Kari Skogland is the only female nominated for directing in her category, Best Drama Directing. The Emmy-nominated director talks symbolism and the empowering impact of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Kari Skogland is no stranger to directing Hulu’s smash hit series, The Handmaid’s Tale. For season two, Skogland earned an Emmy nomination for her visually outstanding work in the Best Drama Directing category for episode seven, After.
The episode opens with the funeral for the handmaids who had been murdered during the terrorist attack. Dozens of red coffins lie in the snow as the handmaids are mourned.
Later, a scene in the market offers much hope and that glimmer of “empowerment” Skoland says. Read our chat below and consider Skogland’s work in your Emmy voting.
In terms of how you approached this episode what’s your process for The Handmaid’s Tale?
It starts with the script. I was blessed with a very strong script that Bruce Miller and Lynn Renee Maxcy had worked on. What’s great about the way is that Bruce likes to work is that he gives you an open canvas which means you’re expected to bring your open muscle to the party and take what he has rendered and really run with it. In this case, I had to figure out after the oxygen was sucked out of Gilead and this horrific tragedy had happened, what the emotional place was.
It started from this incredibly sad and anonymous place and ended up in an oddly hopeful upbeat place where Offred in engaged once again as herself. I directed the episode where we killed June and Offred took over, out of guilt, June was suppressed.
One of the things about being able to do a number in the series is the certain continuity, you knew what you had layered in with certain episodes and you could embellish and riff on that. I was thrilled with that journey to begin with.
The Samira story that echoed all of that in looking for a name and finding her lover. Her performance was heart-wrenching. In and amongst this bleak and oppressive reality was this odd hope that came out of it as June touched paper for the first time in such a long time and touch it with work on it and the pen. I echoed the idea of the detonator on the pen and the pen was about to become mightier than the sword.
In the opening funeral, I wanted Ann Dowd, I wanted for us to understand her on a much more emotional and complex level. She is such a great nasty woman. I wanted everyone to see that this affected her, it’s her flock and yes, she gives them tough love. In the same episode where we annihilated June, that was very much Ann Dowd having to break this girl. In her mind, she is that way for the greater good and you can do anything if it’s for the greater good. I wanted everyone to be equal in their grief. I also wanted it to have a slight dream quality in that it wasn’t linear and we were seeing snippets of imagery that felt nightmarish. That was how I approached it. Even in the flashback, I wanted it to have a different feel and tone because it was the first time we had done flashbacks in another character. They’re usually in June’s character and from that perspective. So, for the first time, we were going in from Samira’s perspective. Again, it was like snapshots and just little moments that she remembered. I really chopped up the scenes and turned them into memories.
You touched on the opening, but what about the song, My Life. Was that your choice? It seemed so fitting for what happens.
That was Bruce’s choice and that was put in after. There was a lot of talk and there’s an awful lot of mood that we talk about in Post-production. To Bruce, music is how he likes to tell the story and he’ll weigh in after, once he’s seen the imagery. In other cases, there was Hollaback Girl, and he wanted that in another episode.
Talk about the symbolism of reproductive rights in that episode.
Yes, that, but also, June’s hands were not clean in the relationship with her husband. It’s also the glimmer of the little window that was opened. She was a bit opportunistic about her choices.
In terms of Samira and giving up the baby and saying, “I won’t care,” we really talked about that a lot because she could not care, it would be impossible. She was closing the door on this chapter of her life. It opens a chapter on another life and her love affair with the doctor.
Oddly, what is being echoed in the series, already we are in a reproductive revolution when it comes to surrogacy, purchasing an egg, who owns that life at the end of the day? Often it presents the question and opens up the space but doesn’t present the solution and that’s a terrific way of the water cooler effect it’s having and that’s provocative.
You’ve talked about the flashbacks which were great to see from that perspective. Talk about working with Samira on that.
We knew we were heading to that one moment that she was going to see her dead lover. It was building the moments between the two and letting them sparkle. The wonderful thing about it was we never saw the affair, we only saw the promise of it. We wanted it to be a surprise that the doctor was the dead lover so we held back a lot of the information.
In order to do that, it’s very much walking the line between who this lover was that she was lamenting and looking for. We did the images with the real actress because we had filled a book with imagery that she had not seen and we put it in the scene. we started with that moment she saw the image, so she was able to see it for the first time and it just destroyed her and that’s what we captured. I set it up in a way that she didn’t have to hold anything back, she just does it so beautifully and the cameras were there to capture it.
That scene in the supermarket and they’re saying their names, talk about setting that scene up.
I wanted it to have this disembodied quality to it. It started as a notion and ignited like a fuse and I think that’s what Bruce wanted in that scene. Again, going back to that discovery of self, they started with being anonymous, their faces were covered by the veil. We had a huge discussion about that and how it would come off. I wanted the fabric to have a life to it both in the veil and in the costume. So, we go from that to them in the market which was an oppressive market to the whisper and it garnered some strength and that turned into empowerment. It was taking charge of that which meant getting a little bit arty, taking it out of the linear story and turning it into a bit more metaphorically visually.
What’s that like being on a shot that was shot at Christmas time and then living in this world that we live in right now?
I’d just come off a show called The Punisher and landed in Toronto when I started this show. I’m both American and Canadian. I grew up with Margaret being the iconic author of Canada and there was a tremendous pride to be part of this show. The rhetoric that was coming out of the USA was astounding. I always knew we were on a special show and art mimicked life and it seemed to be like something we were heading towards. By season two, we knew the show was having a tremendous impact in perhaps making a political comment and that becomes empowering as much as terrifying. You want to get it right and there’s a sense of pride, but purpose amongst the entire team.