Yvonne Strahovski is no stranger to the screen. The 34-year-old Australian actress has starred in critically-acclaimed films, voiced video games, and appeared in five seasons of the NBC hit series, Chuck. Now, Strahovski is ready to take on a new role; that of Serena Joy in Hulu’s new series, The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Handmaid’s Tale, based off of the original novel by Margaret Atwood, chronicles a dystopic society called the Republic of Gilead. Ruled under a theocratic dictatorship, women have few human rights and live under constant supervision by a secret police, known as the Eyes of God.
We chatted with Yvonne on the upcoming series The Handmaid’s Tale which premieres April 26th on Hulu.
Can you describe your character, Serena Joy?
Serena Joy is a complicated woman. She is extremely harsh, hard, unapproachable, unfair. BUT – I am biased. I had to sit with this woman who on paper is one of the ‘bad guys’ and try to figure her heart out. Why is she the way she is? I see a woman who has been stripped of her own personal identity, as a human, and as a woman. I see a woman who had a part of her connection to her husband taken away from her. I see a woman stripped of sexuality, and dignity. And I see why she is as closed and harsh as she has become. What makes it complicated, is that she was part of the equation in CREATING this world for herself. She was one of the people who believed in this new world of Gilead. Which makes me ask the very hard questions like – what woman would agree to partake in such a ‘religious ceremony’ where you watch your husband fuck another woman in front of you, because you yourself have been deemed barren? So I ask myself, at which point did Serena Joy no longer have a say in what her, and her fellow women’s rights would be in this new world? So many heavy questions like that craft Serena. I don’t even think I got to the bottom of some of these questions. There are so many.
Are there any similarities between you and Serena Joy?
Haaaa NO!!! I mean, I hope not 🙂 I found it pretty hard to play her. There’s a lack of empathy that Serena Joy has within her that I REALLY struggle to relate to.
How does this role differ from previous work you have done?
I think this is probably the most bitter character I have ever played. The closest I came to this kind of bitterness was when doing Broadway and playing Lorna Moon in Golden Boy. But there was a certain hopelessness to Lorna, a certain naiveté. An innocence almost. That is not the case with Serena Joy. She is calculating and manipulative. But again, I am biased – and I see where her manipulation comes from – she too, has to survive in this oppressive society. She might be at the top of the food chain when it comes to women in Gilead, but she sure as hell has a cage built around her. Even if she did build a large part of it herself. Not that any of this makes her actions okay.
What statement is The Handmaid’s Tale making?
How ugly we can be as a human society. How far can you take justifying horrid human actions. How far can we go with inequality and power and the impact it has on all of us. How far will we go in the face of adversity to still try to connect with each other. What are our core fundamental human needs, when all else has been stripped away from you.
Can you highlight any differences between Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the upcoming Hulu series?
Aside from Serena Joy being a lot younger in our series, there are a few story points we explore that are not in the book. I can’t really tell you them though because it will spoil the surprise.
What was your favorite scene to film in The Handmaid’s Tale?
There are so many! It is really hard to say. So many scenes became surprises in terms of what we were discovering in them as we were shooting, that no one had thought of earlier. Also, we are living in this dangerous society where the rules are incredibly rigid and any wrong action or word could result in death or mutilation. So there’s SO much that we cannot actually say which means the sub text is so so so ripe. There’s so much to play with. Surprisingly I loved shooting the ceremony scenes. It wasn’t awkward, which I thought it would be. We are all so invested in what this show means that there is a much bigger idea at play constantly as we shoot this.
Why do you think it is important to have women to look up to?
We all must have good role models. Women get the raw end of the deal in this society (STILL). (UGH). We don’t have equal pay, we have men negotiating our bodies away, we have to fight for what is basic and necessary to our bodies to be accepted as normal, breastfeeding for example. We need to have strong supportive women around us to unite with and take the high road with. The world can be a harsh place and we are all sisters. I learn from mine in how to try to put my best foot forward. We all make mistakes and fall down, but as sisters we can have each others backs and try and make a difference together, learning from each other.
What is the power of the voice of women?
We are half the world. We are life.
Photos by Maarten de Boer
Styling by Cristina Ehrlich for TheOnly.Agency
Hair by Clariss Rubenstein for The Wall Group
Makeup by Amy Strozzi for TMG-LA
Creative direction by Anna Zhang
Words by Sarah Kearns
Originally published in Volume II, Issue No. 002 – Spring 2017.4 Loves