Serena (Strahovski) and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) will share a “common front against Offred, so she has even more to battle against”; and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) rages against a rebellious June, holding out for the light at the end of the tunnel that is Offred’s unborn child.
Meanwhile, Moira (Wiley) is in Canada, reconnecting with June’s husband Luke (Fagbenle). “They’re falling in love. I’m kidding, she’s a lesbian,” Wiley joked. “I think in Season 2, we will find the things that are so wonderful about escaping to Canada, but it’s also away from everything that she knows. I think we’ll see a bit of both sides of that.”
Each actor in attendance at the Dolby also gave a sense of what they’d like to see from their characters going forward. With the exception of Brugel, each cast member wanted to know more of their character’s past — about Moira’s former life with Odette, for example, or the kind of home in which Serena grew up.
As far as the series’ casting goes, Littlefield and Miller touched on several new additions this season, referencing Cherry Jones, who will play June’s mother, Bradley Whitford who will play a Gilead commander, and Clea Duvall, who will be seen in flashbacks as Ofglen’s wife.
Touching on the critical importance of seeking out new voices and employing female creatives on the series, Miller pointed specifically to the contributions of Australian director Daina Reid, “someone who will be a part of [the series’] future.” Miller also touched on the value in embracing ignorance in one’s writing — leading to the questioning of certain assumptions — while the stars of The Handmaid’s Tale reflected on the series’ added resonance in the year of #MeToo, and the way in which this movement brought them closer to their characters.
“With Time’s Up and #MeToo, I felt empowered through Janine to read more stories about sexual assault survivors,” Brewer said. “She encouraged me to talk about my own #MeToo experience. I think this show has that power.”
“I was bolstered by Moira and found some courage to be able to be a little more vocal about my own beliefs and try to understand where activism [fits] into my own life,” Wiley added of her character’s impact on her life. “We’re in the make-believe business, but at the end of the day, what we’re doing can elicit real change.”
With all this in mind, what kind of bloodshed can we expect in Season 2? Will the series’ most beloved characters all make it out of the season alive? “Oh, no,” Miller said. Added Littlefield: “Anyone could die.”
Per Strahovski, the only way to approach The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 is to “expect the unexpected.”
“Bruce and the team, they never take the most obvious route. Reading the scripts is really exciting for us, and you don’t really know what to expect,” said Strahovski. “I think if that’s happening for us, if we’re so surprised and the scenes are so juicy and challenging, it’s going to translate that way for the audience.”
From MGM Television, The Handmaid’s Tale has become a brand-defining flagship series for Hulu, which will almost certainly factor heavily at this year’s Emmys, after winning two Golden Globes and eight Emmys this past year, including those for Outstanding Lead Actress, Outstanding Directing, and Outstanding Drama Series.