Nfld. ac­tor em­braces Hand­maid’s Tale role

The Prince George Citizen - - A & E -

As he pre­pared to play a cut­throat com­man­der in the new sea­son of The Hand­maid’s Tale, Jonathan Wat­ton of Cor­ner Brook, N.L., heard from the writ­ers that the char­ac­ter was sim­i­lar to a cer­tain Repub­li­can south of the border.

“They said, ‘Look, there’s a par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal per­son in the States who we’ve thought of and he’s younger, he’s am­bi­tious, po­lit­i­cally as­tute, and in some ways out for him­self,”’ Wat­ton said in an in­ter­view.

And who was that per­son? “Should I say?” the af­fa­ble Wat­ton said with a laugh. “Well, they mod­elled him a lit­tle bit af­ter Paul Ryan (the for­mer U.S. House Speaker). Not in terms of nec­es­sar­ily where he comes from but just where he slots into that power struc­ture: Po­lit­i­cally as­tute, in­tel­li­gent and yet just in­tensely af­ter a goal. That was help­ful for me. It just clar­i­fied what his mo­ti­va­tions are.”

Wat­ton plays Amer­i­can Cmdr. Mathew Cal­houn in sea­son 3 of the Emmy-win­ning dystopian drama, which is shot in Toronto and around south­ern On­tario. He first ap­pears in episode 3, set to air Sun­day, and is in five episodes in to­tal. The series is on Bravo and Crave in Canada.

Sea­son 1 was based on Toronto au­thor Mar­garet At­wood’s 1985 dystopian novel, while the rest of the series cre­ated by Bruce Miller ex­plores what hap­pens af­ter the book ends.

Cal­houn is a new com­man­der in the Repub­lic of Gilead, a theoc­racy in which women are treated as a prop­erty of the state and some are forced to bear chil­dren to com­bat an in­fer­til­ity epi­demic.

Elis­a­beth Moss stars as pro­tag­o­nist June (a.k.a. Of­fred), who con­tin­ues to defy the power struc­ture along with a re­sis­tance move­ment that stretches into Canada, prompt­ing Cal­houn to take a hard line.

“He feels the power struc­ture needs to clamp down, that we need to be stronger here, rule with an iron fist and show no mercy,” said Wat­ton, 41.

“Any­one who shows any weakness, es­pe­cially of the more es­tab­lished com­man­ders who we’re start­ing to look at with ques­tions, like Water­ford for ex­am­ple, he thinks they need to step aside and we need to come down hard. He doesn’t think of him­self as a bad guy, but he’s def­i­nitely in this world a bad guy.”

Cmdr. Water­ford is played by Joseph Fi­ennes, while Yvonne Stra­hovski plays his wife, Serena Joy.

The char­ac­ters have June in their house­hold as a hand­maid.

“The tagline this year is ‘Blessed be the fight,”’ said Wat­ton, not­ing the sea­son shows the re­sis­tance tak­ing different “and maybe un­ex­pected forms.”

There’s also “a sense of hope, a sense of agency” for the re­sis­tance, he added.

“We see June start to make some strong choices and some dif­fi­cult ones, of where her loy­al­ties lie and what she’s go­ing to do to take down Gilead.”

Wat­ton’s pre­vi­ous cred­its in­clude David Cro­nen­berg’s film Maps to the Stars, and the shows Pri­vate Eyes, Saving Hope and Mur­doch Mys­ter­ies, in which he was a series reg­u­lar as Dr. Darcy Garland.

He was a fan of At­wood’s novel and the series be­fore sign­ing on, and was able to get in­put di­rectly from series writer Yahlin Chang on­set, where the cast was “so wel­com­ing.”

The Hand­maid’s Tale has brought his ca­reer to a new level, he said, “just be­cause it’s be­come part of such a con­ver­sa­tion crit­i­cally with the work that goes on in the show, and also cul­tur­ally it’s just be­come part of such a con­ver­sa­tion that people are hav­ing and need to have now.”


Jonathan Wat­ton poses for a por­trait in Toronto on Wed­nes­day.

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