Elisabeth Moss returns to TV in ‘Handmaid’s Tale’

By Frazier Moore

AP Television Writer


“The timing has been uncanny,” says Margaret Atwood, marveling at how her 1985 novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” has not only been given renewed life as a TV series but has also gained disturbing urgency.

“Last November 7, they thought they were making a fantasy fiction series,” Atwood says. “On November 9, they thought maybe they were making a documentary.”

However you take it, “The Handmaid’s Tale” premieres Wednesday on Hulu with three gripping episodes. The remaining seven will be released each Wednesday thereafter.

The cast includes Joseph Fiennes, Alexis Bledel and Samira Wiley, and stars Elisabeth Moss as Offred, who, as one of the few remaining fertile women in the cruel dystopia of Gilead, is among the caste of women forced into sexual servitude in a desperate attempt to repopulate a ravaged world.

Such is life in this totalitarian society, where human rights are trampled and women in particular are treated as property of the state.

Now 34, Moss further expanded her horizons during the “Handmaid’s Tale” shoot in Toronto: She took on the additional role of producer.

“I was definitely one of those actors who did not enjoy watching myself,” she confides. “I’ve gone without seeing films that I’ve done. I have only watched about 50 percent of ‘Mad Men’ episodes. But there came a point where I had to start watching the [‘Handmaid’s Tale’] dailies, and it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. You’re not wearing the actor’s hat, but the producer’s hat. And it allowed me to let go of that preciousness about my own performance and view things based on what’s best for the show.”

The tone of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is subdued, reflecting the oppressive conditions the women live under. And it posed an acting challenge for Moss, one that Atwood, 77, as the novelist who created her character, calls “pretty difficult.”

Moss’ problem, says Atwood, “is to show someone who is unable to speak out, because it’s too dangerous, but who has to convey to the audience those emotions she is suppressing. We must be able to be inside her mind, while also being in the larger situation.”

Now, along with several other projects in the works, Moss looks forward to a hoped-for second season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” as unfolding real life seems to reinforce its power as a cautionary tale.

“Women who had taken for granted their rights as women are now really quite worried,” says Atwood, noting the women’s marches and other protests since Donald Trump became president. “I would say they’re right to be concerned.”

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