The Handmaid’s Tale Scoop From Hulu’s TCA Panel

Last Saturday, Hulu’s best and brightest gathered together at the Langham to preview some of 2017’s most anticipated series. Perhaps no show has been as talked about recently as much as The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu’s star-studded adaptation of the 1985 Margaret Atwood novel. At this point, future audiences haven’t seen more than a trailer or two, but all signs point to the series following the gritty dystopian tone of the book – perhaps with a few surprises.

Executive Producer Bruce Miller (The 100) explained at the TCA panel that he considers The Handmaid’s Tale “speculative fiction,” but that the show is more of a thriller “because we’re always terrified that something bad is going to happen to Offred.” In a similar vein, his response when questioned about the built-in spoilers due to the book was that any changes they make would be “mindful of the fact that we’re very connected to the original material.” While the continuing nature of a series necessitates some deviations from the source, he was adamant that The Handmaid’s Tale is not looking to surprise anyone for the sake of shock value. “I don’t think we’re playing those kinds of games with the audience.”

Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy

He also explained the decision to make Serena Joy (played by Yvonne Strahovski) younger than she was in the book. It was a more interesting dynamic in his mind to have Offred (Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss) “taking a role that Serena more than anything wanted for herself.” In Hulu’s version of the series, Serena Joy and Offred will be in direct competition when it comes to childbearing years. Presumably it is the environment and not simply age that prevents Serena from giving the captain a child on her own, and that dynamic will play out over time in the show.

Elisabeth Moss, star of The Handmaid’s Tale, offered some insight into the story’s theme of power. “So much of this story is about power,” she said. “And the shifting back and forth of it as well.” One of the ways Offred in particular can gain power in the post-Gilead world of the story is through her sexuality. “She starts to use it to hopefully get to, and hopefully find her daughter.” But the push and pull of gaining power and losing it once more is constant, and of course Offred can’t be totally safe before the series is over.

Alexis Bledel is playing the role of Offred’s fellow handmaid. “Ofglen is an incredibly complex character,” she explained. “Her entire life was stripped away from her, and now she’s essentially a slave.” Despite the darkness surrounding the story, she is grateful for the depth of the character she gets to play – especially because every scene is dripping with tension and layers underneath the dialogue.

Speaking of layers, Elisabeth reflected on the challenges of playing a character with Offred’s duality. She has to play June as a more carefree woman who says what she thinks in the flashbacks, and Offred as a closed book in the present. The most interesting aspect for her as an actress? “Having the ultimate challenge of really never being able to speak your mind, and never being able to show your feelings, and how you do that.”

“What’s been really fun is being able to bring June out more in Offred,” Elisabeth continued. As the season progresses, The Handmaid’s Tale will explore more of the woman Offred was before the Gilead regime and how that woman still exists underneath Offred’s icy demeanor.

Samira Wiley as Moira

Another deeply complicated character in the story is that of Aunt Lydia, a woman tasked with training and organizing the handmaids. While most may consider her a villainous figure, actress Ann Down has a different perspective. “At the core of her choices, she loves these girls deeply and wants them to succeed in this new world.” The motivation behind her harsh training is that she knows they won’t survive without it.

OT Fagbenle, who portrays June’s long-lost husband Luke, had much praise for Margaret Atwood’s novel and its relevance. “It was prescient when she wrote it and it’s prescient today,” he said. “It’s kind of like a Shakespeare play in that it remains timeless in its content.” He pointed out sexual politics and ecology as two of the most important issues in The Handmaid’s Tale that are reflective of today’s society, as well as the distribution of power. “I hope it doesn’t remain prescient,” he declared eloquently.

Co-star Samira Wiley is playing June’s best friend Moira, and she had some thoughts of her own to add. “[The Handmaid’s Tale] is showing us about the climate that we’re living in,” she said. Samira specifically pointed to “Women and their bodies, and who has control of that,” as an issue that hits close to home.

The cast was also full of praise for their fellow actors, as well. “I wouldn’t be able to play this role without each and every one of them,” Elisabeth Moss declared. The show is sure to benefit from the talent and camaraderie of a set of actors this strong. And that’s not even touching on the masterful work of director Reed  Morano, whose cinematographic expertise helps make the first episode at least unforgettable.

The Handmaid’s Tale premieres through Hulu’s streaming services on April 26th, 2017.