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.
Yvonne Strahovski is more than just ‘an action hero badass’ in The Tomorrow War
When it comes to her new film The Tomorrow War, Yvonne Strahovski was hooked from the start.
“I thought the script was such a page-turner when I first read it,” the Handmaid’s Tale and Dexter actress tells EW. “And I just loved the way that [my] character was such a surprise.”
Directed by Chris McKay, the sci-fi actioner follows Chris Pratt’s Dan, a veteran and high school teacher who gets recruited to fight a war in the future against an invasive alien species that’s decimating mankind. Strahovski plays a brilliant military scientist from the future codenamed Romeo Command, who is charged with creating a biological weapon to destroy the enemy extraterrestrials. In other words, the fate of humanity pretty much rests in her very capable and combat-ready hands (no pressure!).
Ahead of the film’s Friday release on Amazon Prime Video, Strahovski dished about why her character isn’t your typical badass, what it was like fighting aliens, and why she wished she’d gone to the gym before production started.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your character has a lot going on: She’s a fighter, and she’s also a scientist kind of in charge of making sure the world doesn’t end. How did you prepare for a role like that? Was there a lot of training?
YVONNE STRAHOVSKI: We definitely had some military training, just in terms of being able to handle the weapons, because there were certainly a lot of them, especially for me. So we definitely did that. I probably should have gone to the gym or something a bit more — or at all — before I did this movie, I’m not sure that I anticipated doing that much action. [Laughs] But I’m so thrilled. I loved being back in that action space. It’s such a great part, and it’s really fun to get back into it and do some really cool stunts and just play and get physical.
You in particular had some very up-close and personal scenes with these aliens. How did you film those, and what was that experience like?
Typically, we would do three different takes for the same kind of shot. So you do a take with nothing at all and just kind of pretend that there’s something there. And then you would do the take with the person in the gray unitard. And then you would do a take with a prosthetic. They built a prosthetic of the top half of the alien, so the head and the front legs that was controlled by guys basically puppeteering it from behind. I thought it’d be easier to have someone there or the prosthetic alien there, but I actually really enjoyed doing it to nothing. I think I found it very freeing to just sort of be able to use your imagination and just kind of create something.
So many of your scenes take place in this really cool futuristic lab. How much of that was actually built?
That whole set was pretty much built. Yeah, that was in a studio. It was all done. It was incredible. Yeah, they did an incredible job with the whole lab, in the inside of the lab, and in that area where the alien ends up in. And the rest, you know, the exterior was power plants.
The sets were great. It feels like a big summer blockbuster movie.
Yeah, it definitely was. And I think it’s a special one just because of how it has that really beautiful family thread through it that grounds the movie, even though it’s got all this amazing action and aliens. It’s got all these surprise elements within it that I’m not sure that audiences are expecting.
Your character is so interesting too, because she doesn’t hesitate at all. Even in the face of certain danger, she just straps in, takes charge, and gets it done.
Yeah, I like that about her too. There’s so much bubbling under the surface there. She does totally put [worries] away and she puts her brave face on and faces the unimaginable. But she also faces her heart and her inner demons, which was what was so compelling to me about the character and what I really liked. She isn’t just like an action hero badass, there’s this really great grounding element to her.
Do you feel like after the last year we’ve all had, a film about the end of the world plays differently?
Yeah, I think it definitely plays differently in the sense that we’ve all been in this pandemic and isolation from one another, and humanity, we’ve all been in this one pandemic boat. There’s a theme in the film of humanity kind of coming together for one common goal and how we handle that. I mean, obviously the end of the world is a little more extreme, but still, we’ve all been living in a very extreme situation. So there’s definitely some really interesting parallels.
What do you hope the audience gets out of the film?
I just hope they have a great time. This is like, grab your loved ones, your family, turn the lights off, and get your popcorn out and just enjoy the ride. I think this will take people places that they’re not expecting, and it’s just fun. It’s wild. I think people are ready for [summer blockbusters]. People want to see something like this. It’s time.