Aussie actress, Yvonne Strahovski, chats to MiNDFOOD on the Toronto set of The Handmaid’s Tale about the upcoming season. Playing Serena Joy, she talks about life in LA, being the fashionista of Gilead and those awful sex scenes.
Did you realise when you first read the script how huge the show was likely to be?
Yeah, I definitely thought it was something special when I read the script. I read the first three scripts before I ever read the novel or even knew about the novel.
What can we expect in Season Two?
Well there’s a strong theme of motherhood this season. What’s different for me as Serena Joy is that the relationships seem to be a little more complicated. And if they weren’t complicated enough they’re a little more intricate this season. It’s very much felt like a rollercoaster ride in a bigger way than last season.
How do you feel about your uniform?
I was going to say, ‘I can never wear that colour again in my real life, it’s been tainted!’ Everyone has a uniform in a sense in Gilead and the wife represents the highest end of the system when it comes to women. It often feels very strange when there’s groups of us on set and we have a whole group of handmaids and then a whole bunch of wives. And even though we’re all friends in real life and we all get along and we’re all chitchatting…there is a difference. You can sense that there is just visually something between us. The wives always look more hoity toity because we wear this uniform we’re embodying a different status because of it. Actually, I feel like I get to be the fashionista of Gilead in a lot of ways because everyone else has a regular uniform and Serena has so many different versions of that blue dress that I get wear really amazing outfits designed by Ane Crabtree.
It must be difficult playing someone with zero empathy.
Yeah, that was definitely the most difficult thing. It’s weird when you are trying to justify someone who is not the greatest person and you have to try and justify their actions. Throughout my time as an actor, I have played pretty likable characters, even if they have been half shady, there is still something likable about them. But this is definitely the one that has the least likable qualities about her. So there was a lot of struggling to sort of really understand her and what drives her at her core.
Playing such an unsympathetic role, you must have some odd fan moments?
You know, it’s funny, I haven’t really been recognized that much. I can literally count on one hand the amount of times I have for this show. One time I was literally in the stairwell of a car park and in shorts and a T-shirt and a hat and sunnies, and just I could have been anyone. And they stopped and said, ‘Oh my God! Handmaid’s Tale! You are Serena, right?’ (laughter)
Can you talk about the timeliness of the subject matter with our current Trump administration?
Yeah, the timing I find really extraordinary. I was blown away as it started to unfold. From election day, then the women’s march, and it just was incredible to see the parallels unfolding and art imitating life and life imitating art. And also that extra added element of weirdness for me to be playing someone who is on the side that I don’t support!
How did you and Elisabeth and Joseph (Fiennes) get through those horrific sex scenes?
We joked around a little bit. Maybe I should just speak for myself but I thought it was going to be maybe the most awkward thing ever, but it didn’t really end up being that. We all sort of joked around but then we also put some thought into how we were going to do it. And we choreographed it. It was very specific and I remember talking to Joe trying to figure out if he was going to lean on the bedpost at one point or not, and if that was going to work. We were all just trying to coordinate it a certain way. And I mean, I think Joe and Lizzy probably have the harder task in that scene, especially Joe because had to actually do the physical act out of the scene. I am just kind an observer so for me it was more internal. I was not physically moving around.
Right. No thrusting on your part.
How long have you lived in LA?
I have lived here eleven years.
Was that a big adjustment for you?
It’s a huge adjustment. You will understand because you have done it, but it’s different when people haven’t done it. We speak the same language and that is a huge commonality, we are both westerners and we have a lot of culture in our countries as well. So there’s a lot of these similarities, but yet you come here and it’s so different. The culture shock was huge for me. It was more than I expected. I was also really young, I was 24 when I came here, and also, I didn’t plan to come here. I had a return ticket, and I was only supposed to be here for two months and I thought I would try my luck with meetings and be on my merry way but that is not what happened. And I think people definitely underestimate how much the cultural shock is going to impact you, especially in a place like LA, which isn’t like anywhere else really in the States. People are all here mostly to become part of the business that is Hollywood.
How do you feel about the red carpet? Is it something you enjoy? Or is it too much pressure?
Probably a bit of both. I am not much for doing the whole dressing up thing even though I do it. So I have a lot of faith in the wonderful people that help me put those outfits together and help me get ready for that sort of thing, which is amazing and thank God I have those people. (laughs) I probably would be on the worst dressed list every single time I got on the carpet if I didn’t have help. It used to be a big shock for me to suddenly hear, ‘Oh, there’s a red carpet and you will be interviewed and you have to put on a nice dress.’
And what sort of things do you like to do when you are not working? Do you take advantage of LA in terms of outdoors and hiking and all those kinds of things?
I do. I am out in Malibu, so I definitely take full advantage of the ocean here. Usually I am out walking my dogs somewhere on a beach or surfing or hiking. I very much love the outdoors still and that’s where I like to spend my spare time.
How do you like the surfing here compared to being at home?
I started surfing here. I surfed once in Australia, no twice only, and the two times, I found the ocean to be a lot rougher than here.
What do you miss about Australia other than family and friends?
Oh gosh, I don’t know if it’s still there, it was called Well Connected and they used to make garlic and feta bread in these wraps and I would go there all the time and eat these garlic and feta wraps and have a hot chocolate. I bloody loved it! I really miss that. (laughs)