Person of Interest: ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Star Yvonne Strahovski Makes Leap to Sci-Fi Action Hero in ‘Tomorrow War’
A week after sending an audition tape for an American dramedy, Chuck, in 2007, Australia-born actress Yvonne Strahovski received a call saying she’d landed one of the lead roles, a CIA agent, in the pilot. She booked a round-trip flight to Los Angeles but would never use the return ticket.
“Lo and behold, one thing led to another, and that was that. Here we are 14 years later,” says Strahovski, 38. Her career can be described as a steady trajectory of success, including The Handmaid’s Tale — season four wraps June 16 — and The Tomorrow War, which marks her first starring role in a big-budget popcorn pic. In the film, out July 2 on Amazon, Strahovski brings Sigourney Weaver-esque nerves of steel to her role (opposite Chris Pratt) as an alien-battling scientist.
Strahovski — who followed Chuck with a turn on Dexter as the titular serial killer’s girlfriend — largely eschews the Hollywood spotlight. “I just love the outdoors and camping,” says the actress, adding that she and her husband and their young son “took some of the best family nature trips that I’ve ever had” during pandemic-induced downtime.
It was her casting on Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale that garnered the actress her first Emmy nomination (in 2018) for her star turn as the villainous but complicated Serena Joy Waterford, who finds the tables flipped on her in the latest season. “Serena is definitely villain-flavored but with a twist,” says Strahovski. “It’s always been interesting to watch June [Elisabeth Moss’ character] and Serena in opposition to each other. They are two women living in an oppressive society at opposite ends of the spectrum.” And that’s set to continue when Handmaid’s returns for season five.
In building her career, “I’ve really fought for the opportunities that come about where I’m not pigeonholed. I’m thrilled with the sort of scope I’ve been given,” says the actress, who starred last year in the Australian limited series Stateless as a woman unlawfully detained under Australia’s controversial mandatory detention program for all non-citizens without valid visas.
Growing up, Strahovski made home movies as a tween with her dad’s camera — her parents were Polish immigrants — and starred in high school plays before attending the Theatre Nepean, an actor-training institution at the University of Western Sydney.
The calm, collected actress isn’t worked up over the fact that The Tomorrow War isn’t getting a big-screen release. Paramount and Skydance were set to open the sci-fi epic in theaters last year but had to delay its release because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the meantime, Amazon Studios picked up the movie in a megadeal valued at $200 million.
“So much has evolved during the pandemic. In a lot of ways, it might actually have more eyeballs on it because people can watch it at home,” she says. “I feel like people are really aching for something of this kind of movie that has such an old-school kind of super action. We’ve been in isolation for the past year, and there’s this cool theme in the film about all of us coming together and standing up for one common goal, which is a really cool parallel between what we’ve been all experiencing in real life.”
The Handmaid’s Tale’s Yvonne Strahovski On What’s Next For Serena
Spoilers for season 4 episode 10 of The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Wilderness,” below.
In a jaw-dropping season 4 finale, one of The Handmaid’s Tale’s most prominent villains gets his long-overdue comeuppance. It’s been obvious for a while now that Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) wasn’t long for the world; unlike his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), he didn’t have much of a strategic brain, instead seeming to think he could walk into a comfortable post-Gilead life in Canada despite his war crimes. But he learns a lethal lesson in the closing moments of the season, as ally after ally (Mark Tuello, Commander Lawrence, and even Nick) betray him to June (Elisabeth Moss). As Fred begs for mercy, June leads a pack of ex-Handmaids in a Salvaging against the disgraced Commander. After hanging him on “the Wall,” she mails Serena his wedding ring—and one of his fingers.
With Fred out of the picture, Serena’s future looks more uncertain than ever. She can’t go back to Gilead after Fred betrayed the regime, and, as she noted in a recent episode, without the privilege conferred by being a Commander’s wife, she could become a Handmaid. But staying in Canada is also perilous, with June now on the vengeful warpath and Serena’s baby due any day.
“The knowledge that June was the one who ripped [Fred] apart, that’s the scary part for Serena,” Strahovski tells ELLE.com. “That’s the biggest threat. And if she goes out into the real world and gets released, especially if she gets to keep her baby, that’s the part that will constantly have her living in fear. To Serena, June is capable of anything, including ripping Serena or her baby to shreds.”
Below, Strahovski digs into the impact of Fred’s death, what Serena’s next calculated move could be, and the complex relationship and uncomfortable parallels between June and Serena.
I’m getting the sense that everybody involved in the show is just thrilled to see Fred go, including Joseph. Is that how you felt when you heard this was going to happen?
It was, but honestly, my jaw was on the floor when I read it. I’m slightly biased because I’ve spent so much time with Joe, and he is the nicest guy ever. I mean, our families know each other! So it was also sad for me to be reading it, just as a friend of Joe’s, to know that he’s going. I remember shooting my last scene with him at work, and then it was wrap time, and I couldn’t help but cry.
It felt like Serena was trying to make a clean break from Fred at the end of last season, but then the pregnancy changed all of that. What is the nature of Fred and Serena’s relationship at this point?
If I have to put a headline to it, it would be “business transaction.” I think for the first little bit, she wasn’t going to use Fred at all—she was still thinking for the longest time that she would get off and not need him. But then with the arrival of June and everything else, she realized that she really did need to make a business transaction with him and move forward to solidify her chances of being free. But I don’t think there was any kind of love there. Nothing can be really saved between them at this point.
It also feels like she becomes a bit conscious of what she and Fred represent as a unified front in the public eye, right?
Yeah, exactly. It’s solidified when they walk out into the crowd and realize they have a fanbase in the real world in Canada. It’s those kinds of things that Serena takes away, puts in her back pocket, and realizes she can use to her advantage down the line if she needs to. And that means transactionally sticking by Fred’s side for a little bit and wearing that teal dress as he so irritatingly tells her to do.
Before we get into the finale, I want to talk about that scene in episode 7, where June finally gets to let loose on Serena and just scream at her. That was such a cathartic scene to watch, but what do you think is going on for Serena in that moment?
I thought a lot about that scene in the lead up to it. My initial thought was that Serena wouldn’t really be that emotional, that she’d be a bit more arrogant in her reaction just to piss off June even more. But I think the emotion is both a mixture of genuine emotion and also manipulation. Because Serena really does need June to forgive her, predominantly because she really does fear that her baby might be born unhealthy, or be taken away from her; that God will strike her baby down. She has that belief embedded in her, both from Gilead and from her own personal religious beliefs.
I was definitely surprised at first that Serena was so deferential and emotional, but that makes sense. It’s not that she’s genuinely feeling the weight of what she’s done to June.
She’s also aware that June’s a lost cause to her. There’s no salvaging any kind of friendship that they might have had an inkling for in an earlier season. Whereas with Rita, it was a different story. She thought she could really manipulate Rita back into some kind of a power dynamic, where Serena is, of course, the one in power, by pretending that everything’s great and fine and dandy. But she knows June’s much too savvy for that nonsense.
Full interview: elle.com
Handmaid’s Tale’s Yvonne Strahovski: Serena ‘Will Know in Her Heart’ That June Was Behind Finale Shocker
Warning: This post contains spoilers for The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Season 4 finale. May the Lord open!
The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Serena Joy Waterford is many things, but a fool is not one of them.
So when she eventually learns what the rest of us do at the end of the Season 4 finale — that Fred Waterford has gone to that great commander’s council in the sky — it won’t take long before she zeroes in on a certain former handmaid who might’ve been involved.
“I can’t imagine that not crossing her mind,” Yvonne Strahovski, who plays the aforementioned commander’s wife, tells TVLine. “I can imagine June purposely telling Serena about it, because she wants Serena to live in absolute fear.” (Check out what Elisabeth Moss and showrunner Bruce Miller had to say about the hour.)
When we talked with Strahovski about the events of the season-ending episode (read a recap), we covered a lot of ground — what Serena did and didn’t know, the Putnams’ visit, Mrs. Waterford’s future — but of course, we kicked off the conversation with…
TVLINE | My condolences on your loss.
Oh! [Laughs] Thank you.
TVLINE | We’ll get to Fred in a moment, but let’s backup to when the Putnams visited. Do you think that was the first time that Serena really considered that she and/or the baby might wind up back in Gilead?
Yes. I do. I think it definitely was a massive reality check for her, to have a big piece of Gilead come in to her, to meet her and visit her, and for her to realize that. The way that Naomi was speaking to Serena — and then, obviously, she knew what Warren Putnam had said to Fred — it was very much a manipulative visit on their part, which was definitely noted by Serena. The severity of the situation really hit home for her.
TVLINE | It was shocking to me that, even as a detainee in Canada, she has way more freedom than a non-detainee woman in Gilead.
Yeah. Which I think gave her the confidence to embrace it a bit more, and indulge in her relationship with Mark Tuello, and indulge in putting her foot down a little bit more with Fred. And indulge in her mind [about] what it means, what the finish line could really be for her.
TVLINE | Do you think that Serena has any inkling or suspicion that Fred might not make it to Geneva?
No. I think she thinks that that is what will happen, for sure. I can see her perhaps concocting a plan that maybe she’ll try and figure him out later, as in maybe she’ll take him to court personally or something. I don’t know. I’m just kind of thinking out loud, because you made me think of it. But other than that, no. I think she thinks he’s going to Geneva, that this is actually happening.
TVLINE | Do you think Serena has it in her to build a future where she can maintain the status that she and Fred have achieved, only without him around?
One thousand percent. Oh yeah. I feel like she’s got that planned out in her brain already. She’s always five steps ahead in some way, shape or form…
I can see her becoming a political figure, and having success with her fan club in Canada, or something, you know? [She could] keep preaching what she used to preach, pre-Gilead. I can see her totally taking control, and being that person. But then again, I really think the fear of God is going to be put into her when she finds out what’s happened.
TVLINE | Do you think, once Serena finds out that Fred is dead, she’ll have any suspicion that June was involved?
Yes. I feel like she’ll know in her heart. They know each other so well, I can’t imagine that not crossing her mind… I can imagine June purposely telling Serena about it, because she wants Serena to live in absolute fear, if and when she gets out of the detention center. I mean, could you imagine?
If you knew that someone was out there, outside, capable of doing something like that to your husband or your partner, and then, you’re trying to live out in the real world, with a baby? I just think that is the most paranoid existence you could ever live, knowing that June has done what she’s done.
The Handmaid’s Tale: Episode 10 | Screen Captures
TV Productions > The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-2021) > Season 4 > Screen Captures > S4x10 [The Wilderness]
Interview: Yvonne Strahovski (‘The Handmaid’s Tale’) talks playing Serena and where she sees her at the end after this explosive season
The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood and adapted by Bruce Miller for television, is a brilliant albeit terrifying dystopian story about the new world’s order where women are forced to bear the children that are then taken away from them.
The Hulu Original has been talked about on a weekly basis since the fourth season premiered. With June (Elisabeth Moss) now free, the Waterfords – Fred (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) – must prepare for and face trial in Canada for their actions in Gilead, including rape.
Serena, as brilliantly portrayed by Strahovski, is up against a formidable foe. With only one episode left in season four, she’ll do anything to get out and be free, especially since she’s now pregnant. Strahovski was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Serena in 2018, as well as a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Series in 2019. With The Handmaid’s Tale‘s fourth season eligible for this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards, the actress has a great chance to repeat a nomination and possibly win for her portrayal of Serena in the show – as she certainly should.
The series’ new season is a heartbreaking spectacle, with each episode leaving us speechless. One scene in particular from episode seven, “Home,” written by Yahlin Chang and directed by Richard Shephard, forces us to return to the beginning and observe the works of karma as June visits Serena in a detention center. The reunion is, to say the least, violent, and it’s one of the most electrifying moments in season four.
I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Yvonne Strahovski about the aforementioned scene, among other things. She also told me about her experience playing Serena, and we even exchanged a few sentences in Polish, which made my day.
Zofia Wijaszka: I’m here talking to you on behalf of AwardsWatch because I really want you to get that Emmy nomination [laughs]. How are you doing?
Yvonne Strahovski: Oh, thanks [laughs]! I’m doing good. How are you?
ZW: Oh, it’s going. It’s quite hot here in Los Angeles. It’s kind of too hot for me because I’m all the way from Poland, I moved here five years ago and I still cannot get used to this heat.
YS: Oooh, a to Pani mówi po Polsku? [translation: So you speak Polish?]
ZW: Tak, tak, dokładnie! [Yes, exactly!] I remember, actually, I was watching one of your interviews with a Polish journalist. And then, I think, she asked you about speaking in Polish and you started speaking in full-blown Polish. And I was just, whaaat [laugh]?
YS: Yeah, I know. I guess not a lot of people know it was my first language.
ZW: Yeah, definitely. But yes, I wanted to talk to you about The Handmaid’s Tale and, you know, I’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale since it started, and I’ve always been intrigued by your character because, you know, it’s kind of a love-hate relationship with her.
ZW: I want her to stand up [against Gilead] and, you know, I cheer for her and then I hate her sometimes [laugh]. So I was wondering how it feels to play someone cruel and a total opposite, especially as a woman, knowing that Serena is essentially against them?
YS: Yeah. I mean, it’s been an interesting ride playing Serena. I think I’ve gone through all the kind of rollercoaster dips and highs with her. And I’ve kind of ended up in a space where I feel like I am her best friend, but that also feels really like an ugly thing to say [laugh]. Because she can be such an ugly human being. I have felt conflicted, at times, playing her because there is a lot of choices that she makes that I do not agree with, but at the same time, my job is to really understand her and understand what really humanizes her. So I think that’s where I feel most like her best friend, because I understand her, then I can justify everything that she does and why she does it and have empathy for her. While objectively not agreeing with her. So I guess that’s kind of confusing, but it makes sense in my brain.
ZW: No, I completely understand because I also am very conflicted sometimes. Because I like her and then she does something and I’m like, really, why?
YS: Yeah [laughs].
ZW: I really enjoyed, in the earlier seasons, when Serena and June actually collaborated together against Fred and Gilead. They have such a fascinating chemistry and a power dynamic that is just through the roof, especially in the new season. And is there anything that helps you two, you and Elisabeth, to keep this dynamic going?
YS: Oh, I think we’re just so invested in the show and in our characters that it just kind of becomes explosive when we get to do scenes together. I’ve always loved our scenes. They’re so well-written, and they really give us a lot to play with. The stakes are so high and we’ve both just kind of managed to create, you know, these characters that have a lot going on. And so when the two meet, it is explosive and I find it to be the most fun and I’m pretty sure Elisabeth enjoys those scenes as well. Even though they look traumatic to an audience, I really love the opportunity to do those scenes.
ZW: Yeah, they’re really something. And you’ve played Serena for many years now. Is there something in particular that intrigues you about her?
YS: The way her brain works intrigues me the most and how it clashes with what her heart desires. I’m pretty fascinated in general by that aspect in most people in real life and the characters that I play. But in particular with Serena, when you have someone like her living in the circumstances that she’s been living in, and also being oppressed by Gilead, but also being one of the oppressors – it’s a very complex situation and it’s never really that black and white in her head, even though her actions sometimes seem incredibly black and white, and definitive in her mind. I think it’s a constant tug of war between the things that she wants and desires versus how she truly feels about everything. So that’s the most fascinating thing about her.
Full interview: awardswatch.com