Samira Wiley of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale talks to Awards Daily TV about Litchfield versus Gilead, Moira’s “tool box,” and filming during the election.
While Samira Wiley gained popularity on television for playing imprisoned women (first on Orange is the New Black and now on The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu), Litchfield Penitentiary is completely unique from Gilead.
“What’s different about the two is that the women in Handmaid’s get this false sense of authority and they keep each other down,” says Wiley. “With Poussey on Orange, the women keep each other up.”
The Handmaid’s Tale boasts a mostly-female cast and crew and addresses intersectional feminism on the series with the merging of LGBTQ, class, and race issues. Wiley describes herself as “privileged” to be accustomed to this kind of diverse on-screen and off-screen setting.
“In reading the pilot script, which is beautifully written, there are so many types of women represented. It’s something that I’m used to, just because of the show that I came from [Orange is the New Black]. You have so many different types of women from all different backgrounds of all shapes and sizes represented. It was definitely something I was used to, and it was important to be able to portray on television. And to be able to be one of the people in this beautiful and horrible story we’re trying to tell was something that definitely drew me to the project.”
Beautiful, Horrible Story
Related to beautiful, mostly horrible, stories, The Handmaid’s Tale filmed during the 2016 American presidential election, and given the series’ subject matter, Wiley knew that this was going to be a show people would talk about. However, she, like a lot of people, didn’t think the election would end the way it did.
“There are so many things that the people portrayed on the show don’t think can happen, and then it does. That’s something that I definitely see parallels the show and our world. After the election, there was just a feeling on set of, ‘Oh gosh, this is way more relevant than we wanted it to be.'”
Should Hillary have won, Wiley believes the show would be just as topical.
“I think it would still be a little scary, showing us this hypothetical world, showing how close we came. I think we would be having conversations about a woman being in charge and how that’s different from the world that’s being portrayed in Handmaid’s.”
Similar to Orange is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale often utilizes flashbacks as a storytelling device, which can be challenging when you’re playing a “Before-Moira,” who’s fun-loving and kind of a wild child, and “After-Moira,” whose spirit has been seriously squashed by the totalitarian government. Wiley explains Before- and After-Moira in an interesting way, that there aren’t parts of Moira that die in some scenes and come alive in others. She’s still the same person throughout.
“I explain it as she has a tool box. In this scene, she has to use her hammer, because she needs it, and it’s important. In the next scene, she doesn’t need that, so she’s going to put that away. It’s all in terms of her survival. She is an incredibly strong woman. We see that in all of her scenes. She’s just someone that uses certain parts of herself and suppresses certain parts of herself in order to survive.”
Offred is surviving for her husband and daughter. Who is Moira willing to survive for?
“There’s a scene in the pilot where Moira talks about her partner being sent to the colonies. We know that if you’re sent to the colonies, eventually you will perish. I imagine that her motivation comes from the memory of her partner and not wanting to let her down, whether she is alive or not. She’s also someone who speaks up for people who do not have a voice. So she’s living for Offred, herself, Odette, and Offred’s daughter as well. She has so many people to live for.”
The Handmaid’s Tale episodes are available for streaming on Hulu. The Season 1 finale drops Wednesday.