Maid in Australia
She has enjoyed steady success since arriving in Hollywood a decade ago – but little did Aussie actor Yvonne Strahovski know that when she was cast in hit series The Handmaid’s Tale she would become part of a cultural phenomenon
Australian actor Yvonne Strahovski hit the jackpot when she was cast in The Handmaid’s Tale, but even she didn’t know the series would strike such a chord.
The day Yvonne Strahovski signed on to star in an adaption of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale,
she had no idea that she was about to become a part of one of the most perfectly timed shows in the history of television. The first inkling she had came halfway through shooting the first season, well before the acclaim and endless think pieces.
“I remember joking around with one of the writers, saying, ‘Could you imagine if Trump won and this show ended up being a bit more relevant than we anticipated?’” she tells Stellar from the Canadian set of the series, which returns this month. “But I never anticipated this kind of an impact.”
Win he did, and for many The Handmaid’s Tale seemed to go from a fictional depiction of a dystopian society to a scarily prescient crystal ball, and its chilling storyline of women being systematically matically stripped of their rights suddenly enly didn’t seem so terribly far-fetched after all. The crimson robes and crisp white te bonnets of the handmaids became cultural shorthand for repression ssion and resistance, popping up in protests, at Halloween parties s and even on the runway: Vera a Wang sent models down the catwalk atwalk in black bonnets for her er spring 2018 collection after watching ching the show, which went on to win five Emmys, and two Golden Globes, bes, including Best TV Drama series. es.
“It was surreal because ecause the show is so relevant, but it’s also so accidentally relevant,” nt,” says Strahovski, 35. “It’s taken on a real-life eal-life meaning and it has so much potency now out in the real world, when hen here we are making a show that t is a dystopian future…” She pauses, s, then laughs. “Or a dystopian ian present, I should say, y, that a lot of people relate e to as more of a present-day documentary. It’s amazing to be a part of something that really hits on everyone’s highest expectations of television in terms of pure entertainment, but also to go beyond that and really touch people in a very personal and moving kind of way. That’s been another level of experience for me in this one.”
Yet Strahovski is an old hat when it comes to hit shows: in 2007, after graduating from acting school in Sydney and scoring some local roles, the self-confessed child “show-off” decided to try her luck during pilot season in Los Angeles. Almost immediately, she was cast as the lead in Chuck, a primetime network spy-dramedy. Then came a stint on cult-hit Dexter, a role opposite Kiefer Sutherland in 24: Live Another Day, and films with Robert de Niro and Barbra Streisand. She’s never used her return ticket. “I feel lucky,” she says. “I know that I came in at a pretty good time; it was about a decade ago when Australians became the flavour of the month in a lot of ways, and people were realising there’s a whole group of people from this other country who can act and do stuff. It was lovely to be part of that initial movement. I’m sure that it’s compet competitively even harder now beca because there are a lot of Australia Australians coming in and also a lot of Brits. It’s a very competitiv competitive industry, it always has been, so it’s nice to see people succeed and do well.” America has been so good to Strahovski that it seems like it’s for keeps: she calls Malibu home, and lives there with her husband, actor Tim Loden, and their two dogs. “I have really connected with it. It reminds me of Australia in a lot of ways, because I grew up spending all my weekends on beaches and camping. I feel like living in Malibu I’ve got these gorgeous mountains in my backyard and the ocean in my front yard. It’s a lovely echo of what life used to be like for me growing up in Australia, where I could drive out of town for an hour or two and be in a gorgeous place and set up camp with my family or friends. It’s suiting me just fine for now and I definitely miss it because this is my second Canadian winter and I don’t think I’m cut out for it.”
Any day now, she’ll wrap filming on The Handmaid’s Tale and head back to sunny California. “We did a huge road trip up here, so we’re going to try and get a road trip in there on the way back. It was lovely; we did it over 15 days and we went right up through Utah and Wyoming and Idaho and Montana and just did a bunch of the national parks along the way. And it was beautiful. It was like an
“I feel lucky. I know I came in at a pretty good time”
all-american journey.” Lumberjack shirt and all? “Well, you know, I did put a little fly in my hat like the fly fisherman do. A little souvenir for our travels,” she says, laughing.
When Strahovski gets home, she’ll eagerly await the world’s reaction to the second season and the evolution of her character Serena Joy, Commander Fred’s cold and ruthless wife who makes life miserable for the eponymous handmaid, Offred, played by Elisabeth Moss. “This material is so potent and politically relevant and it definitely will continue to be relevant on that scope with the new #Metoo movement and #Timesup – everything that’s coming out now. The show’s always had a strong theme of sisterhood and resistance, women banding together and forming a resistance, so it’s definitely going to continue to have that theme. For my character alone, there’s so much focus on motherhood this season and what that means,” she says. “It’s interesting for Serena to realise that her expectations of herself as a woman, or as a potential mother, are maybe different to the reality, and what she learns along the way with certain confrontations and challenges she’s faced with.”
Playing an infertile woman desperate to have a child in a society where they have become rarities – and to that end the vile means the handmaids are subjected to – hasn’t deterred Strahovski from the idea of motherhood. “It hasn’t put me off at all, because it’s definitely something I want for my future,” she reflects. “But it has made me wary of starting that process while I’m playing Serena, because I just always imagine if I have a child growing inside of me and here I am at work – screaming at people or throwing things around – how on earth is that going to affect something growing inside of me?”
Strahovski can’t reveal much more about what will transpire when the show returns, but admits she is just as addicted as the most rusted-on of fans. “I get a script in my inbox and if it’s two o’clock in the morning, I’ll just stay up and read it because I can’t wait. I think people are going to be surprised, because I’ve been surprised when I’ve been reading the script. I’m blown away with what they’ve come up with – how they’ve been pushing the boundaries and how well they’re writing for the characters.”
Even so, she knows that it’s in her best interests not to get too attached. “I feel so personally removed from the world we’re portraying; it’s very separate. I think I’d probably be a crazy person if I let that get to me on any level.” The Handmaid’s Tale airs 8.30pm, April 26, on SBS and SBS On Demand.
“Motherhood is definitely something I want for my future”
TIMELY ACT (clockwise from top left) Yvonne Strahovski with husband Tim Loden at last year’s Emmys, where The Handmaid’s Tale picked up five awards; the Autralian actor plays Serena Joy, a key character in the cult series; in 2012 she had a stint on...