BLESSED

Play­ing a cruel bar­ren wife on The Handmaid’s Tale hasn’t been easy for Yvonne Strahovski. The newly preg­nant star re­flects on her “har­row­ing” role and bring­ing her own baby into the world. By Jane Al­bert. Styled by Philippa Moroney. Pho­tographed by Jake

VOGUE Australia - - CONTENTS -

Play­ing a cruel bar­ren wife on The Handmaid’s

Tale hasn’t been easy for Yvonne Strahovski. The newly preg­nant star re­flects on her “har­row­ing” role and bring­ing her own baby into the world.

Ser­ena Joy Water­ford may be a fic­tional char­ac­ter – and a cold-hearted, bru­tal, venge­ful one at that – but so be­liev­able is Aus­tralian ac­tress Yvonne Strahovski in por­tray­ing her and her in­fer­tile state in The Handmaid’s Tale that when Strahovski tells me she’s preg­nant, it’s hard not to shout “Praise be!” The break­out star of the Hulu orig­i­nal se­ries is de­light­ing in dis­cussing her hith­erto closely guarded se­cret, giv­ing her first in­ter­view to Vogue Aus­tralia since an­nounc­ing on In­sta­gram in mid-May that she and her hus­band, ac­tor Tim Lo­den, were ex­pect­ing their first child.

“I’ve been dy­ing to talk about it,” Strahovski en­thuses, be­fore con­fid­ing the con­cerns she had for her un­born baby dur­ing the re­cent shoot­ing of sea­son two of The Handmaid’s Tale, given the un­re­lent­ing sadism and seething ha­tred that drives Ser­ena Joy.

The Syd­ney-born, Los An­ge­les-based ac­tress is in Mel­bourne shoot­ing An­gel of Mine, Luke Davies’s adap­ta­tion of the 2008 French film L’Em­preinte de L’Ange, di­rected by Stranger­land’s Kim Far­rant and star­ring The Girl with the Dragon Tat­too’s Noomi Ra­pace. It’s three years since Strahovski has been in Aus­tralia, and many more since she made an Aus­tralian film.

It of­ten sur­prises fans of the cult TV se­ries The Handmaid’s Tale to learn Strahovski is Aus­tralian, so con­vinc­ing is her Amer­i­can ac­cent. The only child of Pol­ish im­mi­grants, Strahovski grew up in Maroubra, Syd­ney, a stu­dious child ob­sessed with danc­ing, act­ing and the out­doors. She honed her craft at the Uni­ver­sity of Western Syd­ney be­fore land­ing roles in lo­cal tele­vi­sion dra­mas, in­clud­ing Dou­ble the Fist in 2004 and head­Land a year later. She de­cided to try her hand in LA, au­di­tion­ing for the role of Sarah Walker in Chuck three days after ar­riv­ing. She planned to stay a cou­ple of months and now calls it home, 11 years later. The Emmy Award-win­ning se­ries Chuck ul­ti­mately ran for five years and Strahovski has played a host of strong, com­plex char­ac­ters ever since: se­rial killer Han­nah McKay on the TV se­ries Dex­ter, Rene Car­pen­ter in The As­tro­naut Wives Club and Emma on the up­com­ing film The Preda­tor, among many oth­ers.

Still, there will be au­di­ences worldwide who have only come to know Strahovski through The Handmaid’s Tale, cre­ator Bruce Miller’s 2017 adap­ta­tion of Mar­garet At­wood’s best­selling 1985 novel set in a dystopian fu­ture that sees Amer­ica over­taken by a fun­da­men­tal­ist regime, the few re­main­ing fer­tile women forced into sex­ual servi­tude to bear chil­dren for the Com­man­ders of the Faith­ful. Star­ring Elis­a­beth Moss as Of­fred, a handmaid de­ter­mined to fight back against her com­man­der (Joseph Fi­ennes) and his bar­ren wife (Strahovski), se­ries one earnt eight Em­mys and two Golden Globes and cap­ti­vated tele­vi­sion view­ers worldwide, air­ing as it did in a post-Trump Amer­ica that made At­wood’s de­pic­tion of new land Gilead seem fright­en­ingly plau­si­ble.

Strahovski hadn’t read At­wood’s novel but was so cap­ti­vated by the char­ac­ter of Ser­ena Joy and the story laid out in the pi­lot that she signed on im­me­di­ately. “I found her quite mes­meris­ing, be­cause I didn’t have all the an­swers to her and didn’t have her back­story [back then],” Strahovski ex­plains. “So, to me, all that lone­li­ness, bit­ter­ness and emo­tional in­sta­bil­ity were the first things I no­ticed about this char­ac­ter, and I loved the com­plex­ity of her and the rest of the char­ac­ters.”

Fi­ennes has spo­ken can­didly about the difficulty he has in por­tray­ing the vi­o­lence his char­ac­ter com­mits against Of­fred each month dur­ing the so-called ‘cer­e­mony’ in which he ef­fec­tively rapes his handmaid in a bid to get her preg­nant, while his wife watches on. Strahovski says there

is a con­scious ef­fort to keep the set light-hearted, but there is no es­cap­ing the vi­o­lence. “We’re faced with these in­cred­i­bly de­mand­ing, hor­ri­ble themes and scenes … it’s re­ally about be­ing in the mo­ment. Be­tween ‘ac­tion’ and ‘cut’, you just have to go there.”

There is no let-up in se­ries two, a de­par­ture from At­wood’s book, al­though “the di­vine Mar­garet At­wood” (as Strahovski calls her) has re­mained on board as a con­sul­tant. “I’ve found it’s been a lit­tle bit more har­row­ing, ac­tu­ally,” she ex­plains. “There have been some mo­ments when I’ve even no­ticed crew mem­bers au­di­bly un­com­fort­able while we’ve been in a half-ar­sed re­hearsal, not even do­ing it prop­erly. We’re re­ally push­ing it, and you can feel it on set. It’s def­i­nitely a show where we throw it out there and it’s con­fronting, and it’s meant to be con­fronting.”

Pos­si­bly most con­fronting is the fact that pre­sent-day Amer­ica has proved closer to At­wood’s Gilead than she could have con­sid­ered, a world in which movie moguls and politi­cians alike have al­legedly com­mit­ted acts of sex­ual mis­con­duct, al­beit a world in which women are find­ing their voice and fight­ing back. How does Strahovski feel about bring­ing a new life into this world? “It’s a good ques­tion,” she pon­ders. “It’s a lit­tle scary. I do have to have faith that things will start chang­ing, given that new voices are be­ing raised and heard [through] the women’s march or the Florida kids’ gun rally. I’d be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t con­cerned, but I also have faith in the peo­ple I sur­round my­self with and the ideals I have. We just have to keep mov­ing for­ward.”

Strahovski has her own reme­dies for es­cap­ing the mad­ness and spends as much time as she can out­doors. In fact, much of her life is spent away from the red car­pet glam­our. Here’s a woman who chose to marry her part­ner in a quiet cer­e­mony in Paso Robles, Cal­i­for­nia, on a day that proved so hot the cou­ple jumped into a nearby lake fully clothed to cool off; a woman who prefers her sim­ple, el­e­gant wed­ding band to the cus­tom­ary bling. And in­stead of fly­ing di­rectly to Toronto to be­gin shoot­ing Handmaid’s sea­son two, the cou­ple threw a few clothes and their beloved dogs into the car and drove across Amer­ica, mak­ing reg­u­lar camp­ing stops to go fly-fish­ing and hike the na­tional parks along the way in Idaho, Wy­oming and Mon­tana.

“It’s some­thing I’m very com­mit­ted to in my life; it’ll al­ways be a love of mine,” she says. “Just get­ting out, get­ting on the road and do­ing what­ever I want, with no plans. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see how that goes [post-baby],” she adds with a laugh.

For the time be­ing, she’s en­joy­ing the 10- or 11-hour shoot days in and around Mel­bourne on An­gel of Mine, a rel­a­tive lux­ury com­pared with the un­reg­u­lated shoot­ing hours in the US and Canada. A psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller, the film con­tin­ues the moth­er­hood themes for Strahovski, de­pict­ing the story of a woman’s de­scent into mad­ness fol­low­ing the death of her daugh­ter and her sub­se­quent be­lief that an­other woman’s child is, in fact, her own.

Strahovski is us­ing an Aus­tralian ac­cent for the first time in many years, some­thing that leaves her feel­ing a lit­tle un­com­fort­able, given how nat­u­rally she now speaks in her adopted home­land’s ac­cent. “It does help be­ing here in Mel­bourne and sur­rounded by an Aus­tralian crew and hav­ing friends here in Mel­bourne who are keep­ing it real for me and my weird, mashy ac­cent,” she says. Nei­ther Ser­ena Joy nor An­gel’s Claire is meant to be preg­nant, so hid­ing the fact has been an in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise.

Her next project is sea­son three of The Handmaid’s Tale and Strahovski says she’s in­trigued to see where it goes, as it too will have moved be­yond At­wood’s sto­ry­line. “I know there are a cou­ple of ideas on the ta­ble just by talk­ing to Bruce Miller, but we’re now in brand-new ter­ri­tory,” she re­veals.

Be­fore that be­gins, how­ever, she’ll be re­turn­ing home to LA for a well-earnt rest and some nest­ing ahead of the birth of her baby, which co­in­cides with film­ing recom­menc­ing on Handmaid’s. “I’m due for a break,” she says. “It’s been a lit­tle bit non­stop, and as my preg­nancy car­ries on, I prob­a­bly should take a break and buy a crib and do those baby things. I’ve got to go home and fo­cus on my peanut.” The Handmaid’s Tale can be viewed on SBS On De­mand. An­gel of Mine has no re­lease date yet.

Miu Miu coat, $4,680. Lee Mathews spot­ted dress, $379, and black dress, $749.

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