ONE OF THE STARS OF THE NEW ADAPTATION OF THE HANDMAID’S TALE ON WHY PLAYING THIS PART WAS “REALLY HARD.”
When you first ask about her character in The Handmaid’s Tale, currently airing on Bravo, Yvonne Strahovski doesn’t have a whole lot of good things to say. “She’s brittle, unsympathetic. She’s hard, harsh and unapproachable,” says the actress over the phone from Los Angeles, where she has lived for more than 10 years since moving from Sydney (which explains the occasional hard D and R in her otherwise Aussie accent).
Strahovski, whom you’ll recognize from her time as a secret agent on the late, lamented Chuck, plays Serena Joy in the TV series. The character has been modified a bit from the way Margaret Atwood wrote her in her classic dystopian novel of the same name: She’s still the wife of one of the powerful men who run the Republic of Gilead (created after a group of Christian fundamentalists overthrow the government and institute a system of deeply conservative values that includes a class of women called “handmaids” who exist solely to procreate with elite men), but this Serena Joy is younger—she’s the same age as Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss), the handmaid who serves her husband. “I’m one of the ‘bad guys!’” says Strahovski. “My struggle was to find the beating heart of her—to humanize this character who makes horrible decisions.”
Given the times we live in, the show has attracted a lot of attention for the terrifying picture it paints of a society in which the rights of women are obliterated almost overnight. Strahovski acknowledges the parallels, but she is more interested in the female power dynamic that the show explores. “It’s this situation where, on paper, you have one woman in this hierarchy who’s technically up the food chain and one who is at the bottom,” she says. “In a different world, these women might have been friends—so the fight for that power creates a great dynamic.” n