Last Sunday, March 18, some of the stars and creators of one of the most talked-about television shows of 2017 – The Handmaid’s Tale – dropped by the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles to participate in PaleyFest 2018.
Before the group took to the stage for a panel and Q&A session with fans, they hit the red carpet to give media the scoop on the show’s first season, what’s to come, and how everyone’s handling being part of such a timely, scary-yet-compelling success story.
TheCelebrityCafe was able to chat with executive producer Warren Littlefield, and some of the show’s stars – in some cases one-on-one, and in other cases, in a group discussion with other members of the media.
Max Minghella, who plays Nick – a spy for the oppressors yet also a love interest and potential ally for the key heroine Ofred/June (Elisabeth Moss) – told the press that season two would be “bigger, badder and better” than season one.
Here’s what else we learned:
Warren Littlefield – Executive producer
Media: How does it feel to have people talk about how relevant the show is to what’s happening in our world today?
WL: I wish we weren’t as relevant as we are, but unfortunately, it feels like America is pre-Gilead so our drama feels at def con. First and foremost, though, I think you need to tell a powerful, human story and that’s what we’re doing. The fact that it’s relevant – I can’t say what to do about that exactly, but I do know what we can control is that we do our drama like it’s a canvas and experience for our audience. They’ve embraced us…
Media: How does it feel to be live on stage at the Dolby Theatre?
WL: It’s amazing. They’ve so embraced us, we feel their love. When we are in front of our fans, it’s chilling, just seeing what the show has become. We take that responsibility on our shoulders and go off and try to deliver our best…
Madeline Brewer – Janine (a handmaid)
Media: How does it feel to be on a show that’s been such a success?
MB: I’m glad it’s taken on the life that it has. I was just excited to be a part of a really beautifully written show, and I had met Bruce before. I just think he’s incredible, and I know that everything Elisabeth Moss touches is gold, so I was like this is gonna be great. The fact that it is what it is and that it’s enjoyed by so many people is just great.
TheCelebrityCafe: We see you gravitate toward dark characters – how does that happen?
MB: I guess I gravitate toward dark characters [joking] because I myself am like a brooding soul – no, I don’t know, I like playing things that are as far away from me as possible because it eventually helps you learn about yourself – something actor-y [laughs].
Yvonne Strahovski – Serena Joy Waterford (Ofred's master's wife)
Media: Playing somebody as complicated as Serena is, how has that informed you in how you interact with people who have different ideals from you?
YS: Well it’s just been, it’s really complicated because there’s a lot about Serena – everything about Serena - that I jive with really, so that continues to challenge me all the time. You know, that’s why it’s important to put as much humanity in her as possible because there’s so many things that are inhumane about her. But yes, I was just saying before, I’ve seen certain scenes from episodes, as far as episode 6, when I watch Serena, I watch myself doing certain things, and I’m reminded of real-life people on the news that I see that I don’t agree with, so it’s really, it’s interesting when you’re in that scenario playing someone that you’re not aligned with, in that sense.
Media: Three words to describe season two?
YS: Breathtaking, devastating and roller-coaster.
Media: What’s been the most meaningful part of being part of the show and cast?
YS: I think the most meaningful thing about it is that the show has had such a huge impact on people and it’s beyond what entertainment usually does, which is entertain. I just feel like it’s been something that has touched people in a certain way that you do really rarely get and that’s been the brightest thing to come out of it, is the conversations that you get to have, both on-camera and off-camera – people who are affected in life by certain things that the show parallels.
Amanda Brugal – Rita (a Martha)
Media: Where will the show and Rita go in season 2?
AB: [So far] we’ve set up the society, we sort of know the rules, what the system in the society looks like. We really, really have opened up the periphery, [in season two] you start to see the colonies, and you see Canada, you see little more of the resistance, so I love the idea that everything expands and you see how far Gilead’s reach goes...
For Rita, for my character, I really believe that we ended season 1 not really knowing what she stood for, whether or not she was someone who really was drinking the Kool-Aid and someone who really believed in Gilead, or whether or not she was someone who fought for humanity but was so beaten down she didn't know where to start.
So, season two, we answer that question – whether or not she fights for humanity or whether or not she fights for the tyrants, and the answer is SHOCKING. I just read season 2 episode 13 four days ago and I stood up and was pacing back and forth and I wanted to call people. I didn't know who to call – [joking] next time, you guys give me your number so I can call you and tell you about it. It blows me away from where she starts to where she ends up, so it's exciting.
Media: What’s the most meaningful part of being on the show?
AB: I really love the idea that it’s resonated with so many people – someone told me how people wear our costumes when they’re protesting – I love the fact that it's now inside of our DNA, inside of pop culture, part of the zeitgeist. You don't do TV shows to be a part of the zeitgeist. The fact that, this will be something -- the costumes will be something that people will recognize forever, and it’s had an impact on people's lives and people are using it to protest for good -- it's remarkable. You just want to perform art, but if you perform art that translates into bettering society, it's the best of both worlds.
Media: How's it feel to be live on stage at the Dolby?
AB: I’ve never been live on stage in America. I'm the only Canadian there, so being live on stage anywhere – if I was live onstage at Sea World I'd be having a good time, so I'm really excited about this.
Media: What does your tattoo [in Hindi script] say?
AB: “We are all meant to shine as children do,” which I think is so apropos for Rita. It’s written in Hindi – my dad was born in Mumbai, so it's part of my father.
Media: Have you been back to Mumbai in a while?
AB: Not for a while, not in recent years, but I have been as a child with my mother and grandfather.
TheCelebrityCafe: What’s it like being from Canada and seeing Canada have this safe haven role in the story?
AB: I’m so proud. It's actually – being the only Canadian actor on [the show], it's sort of the most proud moment. I have a lot of friends auditioning for it – especially when they get to play a part of the resistance, they treat it as the role of a lifetime, because the show is exceptional, but they also love the fact that they can reflect us as a culture, because we are kind and we do serve as a home for refugees, so the fact that we can showcase that on such a globally accepted and revered show is awesome.
O-T Fagbenle – Luke
OTF: …[the second season] may be a little darker than the first.
Media: The first look images are very dark – you see blood and you see a funeral, so you think it’s going to be darker?
OTF: What it isn't about is gore. That's not really what it's about, what it does is it kind of catches on to people's anxieties and fears about where we are in the world right now. It kind of opens that book and that really captures people I think.
Media: How does it feel to be live on stage at the Dolby Theatre?
OTF: I’m so excited, this is such an iconic place and I'm really looking forward to it…
Media: How's playing Luke informed your day-to-day thinking, in terms of activism and such?
OTF: I think it’s constantly a reminder that we all have a responsibility within our work to move things forward, and that might be in small ways, like starting off with a coworker or speaking out about certain issues. Being part of this show has definitely reminded me that things aren't right, right now in the world, and change has to happen, we have to engage in that present and this role.
Media: How do you relax after shooting such a heavy, dark show?
OTF: To be honest, filming is fun. I love filming because Lizzie (Elisabeth Moss) is so funny and fun, Samira as well, she's a joker, so I actually have a ball on set. Obviously when we're filming it can get very dark, but between takes, it’s fun and giggles.
TheCelebrityCafe: What do you think of Luke and June getting together when Luke was married and will we get to see more of that situation next season?
OTF: We do get to explore Luke and June's relationship beforehand. You're right, Luke was married. That's the whole reason why June ends up a handmaid, is because of that sin that she committed by being an "adulteress," so there is some exploration of their relationship.
Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale premieres on HULU April 25.