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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