INTERVIEW: O-T Fagbenle Talks Handmaid’s Tale

The first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale are now up on Hulu for your dystopian viewing pleasure, and they make for some incredibly dark but addictive hours of television. We got the chance to speak with O-T Fagbenle, who plays Offred’s missing husband Luke, a while back about his role in the story and the show’s place in our current society. Read his answers below.

First off, what was your personal experience with the book before when you got the role?
O-T Fagbenle: I had never read the book before. When I got this script, I decided to look at that and fell in love with that. It was only after [I got offered the part] that I read the book for the first time and I was blown away by it. Halfway through I thought, “Oh, Jesus. This is so good I want to read it again.”

Luke before the regime.

You live in Offred’s memories in the novel of The Handmaid’s Tale. Is that pretty much how it is in the show? Is your fate ambiguous or is there any wiggle room there?
O-T: Right, there are definitely surprises in store for this story of Luke. I think in the book a lot of times it’s like, “Well, Luke would say…” in certain spots, but what I think is great about the TV show and the potential for more seasons is that you get to explore. Make up some stuff. We get to expand upon what Margaret did. There’s exciting twists and turns for Luke.

Do you ever take into consideration as an actor whether this is how Luke really was, or rather only how Offred remembers him?
O-T: It’s a really great question actually. I think in a way I got around it by just using the scripts we got as a source material. I’m going to take the novel and … the novel is really interesting and inspire you and take you for bits and bobs. This script is so amazing I really was inspired from it.

How much do you and Elizabeth talk outside of just filming the scenes about your dynamic together? Do you guys go through scenes together beforehand?
O-T: You know, we do. We get on very well. We both love the work, and we love the source material. But in some ways it’s fun with Lizzy to just discover things in the moment, and we definitely have had discussions with Bruce [the writer] when our paths cross.

Did Luke have to be American, or did you choose to play him that way?
O-T: No, you know what, when I auditioned for it I just thought it was right for the character, so I did American. Sometimes I’ll be auditioning for a part, which is set for an American, and I think, “Oh, this part would be great for an English person.” So I’ll just do English. But in a way [The Handmaid’s Tale] is a show about nationalism.

The show feels so relevant to our political climate in America, but do you feel the same pull from a British or European perspective?
O-T
: Yeah, there’s so many ways that this story is relevant. But I think for me one of the main things that resonates is how sometimes those in power create structures that don’t allow those without power to break through. Then they mask it by saying it’s righteous and everyone is in their rightful place. Or saying people have got opportunities, but they really don’t. Like these ladies, if they can get pregnant that buys them their freedom. But why should they have to get pregnant to buy their freedom? It’s a false set of standards.

O-T promoting the show with joy.

You’ve done a lot of live theater, as well as film and television. What is the biggest difference in your process?
O-T: I think you have to kind of prepare different muses. If you’re given the script then you have six weeks to get one take. Your options are, for me personally, set out. I know a lot more about what the flow of the piece is. Over two, three months, that changes and you become a lot more flexible. Television is just knowing that the camera will find things, so that means you have to find things a little bit more. I tend to do a lot of preparation around the circumstances, but not so much on the lines and just try to find that mind.

What is your working relationship with Reed Morano? What do you think her perspective brought to the story?
O-T: I’ll say I think that it is great that we have female writers and female directors, part of this really important feminist piece. Reed is a remarkable human being. If I was to talk about what she brings as a director, she’s great with actors. You hear her talk about [color theory] and I’m like, “Geez, I don’t even know half of this shit.”

Can you say anything at all hinting at what is a big difference for you or that surprised you between having read the book and now reading the script or filming?
O-T: Well, I mean, for me personally getting to understand so much of the Luke’s experience. And you get… There are things that are in this TV show that are not in the book. I think people are going to be really excited to see it. Certainly, as I was reading it, I was just enthralled to find out because I’m a fan of the book. I want to know so much, and you get an opportunity [to do so in the show].

So, you could say you’re going to have scenes with actors other than Elizabeth and Hannah?
O-T: Yeah.

What’s your favorite episode for Luke in season one of The Handmaid’s Tale?
O-T: Episode five and seven are my favorites so far.

Check out The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu now, and come back for more interviews with the cast!