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
Yvonne Strahovski says The Handmaid’s Tale season 4 finale is ‘the most satisfying’ one yet
Warning: This article contains spoilers for last Wednesday’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, “Progress.”
Yvonne Strahovski was just as shocked as everyone else by her character Serena Joy Waterford’s surprise pregnancy this season on The Handmaid’s Tale, but she says the real surprises are still to come.
“It’s really interesting. I mean, it kind of reads like a slap in the face, doesn’t it?” she tells EW of the pregnancy. “I guess that’s what it is to June and the other characters who got out and are now in Canada.”
Serena and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) have spent the season – and pregnancy – in a detention center in Canada awaiting trial for their Gilead crimes, while their former handmaid June (Elisabeth Moss) has finally gotten free and reunited with her husband and friends up north.
For those who don’t quite know how to feel about Serena, or whether we should ever trust her, Strahovski says she can relate. “I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her either,” she says with a laugh. “I think for the first few seasons people were kind of trusting that perhaps she could turn a corner and she could change, but I think what was really important for me to explore this season was kind of the freedom in which she allows herself to kind of really be more strategic in how she wants her future to evolve.”
She continues, “Specifically, I’m using the word freedom even though she’s in detention, and she doesn’t really seem so free, but I wanted to play around with that. That energy of freedom in her relationship with Fred, with Mark Tuello, with June and with Rita, the key people that she sees in her limited time and space, and how everything really does become strategic at this point, because she’s in prison essentially.”
One of the season’s most dramatic reunions so far was when June went to visit Serena in prison, and as she begged for June’s forgiveness, June stood over her and yelled at her in very much the same way Serena did to June in season 1. “It is hard to trust her because you see the wheels turning in her brain even when she’s begging for forgiveness from June,” Strahovski says of that scene. “I think there’s a huge genuine part of her that really does want that forgiveness, but it’s purely for selfish reasons. I think she believes that God is going to turn around and kill her baby if she doesn’t beg for forgiveness. It’s not because she is really that sorry, I don’t think.”
The final minutes of last week’s penultimate episode revealed that Fred agreed to give up Gilead’s secrets in exchange for his freedom, setting in motion what could be an explosive finale. Strahovski can’t say much, but when asked about the finale, she says that when she read the script, her “jaw was on the floor.”
“I’m genuinely excited about what everyone’s going to think about it, because for me personally, it’s the most satisfying season finale that Handmaid’s has had to date, so it’s just exciting,” she teases. “I can’t help but smile when people ask me about it, because I just can’t wait for everyone to see it.”
The season 4 finale of The Handmaid’s Tale will be available Wednesday on Hulu.
The Handmaid’s Tale: Episode 9 | Screen Captures
TV Productions > The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-2021) > Season 4 > Screen Captures > S4x09 [Progress]
Yvonne Strahovski On That Epic Season 4 ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Scene & Waterford Baby Paternity Allegations
Awards Daily talks to The Handmaid’s Tale‘s Yvonne Strahovski about twists and turns in Season 4 and speculation about baby-daddies. *Spoilers Ahead*
Season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu sees Yvonne Strahovski’s Serena Joy being treated a bit like a handmaid. She’s kept in tight quarters with no freedom (although it’s pretty fancy-looking for a detention center) and she’s pregnant (remember that last hoorah-in-the-sack for the Waterfords?).
Suddenly Serena’s obsession with getting baby Nichole back from Canada has taken a backseat to this miracle pregnancy.
“I think her pregnancy does divert her attention a little bit actually,” says Strahovski. “It’s probably so overwhelming for Serena to have the physicality of being pregnant, all the feelings wrapped up in something she’s been wanting for so long.”
The baby couldn’t come at a worse possible time for Serena, as she and Fred (Joseph Fiennes) are separated and are using each other to try to stave off prison time for their discretions in Gilead.
“Serena is quite ally-less at this point, even more so in the sense because the love and relationship with Fred has really dwindled down to a business transaction in a lot of ways.”
Using ‘Friends’ to Her Advantage
One of the most captivating aspects of Season 4 is its ability to explore how people react to trauma. We see it with the handmaids like Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Moira (Samira Wiley), but we also see it in Serena’s blind ignorance to the atrocities that took place in Gilead, especially when she’s visited by Rita (Amanda Brugel).
Serena asks Rita to see her at the detention center and is counting on PTSD and a bit of Stockholm Syndrome to put the former Martha on her side in the case against Fred.
“Knowing that Rita is probably suffering from some kind of abuse trauma, Serena takes advantage of that and tries to perpetuate that same relationship they had in Gilead and use it to her advantage, pretending like nothing has changed, pretending that whatever connection they had in Gilead was true. There isn’t anything really to talk about other than to carry on how we were and see how [Rita] responds.”
At first Rita tentatively treats her as a friend, until she realizes Serena is trying to get her to testify on her behalf.
“If there is a real portion of a relationship there, I think it’s a sliver. Serena is really being strategic this year. All of her relationships are strategic at this point. Her relationship with Mark (Sam Jaeger) is also strategic and like-wise with Rita and June.”
The Season 4 Showdown We’ve All Been Waiting For
For four seasons now, we’ve all wanted to see June (Elisabeth Moss) verbally eviscerate Serena to tears, and in Episode 7’s “Home,” we get it. Serena thinks that this is her chance to seek forgiveness, while the handmaid formerly known as Offred sees it as an opportunity to tell the Commander’s wife the real reason why she’s pregnant: so when she loses the baby she can feel a fraction of what the handmaids felt when their children were ripped from them.
“I think there’s a huge part of her that does believe that God might take that baby away or someone will. In whatever spiritual sense, she believes that by having June’s forgiveness that might alleviate the risk that something terrible is going to happen to the baby.”
Strahovski also believes that June’s forgiveness matters to Serena because of their bond as mothers to baby Nichole.
“The common tie is that they both care deeply for the child and they’ve always had that connection, even though they disagree on many other things. It makes sense to me that Serena would want June’s forgiveness because at this point she wants to protect her own baby, the baby that’s growing inside her.”
Plus, Serena is just evil.
“June is a better person than Serena and Serena knows that.”
Who’s the Daddy?
Season 4 also tackles the idea of being caught up in the world of Gilead, of escaping but wanting to go back. Could Serena ever go back and be a commander’s wife again?
“I think that’s an incredibly confronting thought for Serena to have because by having that thought she must then admit all of her wrongdoings in the truest way.”
And even if she had the opportunity, it’s not like she and Fred are headed toward a reconciliation.
“She’s reached the last straw of what she can handle and live with [with Fred]. It’s very hard for Serena to ignore that she probably loathes Fred, which is really complicated as well. She still feels pain about him and the relationship and the relationship that was lost and the fact that it is a business transaction relationship now more than anything. Do I think she would help him out in a terrible situation? Maybe not.”
At this point, she might even be wishing Fred weren’t the father. . .but is he? Strahovski plays mum and laughs.
“I’ve heard, what if it’s Mark? Someone was saying what if baby Nichole was really Fred’s child, because if Fred is the father of Serena’s child, then why not Fred be the father of Nichole? There are so many possibilities here.”
‘Handmaid’s Tale’: Yvonne Strahovski Is Freaked Out by Fred and Serena’s Newfound Canadian ‘Fan Club’
(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Episode 408 of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” titled “Testimony”).
After facing June (Elisabeth Moss) in private on last week’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) was forced to once again confront her victim on Wednesday’s hour — but this time in a courtroom full of people listening to June list the atrocities that Serena and her husband, Commander Fred (Joseph Fiennes) Waterford, committed against June while holding her captive in Gilead.
The scene in which June recites Serena and Fred’s crimes in her testimony also includes Fred firing back at June’s allegations — which the audience knows to be true — and Serena doing her very best to look like the innocent, pregnant wife. While that act might not work on “Handmaid’s Tale” viewers who know what the Waterfords are capable of by this currently airing fourth season, it is working in-universe, as the couple walks out to their car at the end of the episode to find a large cheering crowd supporting them in their legal battle.
“I remember reading it and thinking, ‘Oh, my God — why is there a fan club?’ And then catching myself, thinking, ‘Oh, of course.’ I mean, this is totally what is happening in real life,” Strahovski told TheWrap. “There are fan clubs for all kinds of things and all the things we’ve seen, all the kind of extremist behavior out there, there’s a fan club for it. And it’s confronting, honestly.”
She added: “Those are the parts of playing the role that have always been a little bit confronting. And find yourself kind of the face of both of both the make-believe version and the face of the real lives… There’s the real-life stuff that’s going on and then people make parallels to the character of Serena or the character of Fred. So it is confronting playing as the actor, playing that role, being the face of it.”
There are two episodes left in “The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 4, with a fifth season already ordered at Hulu. While Strahovski was not about to give anything away, she did tell us this in regards to where the season finale will take us:
“I’m going to go as far to say I feel like this season finale might be the most satisfying one yet. I personally feel that way. I remember reading it with my jaw on the floor, just thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is going to be epic.’ And epic it is. So it’s very hard to talk about it without spoiling anything, but I think that’s all I can say. Yeah, the satisfaction factor A++.”