The Award Winning Team of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ on How They Create Fiction Out of Nonfiction
Last Thursday Emmy voters packed the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles for an FYC event celebrating the critically acclaimed second season of The Handmaid’s Tale. Fans of the history making streaming show screened the season premiere followed by a Q&A where the cast and producers revisited some of the most shocking elements of the second season.
Vanity Fair’s Nicole Sperling moderated the Q&A with showrunner Bruce Miller as well as executive producers Warren Littlefield and Elizabeth Moss. Rounding out the panel were Moss’s costars including Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, Max Minghella, Madeline Brewer, and Amanda Brugel.
Heading into the second season one of the biggest questions from fans of the Margaret Atwood novel was just what direction the show would go in now that they’ve reached the end of the original source material. For showrunner Bruce Miller expanding the Emmy winning series into a second season came naturally. “In some ways it was closer to what I and the rest of the staff was used to. Normally when you do a TV show you don’t have a wonderful book to follow. I also think that we are still so much in Margaret’s world. The characters are a creation of Margaret. The way the rules work are a creation of Margaret. We felt like we were pretty well supported going forward into a landscape that we know had been tested over 35 years that were in the book. So in a lot of ways we are still in Atwood’s world and simply extending that out. We don’t look at it as new territory.”
In fact the entire creative team cite legendary author Margaret Atwood as one of the most important inspirations of the second season both because of her source material as well as her incredibly keen understanding of the current state of politics around the world. Executive producer Warren Littlefield discussed how Atwood’s ability to draw from the real world influenced the entire team. “We are never too far away from an incredible blueprint that was given to us from Margaret Atwood. One of the most brilliant aspects of what Margaret created in her fiction was to draw from nonfiction throughout the world. In the writers room we continue to do that. We started the second season in Fenway Park and that is very much inspired from real events in our world of how terrorism and traitors are dealt with. That journey has been exciting but it’s also a little scary when we step past Margaret but it has been rewarding. The audience is hungry to understand these character’s pasts as well as their narrative drive in their future.”
For star and executive producer Elizabeth Moss the second season was all about exploring what path June would take in the revolution. “I think the thing for me that was born in season one that we further explored was what kind of a fighter June is and what sort of path she was going to take in the resistance. There are all these paths as examples and she has to find her own. She stumbles and falls a few times. That question of “How do you resist?” was fascinating to me. Do you do it from the inside? In a big loud way? With words and a pen?”
The audience at the Q&A was eager to hear from Yvonne Strahovski on the evolution of Serena Joy. “Serena’s humanity is showing more and cracks are starting to show her vulnerability. The theme of motherhood has really changed her because it’s the one thing she has clung to and now we that it is in her face it’s interesting to see what it looks like to her and not just a fantasy. I love the tumultuous-ness of that and how it changes her relationship with the other characters.”
Overall one of the biggest takeaways for the critically acclaimed ensemble were the complex layered relationships especially between the women. For Amanda Brugel it was watching as her character Rita explores her relationship with June further. “I love the idea that there are so many explorations into female relationships and how complicated they all are. There is a lot of complexity that is going on when we are all together and I love that we are looking through a different window into female relationships. I’ve always thought that Rita and June would have been friends so to see Rita slowly allow herself feel something towards someone that reminds her of pre-Gilead is wonderful to play.”
During the panel Yvonne Strahovski discussed what it was like portraying the complicated push and pull between Serena and June throughout the show – a relationship that has quickly become one of the most layered and compelling aspects of the second season. “Their relationship is so tumultuous this season. It’s a relationship where these two women would and could respect each other and they do to a weird extent and they could go further but they can never make it to friendship because of their circumstances. That push and pull has been extraordinary.”
The second season of The Handmaid’s Tale is currently streaming on HULU with new episodes made available every Wednesday.