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

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - Contents - In­ter­view by NAOMI CHRISOULAK­IS

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...

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