EXCLUSIVE: (UPDATED with video) “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for,” says the Elisabeth Moss portrayed June Osbourne in the fourth season of The Handmaid’s Tale as the battle against Gilead’s brutal theonomic regime intensifies.
In fact, the wait is over, kind of.
Hulu is dropping the opening trio of the April 28 premiering fourth season a little early, Deadline has learned.
The Colin Watkinson directed “Pigs” and “Nightshade” episodes, as well as the Moss helmed “The Crossing,” will appear on the Disney-owned streamer at 6 PM PT, aka in just a few minutes. Check out the video unveiling of the news from the cast here:
As in past seasons, the rest of the 10-episode season of the multiple Emmy winning series will arrive weekly going forward.
Another change this year for The Handmaid’s Tale is the move of Joseph Fiennes from Supporting Actor to the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama category for awards consideration.
The Shakespeare in Love alum was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in 2018 for playing patriarchal predator Commander Fred Waterford. The “Mayday” conclusion of Season 3 of Handmaid’s Tale saw Fiennes’ character and his wife Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) both under lock and key in Canada for human rights violations, in the service of totalitarian Gilead – which is a pretty strong pivot into Season 4.
“Commander Waterford is in a constant battle with June, which sets them on a collision course this season, and Joe in a larger role than we’ve seen him,” Handmaid’s Tale showrunner Bruce Miller told Deadline of the motivation to move Fiennes to the Lead Actor category. “His performance is nuanced and central, and worthy of lead actor recognition,” EP Miller added of Fiennes.
Or as Moss said to me: “You know, you’re only as good as your villains, they say.”
On the cusp of Season 4, I chatted with Moss and Fiennes about the latter’s new category status and the new season. As well, with Toronto shot Handmaid’s already renewed for a fifth season, the duo spoke of where things are going for the Warren Littlefield EP’d show based on Margaret Atwood’s iconic dystopian novel, and what it was like for Moss to take on directing duties.
DEADLINE: The teasers and trailers we’ve seen make it pretty clear that Season 4 is about bringing the fight to Gilead. So, with the new episodes dropping a few hours early and coming off the flight of the dozens of children to safety in Canada at the end of Season 3, how would you define this new season?
MOSS: I think this season is about fulfilling a lot of the things we’ve hinted at. By that I mean, I know you want it to go in this direction, but it’s not going to go there yet.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
MOSS: I think for many of the characters, not just June, we finally let these characters run, and they all have these incredible arcs this season. We have the opportunity to see, I think, a lot more of the characters, which is something that was conscious. It’s this fantastic thing that over the years, all of these characters, not just June, have become so interesting, and so interesting to watch, and the audience loves them, and so we really focused a lot on trying to make sure that we really were diving into all of their stories and giving everybody their time with their arc, and you can see that in the season.
I feel like so many of the characters—Fred, and Serena, and Moira, and Luke—they all kind of get to really have their story told. Then, of course, there’s June, who is also finally getting to do some of the things that we’ve been wanting to see her do for the past three seasons. Now, does it all turn out the way that we thought it would? Is it the way…is it as bright and sunny as we thought it might be? Maybe not, but freedom is a very complicated thing.
DEADLINE: Joe, last we saw, the once powerful Waterfords were detained in Canada. So, not so free, on many levels …
FIENNES: Like Lizzie said, freedom is a paradoxical thing. What’s wonderful about the season is we get out of Gilead, but Gilead never gets out of our protagonists, and I love the psychological warfare with that in mind.
How free can one be with your choices after you’ve been indoctrinated in such a way? The regime has stopped for Fred. He’s been a predator, the regime has allowed him to get away with things, as it is for all people in power, these sort of positions of power, and now it’s gone and he’s staring at the four walls. The protection is gone, and so the walls are closing in, the oxygen’s running out, and it’s delicious to play that. Palpably, I feel that he’s come back to a part of himself.
DEADLINE: Sounds like a return to power could be in the offing?
FIENNES: [Laughs] It’s a really interesting season, I’ll say that. Fred has, for the last three years before this season, been cognizant of the pain he has caused. He’s aware that this crusade, this totalitarian, patriarchal regime will hurt people and there’ll be fallout, but such is the nature when you want to do God’s work, in his eyes. Whilst being cognizant he has never felt the pain and the fear, and this season is the season where he totally begins to digest the pain and the fear that he has put others through, and for that reason, it’s a really exciting season for me to play, not for Fred to exist in, but the freedom is gone.
DEADLINE: On another level, the horizon has expanded with Hulu putting you up this season in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series category for awards consideration …
DEADLINE: You received a Supporting Actor nomination in Season 2, so what does that shift this season mean to you?
FIENNES: Huge honor and very lovely of Hulu and the powers to allow me to stand in that category and support me in that. I thank them wholeheartedly.
I have to say though, I don’t want to sound glib, but the category is that we are all a united cast, and our support is for this extraordinary heroine, who started out as an ordinary woman stuck in extraordinary circumstances. We support that first-person journey, so really the category is The Handmaid’s Tale for me. There’s no difference between supporting and best. For me, we’re all part of this machinery to honor Margaret’s voice and Lizzie’s extraordinary performance.
DEADLINE: Lizzie, as both the lead actress in the series and a working executive producer, what was your reaction when Hulu brought the idea of putting Joe in the Lead Actor category for the fourth season?
MOSS: Well, first of all, thank you, Joe. Thank you.
Yeah, when it came our way, Bruce, and Warren, and I embraced it thoroughly. Honestly, we thought, oh my God, yes, of course. That absolutely should be the case.
Like Joe said, it’s very true. All of our characters are so important. We don’t delineate so much between lead and supporting and that’s why, I think, for many years some of our actors have been in supporting and you’d almost be surprised because they could lead in another show.
DEADLINE: Certainly the recognition the show has received since the beginning with Emmy wins for the series, for you, for Ann Dowd, for Samira Wiley, for Alexis Bledel,Cherry Jones and Bradley Whitford, and that’s just in the acting categories, has seen the wealth spread, so to speak …
MOSS: Yes, and speaking to this particular year and Fred, I think in order to tell the story of Fred this year there needed to be a real, full investment into that storyline and that arc on the part of the writers over the entire season.
So to do that, Joe was in a lot more of it, in order to really tell that story after these three seasons. You know, you’re only as good as your villains, they say. Joe has had this opportunity, and he has done so beautifully, I don’t think anyone else could have done, to take this character, who is a villain, who is the “bad guy” for June and to make him this fully fledged, complicated, fascinating, yes terrible, but sometimes fragile man.
Joe and I have had many conversations as director/actor about this, but there is a fragility and a vulnerability there. Also, there is, for lack of a better way of saying it, a come to Jesus kind of moment for Fred. I think that is so beautifully played by him this year. So it’s one of those things where it wouldn’t make any sense to be supporting. We’d be like okay, well, now what are you guys doing? You can’t put him in supporting. He’s a lot of the season.
DEADLINE: Also, a big part of your season was dealing with how to work around the coronavirus pandemic, which has flared up again in Toronto, where you film. How did the pandemic affect both the physical production and the storytelling for this recently completed season?
MOSS: Let me give you an example. In one episode, I think Episode 6, there was supposed to be a much bigger scene and we had to shrink it down to just June, and, well I’m not going to say who, but June and this other character.
We had to shrink it down, and it’s a beautiful scene now. It’s very emotional, it’s very intimate and that did happen several times, where we had to just have these two people in a room, and we had to boil the scene down to what it really was.
Now, there were also times when I directed a scene, and I think it’s Episode 8, there had to be a crowd there. So, we did the effects and crowd replacements and got through it thanks to the modern technology. But ultimately, our show is about the relationship between the people, and the pandemic really did allow us to embrace that.
FIENNES: Yes, we wouldn’t have gotten that, maybe, ordinarily. The reduction has increased the layers in complexity and the interaction between characters, and for that, it’s a phenomenal season. It’s delicious to really unpeel the layers of the onion if you’d like.
DEADLINE: Speaking of that, Lizzie, this was the season where you took on yet another role, that of director, helming three of the 10 episodes. I’m not going to ask you why you decided you weren’t busy enough, but I did want to know how it was for you, especially working with the cast you have worked beside for so long.
MOSS: Dominic, it was probably the most professionally rewarding experience I’ve had in my career, honestly. It was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, just as far as time and attention, but it was absolutely the most rewarding thing, and the thing that I found the most rewarding about it was getting to work with the actors.
The other stuff is really fun, and I have an incredible cinematographer, Stuart Biddlecombe, and an incredible production designer. Some of the other stuff is really fun and challenging as well, but for example, with Joe and Yvonne, we had a rehearsal one day for a couple of hours over Zoom to talk about their characters and the scenes in Episodes 8 and 9 that we were doing. It was so interesting because after three years of getting to work with these actors, as an actor, and standing sometimes inches from their faces, and doing take after take, and see the different choices that they were making and talk about it as actors, we got to sit like this.
So, I felt I was able to bring my knowledge of what they were trying to accomplish with their characters to these episodes. I knew where they wanted to take them. I knew the things that they wanted to try because we had talked about them and I had seen it. So I felt like that was the greatest thing I was able to bring, was actually what I do as an actor and talk to them as an actor, and really take their characters to a new place. That was so incredibly interesting and rewarding, and it happened with all of the actors, and it just comes from the fact that I’ve had so many of these conversations with them and I know their characters so well.
DEADLINE: What was your perspective Joe?
FIENNES: Well, is there anything this wonderful woman can’t do? I mean, I was half expecting to be woken up at four in the morning before shooting to be picked up by Lizzie as head of transport and then whisking through my hair and makeup before meeting me on set to do a ten-minute monologue to camera and then call cut and then direct me, and then the email. I mean, just how does she do it? I don’t know.
Seriously, I’ve watched and marveled at her gifts as an actor and her meticulous preparation, and her presence, so to be directed by her was just a wonderful naturally segue. She’s so gifted in communication. So, there’s a lean, fat-free confidence in the way she moves the lens and the camera, with no toys and bells and whistles. She’s so emotionally aligned with the narrative of these characters that she zones in at the right places and produces powerful, coherent cinema, if you want.
I look at our Hulu series as a hybrid of television and cinema, so working with her as an actor, as a producer and now as a director, it was just exhilarating on all fronts.