She seems to be everywhere these days, but being prolific is old hat for the author
Margaret Atwood is notoriously late for interviews. She’s also renowned for not necessarily answering the questions you’ve posed, but for giving answers to her own unasked queries instead, in turn quizzing the interviewer.
At 77 years old, and with more awards and honorary doctorates than are perhaps possible to count, the Canadian author is easily forgiven. If anything, these quirks add to her mischievous charm and wise aura, and leave you feeling as though you’ve just had an important conversation about the world rather than having simply discussed the latest in “speculative fiction.”
That’s the wide-reaching, self-definition Atwood attaches to her futuristic, dystopian novels like The Handmaid’s Tale and the Madd-Addam series, tomes that are proving to be more relevant today than when she first wrote them. And with a number of her works getting the TV treatment — Bravo premieres the Elisabeth Moss-led The Handmaid’s Tale on April 30, just as Kids’ CBC unrolls a 26-part children’s series on April 29, based on the author’s Wandering Wenda and Widow Wallop’s Wunderground Washery — these stories are about to be available to audiences in more ways than ever before.
Add another CBC adaptation in the upcoming Sarah Gadon-starring Alias Grace and MGM’s development of the dystopian offering The Heart Goes Last, and the prolific — and maybe prophetic — author seems to be everywhere these days.
That includes cameos, executive producer titles and even working on a potential sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale (although the writer is cagey about that last point, neither confirming nor denying the rumours that surfaced after this month’s release of a special audio version of the book that hinted at a followup tale).
“Executive producer is a very stretchy term,” she says, going back to her various titles. “What it meant in the case of Wan
dering Wenda is going through several iterations of ideas and being part of those discussions. But it didn’t mean that I wrote the series, because I didn’t.”
“It also seems to have meant that I have an introductory cameo at the beginning,” she adds.
The animated series, in which each episode takes preschoolers through a letter of the alphabet by using adventure and alliteration, originally came to fruition in print because Atwood was “doing a favour” for a publisher friend who needed content.
Appearing at the beginning of each episode didn’t exactly take convincing, “not for somebody with a background in amateur theatrics and puppet shows.” Beyond that, Atwood admits she had to relinquish any perceived control in order for these projects to get the TV treatment in the first place.
“Unless it’s your money on the table, you don’t have final control,” she says. “That goes for any film or television project. So you can contribute ideas, you can say, ‘This looks great,’ or you can say, ‘I approve of this,’ but you’re not going to say, ‘You can’t do that.’ ”
The author says that so far she’s impressed with what she’s seen of executive producer Bruce Miller’s take on The Handmaid’s Tale, simply calling it “great” and alluding to more departures from the open-ended novel in the already anticipated second season.
She also reveals that her cameos came with their own challenges. She called her Handmaid’s Tale appearance “horribly upsetting” and “too much like history” in a guest column for the New York Times (watch for a slightly physical scene between Atwood and Moss’s character Offred in the pilot), and reveals less-than-ideal weather conditions for a top-secret stint in Alias Grace, which does not yet have an air date.
“I had to put on the full 19th-century outfit in August and it was very warm,” Atwood says. “It was hot. I had on the pantalets, the petticoat, the overskirt, the stockings, the chemise, the corset, the over-jacket, the capelet, the shawl and the bonnet. And the gloves. It was . . . warm.”
For those keeping track, TV is just the latest extension of Atwood’s brand. Between her novels, children’s series, the third volume of her first graphic novel, Angel Catbird, planned for summer, not to mention speaking engagements, red carpets and media events tied to The Handmaid’s Tale release (she’ll be at a screening of the first episode at Innis College April 26), Atwood has far from limited herself creatively.
“How is it that I can do all these
”In high school, on one hand I was writing dismal poetry but on the other hand I was putting on the world’s only home economics opera.” MARGARET ATWOOD AUTHOR
different things?” she wonders. “Always did. Always have. In high school, on one hand I was writing dismal poetry but on the other hand I was putting on the world’s only home economics opera.”
Given all that, you can’t blame us for wondering where she’ll venture next. Wherever it is, just don’t call her a prophet.
“I’m not a prophet. Honest, I’m not a prophet. If I were a prophet I would have cleaned up on the stock market years ago.”
Margaret Atwood makes a cameo in each episode of Wandering Wenda, a Kids’ CBC show.
Margaret Atwood makes appearances in the TV adaptations of Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace.