‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Star Yvonne Strahovski on That Serena-June Episode and “Juicy” Twist of Fate

“I’m their handmaid… it’s like I’m you.”

The Handmaid’s Tale viewers have waited a long time for Serena Joy Waterford to get her due.

Finally, in the seventh episode of the penultimate season of Hulu’s Emmy-winning series, that moment of payoff arrived when Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) went into labor and had no one to help her but her former handmaid, and current enemy, June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss).

The episode, “No Man’s Land,” forces the dystopian series’ warring women into an intimate barn setting where June, torn at the idea of helping her former abuser, ultimately coaches Serena through the birth of her first child, baby boy Noah, son of the late Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes). The childbirth scene is primal and intimate and prompts the women to confess their secrets: June tells Serena that she didn’t kill her when she had the chance because she simply didn’t want to, and Serena realizes she has been forced into essentially being a handmaid in the Wheelers house and begs June to take her baby to freedom.

“It’s so unexpected the way they crafted Serena becoming a handmaid without her actually becoming a handmaid,” Strahovski told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the episode about the twist — and major moment of payoff — of Serena being stripped of everything and having nowhere to turn but to June. “I fantasized about them turning Serena into a handmaid because that’s the best kind of revenge and satisfying for the audience. But I never thought that Bruce [Miller, creator] would do it because it’s too obvious. Then I read this version and was thrilled they managed to do it in this great, clever, creative way.”

But June doesn’t take the baby. Instead, she lectures Serena on why that baby needs his mother, and she gives Serena the confidence to want to fight for her child. “I’m not sure how much of it is about Serena and how much of it is about the baby, but it makes for such a complicated, layered setup,” she adds.

The episode ends, however, with the ultimate comeuppance when, shortly after arriving at the hospital in Canada, June’s husband Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) calls immigration authorities on Serena, who is undocumented, and her baby is promptly taken away as she is detained. Where Serena goes from here, Strahovski says, is “rock bottom.” But first, the actress takes THR behind the scenes of the biggest Serena-June episode to date, why it felt so personal to her, and whether or not she believes Serena can change.

When you and I chatted at the beginning of the season, you said, with a laugh, that you’ve worked hard to make people want to root for Serena. How does this episode feel like a turning-of-the-tide moment for her amid this larger June and Serena payoff for viewers?
It’s pivotal in so many ways. And it’s so complicated, which is what makes it so juicy. I think it’s hard to feel one way about it, which is why I’m so curious how audiences will react. People are going to want to see Serena get what she deserves, but when there is an innocent little baby involved, that gets complicated. And that’s the complicated line June is walking this entire episode in making the decision to come back and help Serena while she’s in labor.

Having all those amazing scenes to work with, as an actor, was like threading such a fine thread to navigate the emotions. Especially from Serena’s point of view, to go from the most magical moment in your life, only to realize that you have no life anymore, and then she’s asking June to take the baby. For Serena, it’s one of the rarer moments where we’re not seeing her manipulate as much because she’s sort of realizing things in the moment. Where we left with the cliffhanger in the previous episode, she was going moment by moment and had no plan; we’ve never seen her that way, and it’s really interesting territory.

You also told me you were blown away when you read that Serena’s labor scene would be just the two of them and that you and Elisabeth Moss got to play around with the scene and found things “you didn’t think could exist.” What were some of those things you found?
That moment I was talking about was in that huge scene when Serena offers for June to take her baby, and June has her back turned to Serena, and she comes back in and says, “I’m not you. I’m not going to do that, because you’re the mother.” We found almost laughter in it. There was smiling. And it was like they were really bonding in a lot of ways, which is very confronting and conflicting if you’re watching that as an audience member, given everything they’ve been through and everything you’ve witnessed Serena do. The smiling throughout that moment was something neither of us had envisioned in that way, which was really cool and powerful. The whole episode was really fun to map out, even the physicality. And for me, it was so personal because I had just given birth.

Did you add some of the primal screaming into the scene and other elements of the labor?
The noises I definitely wanted to be more guttural. I wanted it to be representative of at least what my labor felt like. And I wanted to have that physical intimacy between June and Serena that a lot of people do with their partners when giving birth. I wanted it to be intimate and to see the physical relationship between these two women, with the noises and also the positions. June had given birth twice, and Serena had not. So I wanted to sort of peel back on the savviness of Serena being a first-time mom while the stakes are so high and very dangerous. In that moment in the barn, there’s a lot of panic given the circumstances and the environment, and given that June is a threat still in those moments. There is definitely a layer of panic and anxiety that’s infused into the birth scene. It was one of the most — if not the most — exciting episodes to play with in the whole five years for me.

That’s interesting you mention the smiling because viewers are expecting some sort of manipulation, and the smiling made me wonder if June was being genuine. Do you believe June meant what she was saying, that Serena is the best mom for her child and that she should fight for her baby?
Yes. I do think she genuinely means it. However, I think the “but” that everyone in the audience is thinking and feeling, and the “but” that Serena and even June is thinking and feeling, is that June doesn’t necessarily trust herself, and doesn’t trust herself to follow through on that pure genuine thought. She might be saying it in this moment, and this is ultimately what she wants to lean into because she is a better person than Serena, but I think the fact that we’re all bumping on is, but how long is this going to last? And, can this last? This is a show that explores what it’s like to be experiencing trauma and the aftermath of trauma, and the continuation of reliving your trauma through people and your abusers. Anything can change, which is why it’s so complicated and complex.

Do you think Serena could have ever lived with the choice of giving up her son if June had said “Yes”?
Oh, God. I don’t know what would have happened. I don’t know that I can see her laying back in the hay and being like, “God take me now, I’m going to die.” If it had been written where June said “Yes,” I could see Serena regretting it and running after the baby and June.

Then there is the revelation that Serena is essentially a handmaid when she returns to the Wheelers’ house with this new baby. It seemed like she couldn’t confront that, until now, and this role reversal is a major payoff for the audience — how did you feel about it?
I love the slow reveal. It was a chance to have Serena be not prepared for something. You see how she’s going moment by moment as we got deeper and deeper into the setup of the Wheelers in episodes five and six, and at the end of six, she has zero plan. She has no idea what she’s going to do when she gets in the car with Ezra to go and get June, knowing Ezra is supposed to kill June. Plus, the labor is starting. It’s such an opportunity for me as an actor to show a different color and then some. This is a credit to Eva [Vives], our director of those episodes because they felt very reminiscent of old school The Handmaid’s Tale and back to season one, where we had that major creep factor; that feeling in the pit of your stomach of, “What is happening here?” It was such a throwback to what was one of the major elements that makes the show in the Gilead world.

Full interview: hollywoodreporter.com

Lionsgate Picks Up Global Rights To Leah McKendrick Comedy ‘Scrambled’

EXCLUSIVE: Lionsgate has acquired worldwide rights to Scrambled, written by and starring Leah McKendrick, who makes her feature directorial debut on the comedy, which just wrapped filming.

Produced by Jonathan Levine and Gillian Bohrer’s Megamix, along with Brett Haley and Amanda Mortimer, and executive producer Mariah Owen, the film stars McKendrick as Nellie Robinson, a broke, single 34-year-old, fresh off a breakup, who faces down an existential crisis when she decides to freeze her eggs. McKendrick wrote the script following her own egg-retrieval experience last year.

The ensemble cast includes Ego Nwodim (SNL, Love Life), Andrew Santino (Dave), Clancy Brown (Shawshank Redemption, John Wick 4, Dexter: New Blood), Laura Cerón (Station 19, ER), Adam Rodriguez (Magic Mike, Criminal Minds), Yvonne Strahovski (Handmaid’s Tale), June Diane Raphael (Grace and Frankie, Long Shot), Noah Silver (Tyrant), and Sterling Sulieman (Station 19). The cast also includes Max Adler, Mimi Kennedy, Camille Mana, and Matt Pascua.

McKendrick is a Latina American multi-hyphenate from San Francisco. She wrote, produced and co-starred in the vigilante thriller M.F.A. alongside Francesca Eastwood which premiered at SXSW and was dubbed “the first horror movie to speak to the #MeToo era” by The New York Times. McKendrick’s romcom feature Voicemails for Isabelle was preempted by Sony Pictures and landed her on the Black List in 2019. She then wrote the highly-anticipated Grease prequel Summer Lovin’ for Paramount, and set up a second Paramount feature, Better Late than Never, which she is attached to direct. She is currently penning TriStar’s reboot of the ’80s cult classic Troop Beverly Hills.

The project continues Lionsgate’s collaboration with Megamix, which has a production deal with the studio. The studio will go into production next year on a sequel to Dirty Dancing, starring and executive produced by Jennifer Grey, which Megamix will produce and Levine will direct. The studio also recently announced the Megamix production, Sailing, a yacht rock musical comedy to star Woody Harrelson.

BondIt Media Capital is providing production financing. Matthew Helderman, Luke Taylor and Grady Craig executive produce for BondIt.

McAuley Cahill and Jordan Backhus co-produce for Megamix.

Chad Russo at Ramo Law negotiated the deal on behalf of the production. McKendrick is represented by UTA, manager David Clark of Mazo Partners, and Joel VanderKloot of VanderKloot Law. Megamix is represented by Carlos Goodman at Goodman, Genow, Schenkman, Smelkinson & Christopher.

Source: deadline.com

Yvonne Strahovski Is Trying Not to Judge Serena Joy

When Yvonne Strahovski pops up on Zoom, it takes me a minute to remind myself that I am not, in fact, speaking to Serena Joy. The actress has her hair pulled away from her face in a tight bun—her Handmaid’s Tale character’s signature style—and the room in which she sits could easily pass for the Toronto detention center where Serena has resided for the past season. But when Strahovski speaks, her Australian accent creeping into her warm greeting, I am reminded that I am not faced with Mrs. Waterford, but the woman who has been successfully bringing her to life every season going on five years.

It’s clear that Strahovski has a complicated relationship with Serena Joy, the manipulative, often sadistic woman who helped create the hellscape of Gilead. But throughout the seasons, the actress has honed the craft of getting into Serena’s head—which requires the actress to avoid judging her character for the decisions she makes.

“From an actor’s point of view, it’s fun because it is complicated,” she says. “It’s not always easy. I get challenged with some of the material.” Below, Strahovski discusses season five of the hit series, how being a mother changed the way she saw the role of Serena, and why she doesn’t think she will ever be able to wear teal again.

Serena is such a complex woman. When you play her, do you attempt to bring any humanity to the character? Do you want the audience to feel compassion for her?
I tried very hard for the audience to have compassion for Serena, and I think I had my work cut out for me with that. I’ve always tried to approach her from a more human perspective; it’s the only perspective that I can approach her from. I don’t ever see her as purely evil or spiteful and bitter for the revenge. It’s always coming from some place that is a very real, true emotion—fear and sadness. That’s important because it humanizes her and it hopefully makes her a wee bit more relatable to audiences who find her behavior heinous.

How much of Serena’s behavior can you explain away by saying she was just trying to survive in Gilead?
I think I can explain all of it away, basically. It’s really complex—there’s a whole political setup here. She has one foot in the architecture of Gilead and one foot out of it. There’s her relationship with Fred, who betrayed her many times and became abusive. If you ask yourself what it would truly be like to be in that position, you would have a lot of trauma. And I think that’s the foundation of anyone’s bad behavior.

What do you think went through Serena’s head when she heard the news of Fred’s death?
I think her raw emotion was thinking about what could have been, what should have been, and what was never going to be. There was a very real connection between Fred and Serena way back when they first met. They had so much potential and real love between them. It just all went pear-shaped and then some.

Do you think Serena deserved to get pregnant?
I don’t know if she deserved it. It seems to have come into her life to perhaps teach her some kind of a lesson. It’s very meaningful for her, and certainly hit quite close to home for me personally, as a mom of two. I started shooting this season when my second son was only eight weeks old. So that parallel was definitely very impactful.

How has being a mother affected the way you approached this character?
Obviously, I still have to imagine the scenarios and the emotions. I’m not actually in that situation, but it suddenly makes it a hell of a lot easier to imagine anything to do with children and any kind of loss or grief or sense of protection you feel. You understand the lengths you would go to protect your baby. That stuff is automatically built into your system as a mom. You don’t have to go into the crevices of your brain and imagine all those things, it exists within you already.

What has it been like to explore the new dynamic between Serena and June with Elisabeth Moss this season?
We have a pretty good laugh about it because we joke that it’s a Juliet-and-Juliet love affair situation. They’re in this crazy toxic, dysfunctional relationship and can’t seem to get out of it. But it’s always important for me to find the new dynamic, because it’s easy to fall back into older patterns. We’ve been doing this for quite some time now, so it is really important for us to find the new flavor of the relationship.

It got pretty raw in past seasons, but it gets even rawer this season. I don’t know how to explain it any other way. They just have some kind of a no-bullshit language between them, where they can really see and hear each other. They can’t lie to each other very well. And that relationship is also really, really complicated, and it’s been great to go even deeper into those complications.

Do you feel like Serena is a true believer in God? How much of it do you think is a front and how much do you think she truly believes what she’s saying?
She’s a true believer. There was definitely a period of time where I thought she was second-guessing it a lot, but for the most part, she is a believer. Especially in this season, because I do think she truly believes she’s been given this gift of pregnancy from God, and it’s for a reason.

Will it be hard when you have to eventually say goodbye to this character after playing her for so long?
Yes and no. It will feel great to say bye, because it has been a lot of emotion. But it’s been five years so far, and that’s a lot of time spent with all of these people, getting to know the cast and the crew and everyone we work with. So it’s a chapter that will be an emotional one to say goodbye to.

Will you ever wear teal again?
Oh my god [laughs]. No, it’s ruined it for me. I really can’t wear it. It just ends up looking like Serena Joy. And I usually wear my hair back too, so then I really look like Serena. I certainly can’t wear it to any red carpet affair. I wonder if the women that play the Handmaids feel the same way about the color red on a carpet.

Source: wmagazine.com