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Exclusive: The Handmaid’s Tale Yvonne Strahovski on Serena Joy’s season three attitude adjustment

Yvonne Strahovski's chilling and conflicted turn as Serena Joy on Handmaid’s Tale has left all of us wondering her next move. Pic credit: Yvonne Strahovski
Yvonne Strahovski’s chilling and conflicted turn as Serena Joy on Handmaid’s Tale has left all of us wondering her next move. Pic credit: Yvonne Strahovski

SPOILERS (If you have not seen season two, please read no further)

One thing is for sure, Commander Fred has crapped the proverbial marital bed on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, especially after the profoundly disturbing scene last season that showed him putting his wayward book reading wife Serena Joy in her place…minus a digit.

Yvonne Strahovski’s chilling and conflicted turn as Serena Joy on Handmaid’s Tale has left all of us wondering her next move, as Season 3 will dangle a plethora of possibilities in this televised adaptation of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s chilling gender dystopian nightmare that parallels a bit of real life, uncomfortably so for some.

Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), before the fall of the USA to Gilead. Pic credit: Hulu
Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), before the fall of the USA to Gilead. Pic credit: Hulu

In her former pre-Gilead existence, our pious media-savvy public speaker and author Serena was a rock star, a veritable muse, and architect of what Gilead was to be on paper, igniting the passion and desire within graspy little Fred, who wisely latched on to her star.

Cut to today in Gilead, where Fred is elevated in stature and makes sure all under him know that they are supplicants, even his wife, the one who literally shaped the matrix of which he is now part of the ruling class.

Will Serena tire of Fred’s hypocrisy, outright cheating, flirtatious ways, pedantic and paternalistic put-downs and finally join the resistance? That would be the most satisfying and in a sense, utterly predictable turn of events for those invested in this bleak yet addictive series.

More importantly, is she plotting his death after he cut off her pinky finger as punishment for reading in front of the assembled Gilead brass?

Or will her character capitulate and continue in her privileged oppressor role enjoying a protected life cloistered inside the mansion while pining for baby Holly/Nicole currently on the lam (thanks to Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) who I hope we see again in season three) with her mum Offred/June?

Well, there’s lots at stake and we are well past the original source material Ms. Atwood put out in 1984. The original story now has some interesting potential outcomes. Which way, Serena Joy?

One thing is for sure, it seems evil always overplays it’s hand, eventually. Will the resistance organize enough to topple the hierarchy of Gilead and more importantly, will Serena Joy re-establish her sense of self-worth and her voice?

In real life, Strahovski is a new mother to a baby boy born this past October.  She also narrowly escaped losing her home during the recent Malibu and California fires. Luckily she weathered the threat and has found time to do some great good with the Sierra Club as a spokesperson to boot.

We spoke with Yvonne about what is to come on the Hulu series and beyond.

Monsters and Critics: Serena Joy, she was the intellectual architect in so many ways for Gilead. And now Gilead has bitten this hand that’s helped build her… 

Fred doing what he does best, letting others do his dirty work. Pic credit: Hulu
Fred doing what he does best, letting others do his dirty work. Pic credit: Hulu

Yvonne Strahovski: It is literal as well. Right? She’s lost a finger for standing up against it. Yeah, that’s really interesting that she does make that move to sort of take a stand against something that she was a part of creating in the first place.

A lot of people ask me, “What did Serena expect would happen in that moment?”

And I do think that perhaps she maybe thought that it wasn’t ever going to pass by the panel of men that were sitting there and listening to her. I’m sure there was hope that they would listen, but I think more than anything it was a moment for her where she was finally doing a good thing in her life, where she doesn’t normally do good things.

We know Serena to be very bitter and miserable and to do horrible things. This is such a moment where she was standing up for her daughter and for all the daughters in Gilead and the future of women in this society.

And I think it just felt good to just do something good, regardless of the outcome. And I think she was always willing to pay the price for it, even though I think she didn’t expect to.

M&C: I can see why. Because your character, Serena, really lashed out at Fred in anger when you guys were on the chase for pregnant Offred when she was hiding in that big, cold mansion. And he seemed chastened and cowered. He took it. That was the first time I think we saw your character really let loose on Fred.

Yvonne: Yeah.

Serena lashes out at Fred as they hunt for Offred. Pic credit: Hulu
Serena lashes out at Fred as they hunt for Offred. Pic credit: Hulu

M&C: And he didn’t hit you. He just took it. So having said that, contempt and fear just kill relationships. And it appears your character’s marriage with Fred is done. How is your character Serena processing this violence that she suffered at his hands? As we go into the new season.

Yvonne: Well in my mind I think Serena thinks it’s done too. Probably along with most audience members, and you. It seems very difficult to come back from something like that. It was one thing that he beat her and then it was another thing that he cut off her pinky.

That’s not even mentioning the total breakdown of their relationship that happened before all of that happened, with his flirtations with the handmaids, all the other stuff. So going into this season, that’s pretty much the starting point really, is how do you … if you do, ever recover from something like that?

I think so much of Serena’s identity was tied into being a mother and being married and being a couple with Fred and raising a child. And now that’s sort of all come crashing down and she’s lost this piece of the puzzle that was going to make everything perfect.

Who is she now, without that, in this society, in Gilead where that was really all she wanted to do?  I think it really … it’s obviously incredibly complicated so I’m really looking forward to exploring where they take that for us.

M&C: Right. The Marthas, they’ve all banded together and taken up June’s cause and they’ve helped June and Holly/Nicole escape. Now you’re a new mother, how do those emotions, after having your first child and understanding that bonding, inform how you approach to playing Serena with not only your anger at Fred but your desire to still be a mother to this spirited away baby girl?

Yvonne: I mean they’re different. Yes, because I shot the last five episodes of the season two pregnant, so really I hadn’t become a mother yet. I was a mother to two furry doggies.

So I know the feelings that I have towards my dogs, and people who are dog owners will know what I’m talking about. There is absolute love. You think of your dogs as kids. But it’s not the same as having a child, a baby, which obviously, I now have in my real life.

So a lot of season two was me imagining what it would be like to give something away that was completely devastating and crushing. And now I really, in my soul, understand that exact feeling, what that would really be like.

And so, my real life as a new mom I think is going to be incredibly inspiring for me entering into season three now. Dealing with this loss, as Serena deals with her loss of baby Holly/Nicole, as you call her.

M&C: It seems like your relationship with June is still rooted in anger. It’s gone from contempt and disgust almost a respect there. You respect her survivor skills and the fact that she isn’t taking it. Am I wrong or right?

The bond that brought them together was baby Holly/Nicole. Pic credit: Hulu
The bond that brought them together was baby Holly/Nicole. Pic credit: Hulu

Yvonne: Well yes, there’s definitely all those feelings and then some. I think what threads them together is the common love … the common interest that they have. And that is baby Holly/Nicole. I think June/Offred, [laughs] everyone has two names now, June/Offred is really the only person that Serena can actually trust I think with Nicole.

Which is why she probably agreed in that split second moment, to let her take her out of Gilead. I don’t think that anybody else would have been able to convince her to do that. It had to be Offred.

Because Offred has the same investment in this child, in this baby that came out of her. And now I think Serena is kind of realizing perhaps what it might have been like for Offred this whole time in regards to Hannah. Maybe there is that exploration as well there… after Serena’s had this horrible experience of her own.

M&C: Right. Does your character, Serena, interact at all with Commander Lawrence, who Bradley Whitford plays. Are we going to see him in this new season or no?

Yvonne: I don’t know if I’m allowed to answer that. And I don’t know if Serena is going to have anything to do with him if he is around for season three.

M&C: Understood. Okay, well I’m going to move away from Handmaid’s Tale. I was so thrilled to see you being a spokesperson for Sierra Club of which I am a card-carrying member. I wanted to know why you hitched your wagon to that nonprofit?

Yvonne: Well I’ve always wanted to get involved with a group, an organization like The Sierra Club. I didn’t really know about The Sierra Club, to be honest. And I’ve been working so much that I wanted to have a thoughtful process and sort of picking where I wanted to put my energy into and it came up … the idea came up to do this project with them, this video.

And I jumped on it. I realized so much of my passion in other areas other than acting lies in nature and the environment and it’s something that’s really dear to me and something I grew up with. So it just makes so much sense for me to work with them on things like this.

M&C: Yes, it is wonderful. You’re Australian and I saw that you live in Malibu. Those horrendous fires … I saw that you escaped any harm, but Australia and Southern California share that similar arid wind-driven threat nearly every year. Can you share anything about anyone who might have helped you?

 

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Yvonne: Yes. No, we were very, very lucky. We were watching with bated breath on the news of we saw the fires getting very, very close to where we live. It was a very challenging time. My son was only four and a half weeks I think, so we were really just sort of trying to juggle being new parents before we got evacuated.

Thankfully we could go to stay with family in town. But it was a lot. We were also trying to pack for Canada because that’s where we shoot season three Handmaid’s Tale. So it was a lot of, “Oh gosh, how are we gonna go get our stuff? Are we going to lose our stuff to a fire? Oh my gosh, we have a newborn baby. We’re not sleeping.”

Then as the travel dates neared closer and closer we realized we have to go back to the house once they finally opened up the roads. And I thought it was going to be okay in there, and it was, it was just very smoky in there. So we ended up spending a lot of time cleaning that out.

But we have a wonderful group of friends who showed up on a Sunday with masks and cleaning products and helped us wipe out everything and hose down things and get the smell and the smoke out of there with sands and air purifiers. So, very grateful to have an amazing community of family and friends around us.

M&C: You’ve got some movies coming. Anything you want to share with us about what we can expect this year, 2019 from you?

Yvonne: 2019, well after I wrapped season two Handmaid’s I went to Australia and I shot a movie with a lovely actress Noomi Rapace, called Angel of Mine. I don’t know when that’s coming out, but I think that’s coming out in next year. In fact, I know it is, I just don’t know the exact date.

That’s a really amazing story between two women. I don’t know how much I can say about it but I probably can say that there are some similar strong themes of motherhood in a different way than to what I explore in The Handmaid’s Tale. Kim Farrant is the director.

M&C: Anything you want to tease as far as the tonality of season three for Handmaid’s Tale? Just to give an indication on which way it’s going?

Yvonne: Yeah. Season three I think is going to have a bit more punch to it in terms of focusing more, a little more on resistance and women coming together to make changes.

Whether Serena gets involved in that kind of activity or not is another question. Certainly something I’m looking forward to exploring with playing her.

And I love the starting point this season for Serena, which is the aftermath of having given up this child and what that means for her and how she sees herself in Gilead and her identity, and what it means moving forward. So there’s a lot of different flavors I guess, so to speak, this year.

The Handmaid’s Tale season three on Hulu is expected in 2019, TBA.


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