‘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
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.
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
Zachary Levi Says Chuck Movie Is “Close” to Happening
Shazam! Fury of the Gods star Zachary Levi has long been hopeful for a Chuck movie and now it sounds like it might be getting closer to becoming a reality. During a recent appearance on Michael Rosenbaum’s Inside of You podcast, Levi offered an update on a movie continuation of the fan-favorite television series and Levi said that he thinks that they’re “close” to making something happen in that regard—though nothing is official just yet.
Levi started talking about how he’s been trying to make a Chuck movie since before the television series was over and even spoke about how the reunion via Zoom had served as a “great reminder” to everyone involved about how great the show was.
“I’ve been trying to make a Chuck movie since before we even finished the show,” Levi said. “Like, I was always like, for almost no money budget and no time, we were basically making a mini action movie every week anyway. And so, if we have a little more budget and a little more time, we could make some really killer little Chuck movies and put them online or whatever the heck. I’ve been literally trying to do this since 2012. And dude, I feel like the time is nigh. Yeah, I’ve had some very good, promising conversations with the creators, Josh Schwartz, and Chris Fedak. We had a really lovely get-together and catch-up.”
He then went on to thank fans for their patience and say that he feels like they are getting close to making something happen.
“I don’t know if this is an official announcement or not, but I will tell you that for all of you have been patient, thank you for your patience, I have not stopped trying and I will not stop trying. I’ve joked that even if I’m a geriatric Chuck, we’re gonna do it one day… But I think we’re close to making something happen, which I’m super excited about. And I think it works perfect because now, y’know, it’s a Warner Bros. show, it’s owned by Warner Bros., and I think that with all the streamers now and HBO Max, we could easily start making some movies and putting them there.”
This isn’t the first time Levi has spoken about the idea of making multiple Chuck movies for a streamer. In 2018, he told fans at Heroes & Villains Fan Fest San Jose that he wanted to do a Chuck movie every two years for Netflix, movies he described as one-off installments. And Levi isn’t the only Chuck star who would be down for some sort of revival of the series. Matt Bomer, who played Bryce Larkin in the first two seasons of the series, told ComicBook.com last year he’d consider a return—though admittedly given his character’s fate in the series it would be a bit of a challenge.
Chuck debuted on NBC in 2007 and ran for five seasons, centering around Chuck Bartowski (Levi), a computer whiz who receives an encoded e-mail from an old college friend working for the CIA that sends the only remaining copy of a program containing the United States’ greatest spy secrets into Chuck’s brain. Chuck finds himself on top-secret missions, working alongside CIA Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski), NSA Agent Colonel John Casey (Adam Baldwin), and his bumbling best friend Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez).
‘Dexter: New Blood’ Showrunner Reveals Hannah McKay Met a Tragic Fate
Hannah’s fate, revealed
While Harrison has yet to tell Dexter about Hannah, Phillips revealed her fate on the Dexter: New Blood Wrap Up podcast. He was discussing Harrison’s life when he revealed Harrison had been placed in the foster care system after Hannah died of cancer.
“Harrison has traveled the world to find his father, having thought that his father had died in the hurricane in the last episode of season 8 and then having learned that indeed from a letter that Dexter had sent Hannah, Yvonne Strahovski, that Dexter had indeed survived,” he shared, around the 35:00 mark. “And as any teenager with a laptop can do, he found his father, from Argentina to Miami to Oregon to Iron Lake, New York.”
Phillips continued: “[It shows] how obsessed he is, how much he needed a father. He was alone in the world. His mother had been murdered, his stepmother had died of cancer, he was shipped off to the foster care system in the U.S., and he was a teenager. Nobody wants a teenager and so he was mal-treated and said basically, f*** it, I’m gonna go find my father. And he did.”
Strahovski first revealed she would not be in the show in a May appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. She didn’t know how the revival would address Hannah’s absence but shared a fun theory that Harrison had maybe killed her. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything,” she added.