A Handmaid’s Truth – An Interview With Elisabeth Moss

The Handmaid’s Tale is based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, the series is set in a totalitarian America in the near future. It follows handmaids who are assigned to bear children for elite couples that are having trouble conceiving due to dangerously low reproduction rates. Elisabeth Moss plays June Osbourne, renamed Offred, and she is subject constant scrutiny. She shares  what it was like starring in and producing this moving, yet haunting, tale.

Tell us about the character that you play and the premise of the show?

The story takes place in an alternate world, called Gilead, where a fundamental regime has taken over. Gilead was once a part of the United States. Due to environmental changes and some natural disasters, fertility has dropped exponentially in women. Only one in five babies are surviving, so this new regime has developed a way of procreating in hopes of continuing the race. The new ways that Gilead adopts are taken from some scripture in the bible.

I play June, otherwise known as Offred and I am the handmaid the tale is about. I play a woman who is fertile and any fertile women is captured and enslaved and basically given to a couple who cannot have a baby. The husband has sex with the handmaid in the hopes that they can get her pregnant. Then when she does get pregnant, they take the baby and she moves on.

Can you tell us about the tone and feel of the series? What was your approach in playing the character?

It’s interesting… the show is about morality, but it’s also political. Bruce Miller (creator, writer, executive producer) and I really wanted it to focus on the human aspect. Ultimately, it’s a story of one woman who is in this world and in this situation. It was very important to us for the show to be relatable on a human level. We wanted it to be real and truthful. Stories told from the human level are the best stories. This story just happens to be in this world [but] is quite different from our world now. We want it to be beautiful looking and definitively cinematic, but at the same time real and not look fake at all or overly art-drafted or overly costumed. It has to have a reality to it for you to be able to believe that this is a possibility.

In terms of genre, what type of show would you describe it as?

That’s actually one of the most interesting things. We have found this show to be genre-wise, very indescribable. It has a tone that is completely different from anything I’ve ever seen or been involved with. When you make something, especially when it’s new, anyone will try to compare it to other shows but The Handmaid’s Tale is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s very hard to put this show in a box.

The Handmaid’s Tale has darkness. It has complexities and horror and terrible truths in it. At the same time, it has a very dark, but also humorous side to it. It has love. It has romance. It has moments that are so inspiring and positive it will make you cry out of hope. It’s very difficult to categorise this show into one particular genre. It’s a drama, yeah, but I think that the best dramas have a lot of humour in them, many different facets to them, and that was really important to us. It was important to all of us to make sure it was not something that was dreary all the time, that the show conveyed hope.

What attracted you to this role and can you give us any additional insight into your character?

Bruce Miller, our show-runner, and I talked when I was in Australia shooting. We got on the phone and we just kind of gabbed for like an hour and a half, like girlfriends. He’s so funny and smart and personable and so easy to talk to and that was important to me. I knew he was a good writer. I knew the first two scripts were good before I signed on, but it was important that I could have a conversation with the person I was going to be working with. I wanted to work with someone I could laugh with and who would listen to me. Those are things that are important to me when signing on to a project. You must have a good relationship with the show-runner.

Immediately, I just kind of adored him and wanted to be friends with him. Luckily, the feeling was mutual! He definitely had this huge job of adapting this book. Really early on, after reading the first few steps, I said to him: “I honestly don’t know how you guys are doing this. You consistently surprise me with how you’re adapting this. You’re consistently wowing me. You are so smart.” Bruce is such a genial, lovely, funny guy and you don’t expect the dark, kind of complex world to come out of him.

Who is June at the beginning of this story?

June, known as Offred in Gilead, is the handmaid to Joseph Fiennes’ character Commander Waterford. She is captured about three years prior and in that capture, her husband is taken away from her and her daughter is stolen. She has no idea where they are or if they’re alive. In fact, she thinks her husband is dead. She is placed in the Red Centre, where they train the handmaids and then she is ‘placed’ at [the] Waterfords. We pick up about three years in and she’s not doing too well. She has had a lot of the fight and soul beaten out of her, both physically and emotionally.

This interview was featured in the September/October issue of M2Woman magazine, for a full version of the article you can buy the magazine from our shop, or at your local news agent.