Yvonne Strahovski on ‘Stateless’ and Why Working on the Series Was ‘Eye-Opening’
Inspired by true events, the limited series Stateless, now on Netflix, is centered on the stories of four strangers whose lives collide at an immigration detention center in the middle of the Australian desert.
Among those strangers is Sofie Werner, an airline hostess on the run from a dangerous cult who winds up being detained in her own country. Sofie is played by Yvonne Strahovski, who is also known for her roles on Chuck, Dexter, and most recently, The Handmaid’s Tale.
I recently spoke with Strahovski about her role as Sofie on Stateless and what she learned from working on the series. We also talked a bit about The Handmaid’s Tale.
“When I read the script and I was preparing to go to Australia to shoot Stateless, I kept thinking, ‘Nothing really can be more intense than The Handmaid’s Tale right now.’ Coming off of that, I just thought that Stateless would be perhaps a notch under that, but I was very mistaken. So, as I got myself into the mode of playing Sofie Werner, I realized, ‘Wow, we’re really in for it.’ And I was. It was an incredibly intense journey, but I definitely loved going down it. I learned so much and we’re really proud of the work,” Strahovski said.
Strahovski’s character on Stateless is extremely complex, and as an audience, we have the chance to see her varying emotions as she struggles to find her way — and eventually winds up in the detention center. Strahovski spoke a bit about the challenges of playing Sofie.
“It was a little daunting at first just on paper, but as I sort of melted into her, I don’t know. It’s always a very intuitive process for me, going into the deep dive of emotions into someone like Sofie. So, although it did seem intimidating at first, it just flowed. Once we were there, it was just such a great team of people as well, which also helps. I really connected with our setup director Emma Freeman, our DP, Bonnie Elliot, was extraordinary. Oftentimes, I just felt like I was dancing with her in scenes and it was just me and her or the cameraman, Tim [Walsh], who was extraordinary as well. It’s just a very connected set which is always really such a bonus.”
“It’s a bizarre story as well, how she gets involved in this cult and then wants to run away. But my starting point with Sofie was that she just felt like this bright light and a free spirit — and that she was getting crushed from all angles and she really wanted to be free. Free from her family, which was oppressing her in a lot of ways, and free from her own mind as well, and from her parents’ desire to put her in a hospital to treat her mental illness. Which is why she gets sucked into that cult in the first place — because it’s her new family — and that ends up crushing her as well,” Strahovski explained.
“It’s this journey of going down this road of watching this person disintegrate and lose themselves, and then obviously [she] ends up in a system that absolutely didn’t see her or what she was going through in terms of her mental health.”
Throughout the limited series, Sofie’s sister is searching for her and eventually does find that she’s been mistakenly placed in this detention center. But Strahovski noted that this isn’t necessarily a happy ending for the character.
“I don’t think it’s a happy ending for her. I think the system fails Sofie so dramatically that even though she has been found physically by her family and her sister, I think she has lost herself forever because the system failed to see her struggle and her mental health … and did nothing about it. It was exacerbated to the point of no return for someone like Sofie, I think.”
“Obviously the story is about how the system fails people. And then this really weird unique case of a white Australian woman being tied up in a detention center in Australia, and that not being addressed, and how people are forgotten,” Strahovski noted.
Stateless is inspired by true events, and that includes what happens with the character of Sofie Werner.
“I think what’s really interesting in the real-life case of what happened with Cornelia Rau is that it took a white Australian woman for people to notice what was going on at these kinds of places. There’s many aspects of the story that are important, but I think that’s a really valid one and as the person playing the white Australian getting caught up in the detention center, which is not the norm, I think it’s important to mention that. That that’s what it takes, often, for people to realize that they need to pay attention to something that is going on, even if they don’t deem it as relatable to them,” Strahovski continued.
“That’s exactly the problem — or one of the many, many problems in a system like this. That needs to be pointed out.”
Strahovski went on to discuss the importance of these kinds of stories and what she learned from working on the series.
Full interview: telltaletv.com
Yvonne Strahovski (‘The Handmaid’s Tale’) on playing ‘uncensored emotional version’ of Serena
Yvonne Strahovski returned for her third season of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” this past TV season, playing the complicated Serena Joy Waterford. The actress was nominated for her first Emmy Award for the second season two years ago.
Strahovski recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria about Season 3 of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the experience of getting nominated at the Emmys and her recent reunion with the cast of “Chuck.”
Gold Derby: Yvonne, you star as Commander’s wife, Serena Joy, and I see her as neither villain nor ally but something more complicated in between. How do you describe her to people? Is she evil? Is she misunderstood, or something else?
Yvonne Strahovski: I don’t think she’s misunderstood (laughs). The way I see it is she sits in the midst of her own complicated layers and twisted-up version of who she is. I think the majority of people would see her as a villain, and there’s certainly a lot of hate out there for Serena Joy, as there should be, but she is a complicated woman, for sure. She’s constantly battling her inner demons and her inner feelings.
GD: When I spoke to you a couple years ago I said that your character, Serena, had become so pivotal to Season 2 and I couldn’t have imagined that even in Season 3 she even became more important to the storyline. You were given a lot of really great work to do, a lot of really great material. What were your thoughts when it was mapped out for you what Serena’s journey would be over Season 3? Were you excited, nervous? What was the feeling for you?
YS: I was excited. Obviously she’s given up baby Nicole and the absolute loss of that. I was really happy to explore that because we did get to touch on Serena’s more vulnerable side throughout Season 2 so in hitting Season 3 it was really about pouring out this kind of uncensored emotional version of Serena that is even more heightened when she’s around someone like her mother, those scenes. I was a little taken aback when I first found out that she would come to change her mind, but of course she would. She’s Serena Joy. It’s exciting. It’s exciting for me to play something like that, to really move through all those emotions only to figure out that very selfishly, she actually can’t do the greatest thing for her daughter and let her go into a newer and safer world. She must have her back because she can’t deal with her own emotions. She’s consumed by the need to be a mother, which is also partly a mask for her. It’s masking a whole lot of other stuff that she’s really not facing as she’s living in Gilead.
GD: Yeah, I never thought of it that was actually, that it is a mask for her, but before we go into Season 3, while we’re between Season 2 and Season 3, a really amazing thing happened to you a couple years ago when you were nominated for an Emmy, your first one, I think, for your role on “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Can you take us back? It was a while ago now, because you weren’t eligible last year. It was a weird thing that a lot of Emmy watchers would know, that “The Handmaid’s Tale” was only eligible in certain categories, but back when you were nominated, do you remember the morning of and how you felt when you saw your name being read out?
YS: I was very thrilled (laughs). Yeah, it was my first Emmy nomination so I was really, really excited. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. This is my career and what I’ve chosen to do with my life. It’s all I’ve ever done, actually. To have arrived at the point where I’m part of a show that is received so intensely, I think is the right word for it, and to be recognized as a key player in that show is really, really beyond wonderful.
GD: And then do you have a favorite moment or highlight from the actual Emmy night itself when you think back to it?
YS: I’m blanking. That wasn’t the one where I was pregnant, was it? Yes, it was. I was fully pregnant. I was so close to my due date. From the excitement of being there, it’s so mind-blowing when you’re there ‘cause you see all these actors that you’ve grown up watching on television and you’re half between excitement and intimidation, just enjoying the night and all the things that you’re feeling and I thought, “My god, my water’s gonna break, give birth right here on the red carpet because I’m so overwhelmed.” But that didn’t happen, thankfully (laughs). It did cross my mind, though, that it was gonna happen.
GD: It was pretty cool and obviously soon after that Season 3 commenced on Hulu and we’ve got plenty of things we can talk about in Season 3 so I just thought we could cover some of your highlights. You got lots of episodes that you might wanna choose if and when you get nominated again and I thought episodes like “Useful,” where you co-starred alongside Laila Robins, who plays your mom, Pamela, “Unknown Caller” is a really good one where Serena is temporarily reunited with Nicole and then also towards the end when the Waterfords are in Canada. There’s lots to choose from. Have you got something in mind as your best work for Season 3 that you enjoyed doing or that you really liked?
YS: I think for me, the one that comes to mind first and always has, I think it was [Episode] 5 where I reunite with Nicole. There’s so much to power through in that episode and I really love the stuff with the mother as well, with Serena’s mother, and that journey, the stuff where she walks into the water and it’s a metaphor for her drowning in her own emotions and really not knowing which way is up, but that scene really sticks out for me with reuniting with baby Nicole, just because it was a moment where Serena could really get lost in a very pure and raw emotion of being reunited with the baby but it’s so clouded with all this other stuff that’s happening because of Luke’s presence and the circumstances in general that she has to cross the border to see her child. It’s a very arranged thing that’s being watched by people like Mark and Luke and then maybe unknown people as well that are observing this from afar. It’s such a tainted experience for her, so I loved playing with the duality of having to still be the manipulative Serena whilst automatically losing herself in the emotional side of that reunion and what that would really feel like for her.
Full interview: goldderby.com
Blessed Be: Catching Up with The Handmaid’s Tale Stars Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski & Ann Dowd
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 6/15/20 – While Season 4 of the critically-acclaimed Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s famous novel, The Handmaid’s Tale may currently be on pause, as it has been for a cool minute (or, more accurately, like a million minutes, but I mean who’s counting?) because of the ongoing scourge that is COVID-19, The Hollywood Times was fortunate enough to be able to sit in on a Live Q & A Session with Elisabeth Moss (June/Offred), Yvonne Strahovski (Serena Joy Waterford) and Ann Dowd (Aunt Lydia) hosted by Film Independent. And yes, I said “scourge”! A dramatic series demands a dramatically-toned piece! And just in time for a new season of “What Fresh Hell,,?!?!”, also known as EXISTENCE, what could be more relaxing than a catch-up sesh with these three brilliant actresses?
The ladies all seemed chipper despite their forced hiatus, except of course for Yvonne, who’s got a brand new baby keeping her busy these days. She shared a lovely bit of behind-the-scenes trivia with us about how careful the producers had to be in order to make sure she didn’t appear pregnant, especially since the whole backstory of Serena Joy is that she’s completely infertile. Oh, the irony! Haha! For my part, I say they did a terrific job of it because I sure couldn’t tell!
As for Ann? I hope I’m still brimming with the same bright, warm energy that only comes from Ann Dowd, who simply exudes the exact inverse persona of the woman she plays on the show. She’s like Mirror Universe Aunt Lydia, opposite in nearly every way imaginable: she’s like a glass of Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks on a cold winter’s eve. The Aunt Lydia that Aunt Lydia wishes she had.
On a more somber note, I find Lydia’s backstory to be the most complex of any of the female characters. She seems to be a woman who’s always struggled with her own sexuality on a deeply private level, primarily because of her religious beliefs. She seems to have already been grounded in her faith, by the time we even see her flashbacks, so I was curious as to how much Ann knew about Lydia’s backstory. According to Ann, she was just as in the dark as most everyone else. There were things about Lydia’s character that Ann was surprised to discover were the real motivations behind some of her choices, so it’s been quite a ride for most of the cast as well!.
One constant criticism we often hear as entertainers, and especially as actors, is that we’re too political or too vocal about our opinions. Well, as actors we’re tasked with a monumental feat of human psychology: becoming another person. Most people have a difficult enough time trying to become their own person, let alone someone else concocted entirely out of one’s imagination. Once you study acting, you’re essentially becoming a student of psychology and sociology. We are constantly dissecting the motivations of the characters, just as we do in the real world, begging us to segue into the startling parallels between what we see in The Handmaid’s Tale versus what’s happening in the United States right now: the rise of Christian Nationalism and escalating political extremism, fueled in large part by the current administration’s unwillingness to condemn both sides.
But how did these women come to be where they are now? They all wanted simply to make the world a safer, better place, right? Honestly, I think that’s true for Serena Joy and Aunt Lydia. Elisabeth and Yvonne find that both of their characters do have redeeming qualities, even in spite of the fact that June has been forced into situations where her own moral compass has been jilted a little south south of “Sanity”, to put it mildly.
It begs the next question: What is Gilead really about, and how did it come to power from the outset? Is this a case of Christian Nationalists leading the blind, angry Conservatives into a revolution they didn’t really ask for, or is the problem here that the fundamentalist Christians who believe the US is a Christian nation are just being led astray by atheistic anarchists hell-bent on reviving a long-standing “Old World Order” (theocratic oligarchy)? Ann and Yvonne shared some terrific insights into how their characters are each able to “shut off” their sense of right and wrong in order to survive in a world they created that is, essentially, cannibalizing them.
To that end, we asked whether or not we’ll be seeing an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s recent follow-up to the original novel called The Testaments any time soon. While we weren’t given any kind of official solid answer on that, Ann did say that there will be alignment between her character’s story in the novel with the events of The Handmaid’s Tale. In other words, we should expect the continuity of Lydia’s character to jive with what we’ve already seen in the show so far. Woohoo!
There has never been a more culturally or temporally-relevant series than The Handmaid’s Tale. I enjoyed the opportunity to chop up the major themes of the show, as well as the chance to catch up a bit with these tremendously talented and inspiring actresses. Elisabeth Moss’s “Shirley” is available to stream now on Netflix, Yvonne has a new project called “Stateless” and Ann’s still getting requests for a line reading from “The Leftovers”, which actually sounds like something we need to reboot just for her! Hey, I’d watch that!
Yvonne Strahovski (‘The Handmaid’s Tale’): ‘I don’t feel sorry for Serena Joy’
“I don’t feel sorry for her,” admits Yvonne Strahovski about the divisive character she plays on Hulu’s Emmy award winning hit “The Handmaid’s Tale.” “If I remove myself from being so attached to the insides of Serena Joy as the person who plays her,” Strahovski says, “I think she has it coming and it’s exactly where she should be actually.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, and stars Elisabeth Moss as June, one of thousands of enslaved handmaids. They are forced to give birth for the barren ruling class in a near-future dystopia where the authoritarian theocracy of Gilead has usurped and replaced America as we know it. Strahovski plays Serena Joy, the wife of Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and high-ranking members of the elite, and for want of a better term, the villains of the show.
The series’ intense third season follows June and her resistance against the Gilead regime, including her clandestine efforts to transport children to freedom across the border. The Waterfords, after a season-long quest to retrieve their “daughter” Nichole, travel north and Commander Waterford is captured to face justice in Canada as a war criminal. While Serena is temporarily reunited with Nichole, she too pays the ultimate price when she is arrested as a co-conspirator.
Apart from the electric season finale, another highlight was mid-way through the season during the fifth episode “Unknown Caller,” where Serena is whisked away to Canada to reunite with baby Nichole in an arranged meeting with Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), who has custody after June smuggled of the child across the border. It was confronting to watch the nuances of this very complicated woman who is longing to be with her child but is still the villain.
“There’s just so much to power through in that episode,” Strahovski explains. “It’s such a tainted experience for her and I loved playing with that duality of having to still be the manipulative Serena whilst automatically losing herself in the emotional side of that reunion,” she says. “From the get-go we were zoned in on one another and it’s very strong because there are two very clear opposing forces at work here in this scene with Luke and his animosity towards Serena,” the actress reveals. “That scene was very clear to me. I knew exactly how I wanted to do it.”