Yvonne Strahovski is No Serena Joy
YVONNE STRAHOVSKI arrives on set sporting her signature outfit: a gray T-shirt, denim shorts, and white sneakers. It’s August and the sun is shining in Toronto, where Strahovski, 40, is filming season 5 of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Barefaced and wearing her blonde hair in its natural texture, she only vaguely resembles her character, the austere Serena Joy Waterford.
The steely demeanor that drives fans to love hating Serena is nowhere to be seen: Strahovski jokes about her lopsided boobs from breast pumping for her son, Henry, who was born late last year. When a spider crawls onto a camera lens, she carries it outside to safety. And she eschews Jimmy Choo heels to be photographed barefoot.
Witnessing Strahovski interact with her newborn son and husband, actor Tim Loden, who visit her at her cover shoot, makes it clear that she deserves her numerous accolades, including two Emmy nominations, for portraying the villainess on Hulu’s dystopian drama series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel. Now in its fifth season, “The Handmaids Tale” depicts life in Gilead, a totalitarian society in what was once the United States. Ruled by a fundamentalist regime, Gilead treats women as property of the government. Any fertile woman becomes a Handmaid assigned to a Commander and their barren Wife, and is subjected to monthly rape in order to procreate for the couple.
Serena Joy is one of the influential Wives, and as viewers discover, an integral architect of Gilead. Her onscreen husband is Fred Waterford, played by Joseph Fiennes, who was killed at the end of season 4 by their former Handmaid, June, played by Elisabeth Moss. “[Serena] is devastated in her own way about the loss of Fred and then she just gets right back into revenge mode,” Strahovski says about her character’s storyline this season. “We haven’t seen this unhinged version of Serena. She loses her mind and wants to get back at June with vengeance.”
For STYLECASTER’s World of Style issue, Strahovski sat down to discuss Serena Joy’s complicated moral fabric, fashion’s role in delineating social classes in Gilead and the show’s eerie propensity to mirror current events.
SC: How has Serena evolved throughout the seasons?
She goes from one end of the spectrum to the other, and then sits in the middle in that gray area between good and evil, but never quite makes it to the good side. Which is probably why she’s an interesting character to watch. [Laughs]. Audiences do end up rooting for her, as she and June in past seasons have gotten closer or when she’s shown a friendlier side. Then she just backflips and goes right back into being her true self.
Serena often receives more ire than Fred. Why do you think that is?
It’s a woman against another woman. It’s representative of this hierarchy of women at the top in the political game versus women at the bottom, which is displayed in the wives and handmaids. The dynamic where one woman is supportive of basically enslaving another woman for rape every month for her own benefit.
Is it fun to play a character like Serena who’s very flawed?
Initially it wasn’t, but it’s fun now. It was difficult for me to come to terms with how evil she was at times and try to justify everything because, at the end of the day, it’s my job to humanize her. It’s not like I’m playing a villain for villain’s sake. She’s a woman who is also surviving in a terrible situation.
Initially, when we met her way back in the pilot, she didn’t trust Fred. Fred had obviously had an affair with a previous handmaid. She’s got her own bag of things that have wounded her and traumatized her. I’m not saying that’s an excuse, it’s a platform for a regular person having gone through certain things to turn you into something. Serena’s turned into a bit of a monster and like all characters in Gilead, she is surviving in her own way and the only way she knows how to.
What do you think motivates her?
Honestly, the fact that she’s lonely. She had a slither of hope with Fred and having someone she could rely on, and that smashed into pieces. She tried with June, and I think June might have tried with her as well. She’s so lonely and so devastated by the fact she has no one. She will go to great lengths to sabotage.
Full interview: stylecaster.com