YVONNE STRAHOVSKI JUGGLES HER FIRST CHILD AND HIGH DRAMA IN A NEW SEASON OF THE HANDMAID’S TALE
FOR Yvonne Strahovski, there’s been a handy benefit in being an exhausted new mum while working on the bleak dystopian drama that is The Handmaid’s Tale.
“Being sleep- deprived really helps when I have to do sobbing scenes,” Strahovski laughs during a break in filming on the show’s Toronto set. And no wonder. Strahovski returned to film season three of the hit drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s bestselling 1985 novel, when her son with her husband, actor Tim Loden, was just six weeks old.
“I’ve been filming this season while simultaneously being a mum and bringing my kid to work every day,” she says, exhaling.
“It’s a different kind of preparation for me this season in that I feel like I’m ploughing right in and everything feels like just moment by moment because I’m so exhausted.”
She may be tired but the Sydneyborn Strahovski has entered season three as the show’s bona fide breakout star.
While Elisabeth Moss has turned in another exceptional performance as Offred, the handmaiden who has fought against Gilead’s brutal, antiwomen regime, and Joseph Fiennes is suitably flaccid as the weak and creepy Commander Waterford, it is Strahovski’s portrayal of the rivetingly complex Serena that has made her a rising star.
For the 36-year- old, who grew up acting and dancing in Sydney’s beachside Maroubra, the acclaim has been validating.
“It’s amazing. It’s another notch in the belt in the journey that is my career,” she smiles.
“We all as humans strive to do something in this lifetime, and I’ve chosen to have this kind of career and it’s definitely meaningful for me to have recognition like that. It felt very special. The Emmys, in particular, because it’s a peernominated platform so it’s lovely, it’s really lovely.”
Fiennes, who has played many difficult physical and emotional scenes opposite the actress, describes Strahovski’s performance as “stunning.”
“Yvonne brings such a wonderful integrity to the character that is not necessarily there in the book,” he says. “There’s a great vulnerability and sadness, and she inhabits that desolate journey beautifully. I have so much admiration for her.”
When Watch meets Strahovski, she’s preparing for a fancy ballroom scene (will the Waterfords reconcile?) at Toronto’s majestic Casa Loma, built by a wealthy financier at the dawn of the 20th century but never completely finished once he went broke.
There is something about the vast gothic mansion that suits the darkly oppressive world of Gilead down to the ground. It’s downright creepy.
Strahovski is decked out in a long, teal (of course) ballgown while Fiennnes mills about nearby in a tuxedo, swapping gibes with new castmate Christopher Meloni ( Law & Order: SVU’s Stabler), who it’s been hinted could be the most evil Commander yet.
At the end of season two, Serena was left an emotional wreck after allowing baby Nicole to escape to Canada in the arms of Emily (Alexis Bledel), while Offred (Moss) stayed behind to rescue her other young daughter.
At the beginning of season three, Strahovski says the “brutal and miserable” Serena is in a state of “emotional despair”, her relationship with Fred (Fiennes) “is at its worst” and she’s wondering whether she made the right decision to let her baby go.
“She is probably leaning towards that she didn’t make the right choice and so she is distraught and full of regret and probably lonelier than ever, I would say.
“This season, it’s a battle between her mind and her heart and her own demons. She’s trapped in a cage she’s built herself.”
But it is that duality that has ultimately drawn viewers to the deeply conflicted Serena.
“I always try to find the heart of why she does what she does or the reason for it, which is awful,” Strahovski laughs.
“In a lot of ways, I am like Serena’s best friend because I have to understand her so well but it’s also a terrible position to be in because she’s so awful, so I feel very dirty saying that I justify all of her actions from afar.”
There has been widespread criticism that season two of the show had become too difficult to watch.
Strahovski, who has begun work in Adelaide on the ABC drama Stateless opposite Cate Blanchett, bats away such concerns.
“I have heard that, yeah. A lot of people take a hard stance with that, like toughen up, this kind of stuff is happening across the world, so you should be able to watch it.”
The show has also found a very particular sweet spot in a post-Trump America as the war for women’s reproductive rights rages (Alabama recently banned abortion).
“It’s not like we set out to be a political show – we were just trying to make a good show, but it is amazing that it has turned into something that has a meaningful message,” she says.
But even she admits that tuning in as a viewer has often left her in tears. “It’s emotional,” she says.
“I sob working on the show and then I sob watching the show. I’m always crying.”
THE HANDMAID’S TALE
8.30PM, THURSDAY, SBS
This season, it’s a battle between her mind and her heart and her own demons. She’s trapped in a cage she’s built herself.
Balancing act: Yvonne Strahovski watches over co-star Elisabeth Moss in TheHandmaid’sTale.