“The ball is definitely rolling. It’s about navigating new territory,” says 35-year-old Australian actor Yvonne Strahovski about the second season of five-time Emmy Award-winning series, The Handmaid’s Tale, in which she continues her brilliant performance as tormented tormentor Serena Joy, wife of the Commander and Offred’s in-house nemesis. “We may have gone darker, if that’s at all possible.”
If the first season was a close, if not exact, adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, its follow-up moves beyond the book with Atwood staying on as an active consultant. “It’s hard to elaborate without giving away what we’re doing,” Strahovski says. “We’re obviously still exploring the world of Gilead. I know that we can say that we go to the Colonies.”
With all of the momentum in Hollywood for encouraging complicated roles for women, Serena Joy is a complicated role for anybody. She is certainly monstrous, whether physically assisting her husband in state-mandated rape, or the stunningly villainous time in season one when she kept Offred locked inside a car while she visited with her captive’s daughter in plain sight. “I don’t think I’ve ever shot a more awful scene in my life,” Strahovski admits, although she might exceed that cruelty in season two. “We have shot an awful scene or two. But it might not be exactly what you expect. With a character like Serena, you have to find the humanity in her, and hopefully the audience can understand her as well, a little bit,” she continues. “Serena is also surviving. There’s no real out for her either. It’s not like she can say, ‘Hey, Fred, I’m not into you anymore, let’s get a divorce.’ That’s not an option in Gilead. Forget it. She has to make do with what she has, and her parameters are limited just like everybody else’s.”
It turns out, Serena Joy was instrumental in creating Gilead before she too was stripped of her freedom, leading some critics to cast her as a cautionary tale for conservative women who support an anti-feminist agenda. “That’s why I always say it’s like a bottomless pit of complexities,” Strahovski says. “Obviously things went horribly wrong and there was a point when she lost her voice, which adds to her rage. You’re left with someone grappling with a lot of resentment and hurt, with no one to connect to and no outlet. You’re going to explode at some point. Everyone explodes in Gilead in their way. Everyone tries to find their own outlet in a world where you’re not allowed to have one.” Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale premieres on Hulu on April 25.
Read Yvonne Strahovski’s full interview in the Summer 2018 issue of PORTER.
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