Australian actress Yvonne Strahovski is not one to shy away from tough roles, but playing Serena Joy in the TV series, The Handmaid's Tale is one of the hardest she's had to take on in her career.
Adapted from Margaret Atwood‘s 1985 novel of the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a near-future dystopia where fertile women are forced to bear children for powerful men and their infertile wives. Strahovski plays one of those infertile women, who is cold and unfeeling in her treatment of Offred (Elisabeth Moss), the handmaid who has been assigned to her and her husband. “It’s very difficult to relate to someone who treats people the way that she does … It was a constant puzzle for me to really get to the core of why she does what she does,” Strahovski told an audience alongside her fellow cast members when the show had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21.
Although she can be pretty cruel, Serena Joy isn’t just a villain. Underneath her severe exterior she herself is a victim of her circumstances and her own decisions. “She has put herself in this position of power in a lot of ways,” Strahovski explained, “but also she put herself in her own cage.”
In the book, the character of Serena Joy ( and her Commander Husband) are quite a bit older than what is seen in the series which changes the dynamic between her and Offred.
Strahovski started acting during her schooling years when she played Viola in the school production of Twelfth Night. She appeared in film and television roles in Australia, including a turn on satirical show Double the Fist and as Freya Lewis in the Australian drama series headLand. She has also appeared in Channel Nine's Sea Patrol.
Strahovski sent in her audition tape for the TV series Chuck while in the United States auditioning for roles in other shows, namely NBC's 2007 series Bionic Woman. She was contacted by the producers of Chuck the next day to come in and run lines with Zachary Levi. The producers called her back a week later letting her know she had been cast as Sarah Walker. Six months later, she moved to the United States. After Chuck went off the air, she nabbed a role in the hit TV series Dexter opposite Michael C.Hall as serial killer Hannah McKay and has worked steadily ever since.
Being a part of The Handmaid's Tale has really made Strahovski think about how much the series relates today's society. Strahovski is bothered by the parallels between the reality of the series and reality itself, finding the timing of the project to be particularly interesting, beginning production pre-election, watching the election results come in, and continuing on with the series following this apparent turning point. “The Handmaid’s Tale is a human story, and women’s rights are human rights, and it’s all about equality, but at the end of the day, it’s not equal,” the actress recently told Deadline.com of the series’ resonance. “You need a feminist movement—you need to label that with something in order to shed light on it, and I feel like there’s no way you can’t acknowledge those parallels, especially in today’s political climate.”
The Handmaid's Tale also stars, Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Anne Dowd, Alexis Bledel and Samira Wiley and can currently be seen on HULU in the United States and on BRAVO in Canada.
I spoke with Yvonne Strahovski via satellite from Los Angeles where we discussed her time shooting in Toronto and getting the chance to explore Canada, her take on Serena Joy and how difficult it was, working with the cast and if we will ever see a CHUCK reunion!
Watch our full interview below:
QUICK NOTE: The Handmaid's Tale has been renewed for a second season set to debut in 2018. The premiere episode was the most watched premiere on Hulu's platform—ever.
"The response we've seen to The Handmaid's Tale in just one week since its premiere has been absolutely incredible," Craig Erwich, Hulu's head of content, said in a statement. "It has been an honour to work with this talented team of cast and creators to develop a series that has struck such a chord with audiences across the country. As we continue to expand our strong slate of original programming, The Handmaid's Tale is exactly the type of gripping and thought-provoking storytelling we want to bring to viewers. We can't wait to explore the world of Gilead and continue Margaret's vision with another season on Hulu."