Tag Archives: Yvonne Strahovski

Ones to Watch: Actors

DQ casts its eye over a range of upcoming series from around the world and picks out 20 actors to tune in for, from Zoë Kravitz in Hulu’s High Fidelity to Marcel Rodriguez in German series Dignity.

20. Kai Ko
The Taiwanese actor and singer is making his television debut in what has been dubbed Taiwan’s most expensive drama ever. Described by producers as an ‘Asian Constantine,’ fantasy crime thriller Agent from Above is based on the book of the same name and tells the story of supernatural crime-fighter Han Jie, who is serving as a heavenly agent on Earth and must defeat demons and solve crimes in order to atone for his sins. The six-part series is expected to cost NT$30m (US$1m) per episode.

19. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Recognisable from Icelandic drama Trapped and countless English-language series, including The Widow, NOS4A2, Emerald City and The Missing, Ólafsson is now set to star in Icelandic political drama The Minister. He plays Benedikt Ríkhardsson, a politician with a unique approach to politics as he rides a wave of discontent to become the country’s prime minister – all while hiding the fact he suffers from bipolar disorder.

18. Shira Haas
With credits including Harem and The Conductor, Israeli actor Haas takes the lead in Unorthodox, a four-part miniseries from showrunner Anna Winger (the Deutschland series) in which a young ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman in New York flees her arranged marriage and religious community to start a new life in Berlin. The series explores female emancipation, identity and sexuality through the experience of a unique young woman, Haas’s Esther.

17. Anthony Mackie
Television appearances are few and far between on Mackie’s CV, but 2020 is going to be different. First, the actor stars in the second season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon, set in a future where a person’s memory and consciousness can be transferred between different bodies, known as ‘sleeves.’ He plays Takeshi Kovacs, a character portrayed by Joel Kinnaman in season one but with Mackie now serving as the character’s host body in its second run. Meanwhile, following his success as Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon) in Marvel’s Avenger films, Mackie will reprise the role in Disney+’s upcoming series The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, which picks up after Sam was handed Captain America’s shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame.

16. Sian Clifford
The Emmy-nominated actor starred in Fleabag alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge, bringing to life the title character’s tense, uptight and high-achieving sister Claire with a performance that was one of the best things about the series. Having previously appeared in period drama Vanity Fair, Clifford will next be seen in Quiz, a three-part miniseries that dramatises how Charles and Diana Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen and Clifford) attempted to cheat their way to the top prize on gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. She will also star alongside Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams in Sky comedy Two Weeks To Live, about a daughter who steps away from her mother’s life of seclusion and survival techniques and sets out into the real world.

15. Eve Hewson
Irish actor Hewson will already be familiar to US viewers after starring in medical period drama The Knick. This year she joins Eva Green in The Luminaries, based on Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel. Hewson plays young adventurer Anna Wetherell, who begins a new life in New Zealand, set against the backdrop of the 1860s gold rush in a story of love, murder and revenge. She will also appear in Netflix psychological thriller Behind Her Eyes, about an unconventional love triangle that reveals a dangerous web of secrets.

14. Otto Farrant
After an extensive casting search that scoured agents, schools and drama groups, Farrant was chosen to step into the shoes of Alex Rider in a small-screen adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s novels about the young spy. Some 14 years after Rider appeared in movie Stormbreaker, Farrant brings energy and charm to this story, based on the novel Point Blanc, of a schoolboy who discovers he has been secretly trained as a spy and is then sent on undercover by a shadowy government agency.

13. Zoë Kravitz
In a cast that boasted Hollywood heavyweights such as Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Meryl Street, arguably the breakout performance in HBO’s hit series Big Little Lies came from Zoë Kravitz. Her career has been built on film roles in Mad Max: Fury Road, X-Men: First Class and the Divergent series, while she will soon play Catwoman in upcoming movie The Batman. For now, though, she is starring in High Fidelity (pictured top), the Hulu series based on Nick Hornby’s novel that flips the lead character’s gender to introduce Kravitz as Rob, the owner of a record store who revisits past relationships through music and pop culture, while trying to get over her one true love.

12. Joanna Kulig
Polish star Kulig takes centre stage, literally, in The Eddy, Netflix’s vibrant Parisian drama about the titular nightclub from director Damian Chazelle (La La Land). As Maja, the singer of the house band and the on/off girlfriend of club owner Elliot (Andre Holland), Kulig’s conflicted performance gives an extra edge to the drama as Elliot’s personal and professional worlds quickly begin to unravel.

11. Russell Tovey
Tovey has grown up on British screens, notably starring in the History Boys stage show and its subsequent movie adaptation and then supernatural drama Being Human. Last year, he was a key member of the cast of Russell T Davies’ dystopian family saga Years & Years, while in 2020 he has already appeared in Flesh & Blood, playing one of three siblings suspicious of their widowed mother’s new love interest. Tovey’s character shines a light on toxic masculinity, addiction and the struggle of a father separated from his wife and children. Later this year, he will take the lead in Because the Night, a four-part story about a man trying to escape his past, written by Neil Cross (Luther).

10. Juno Temple
The English actor’s film credits include Killer Joe, Black Mass, The Other Boleyn Girl and Atonement, as well as US TV series Vinyl and Dirty John. This year she will headline Little Birds, a visually enticing Sky Atlantic series set in the hedonistic environs of 1950s Tangier. Temple’s character, New York heiress Lucy Savage, is given the chance to flee her gilded cage and embark on a moving and provocative journey towards freedom and independence.

9. Marcel Rodriguez
Having played roles in 7 Days Berlin and Der Barcelona Krimi, Rodriguez now fronts political thriller Dignity, the first original drama for fledgling German streaming platform Joyn, which is inspired by the true story of German sect Colonia Dignidad in Chile. He plays federal prosecutor Leo Ramírez, who is tasked with bringing the group’s elusive leader and former Nazi soldier Paul Schaefer to justice – though his mission is clouded by his own secret history with Colonia.

8. Sonoya Mizuno
The Japanese-born British actor has become a regular cast member in Alex Garland’s beautifully shot and realised sci-fi dramas. Having appeared in the writer/director’s movies Ex Machina and Annihilation, Mizuno now leads audiences through the complex themes of Garland’s BBC and FX series Devs, a thriller set against the backdrop of a giant tech company and its messianic leader. In an emotionally taut and nuanced performance, she plays Lily, who is investigating the apparent suicide of her boyfriend.

7. Aaron Pedersen
The Aboriginal actor became one of Australia’s biggest stars on the back of roles in shows such as Jack Irish, The Circuit, City Homicide and The Code, with recent credits including period drama A Place to Call Home, political thriller Total Control and supernatural mystery The Gloaming. But it’s his towering performances as Detective Jay Swan with which Pedersen has become most synonymous, first in films Mystery Road and sequel Goldstone and then in the Mystery Road series that bridges the two movies and brings Indigenous stories to a mainstream audience. Season two airs this year.

6. Josefin Asplund
Swedish actor Asplund has a list of credits familiar to many international viewers, from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Vikings and Arne Dahl to Ingen Utan Skuld (Conspiracy of Silence) and Sanctuary. Next she will star in Top Dog, a series based on Jens Lapidus’s novels, as lawyer Emily Jansson, a hard-working careerist who comes together with ex-criminal Teddy Maksumic (Alexej Manvelov) to solve a mysterious disappearance.

5. Tahar Rahim
Rahim broke into television in European crime drama The Last Panthers, before playing a CIA agent in Amazon drama The Looming Tower. This year, he stars in Netflix music drama The Eddy as Farid (right), one of the struggling nightclub’s owners who may be involved in some questions practices, before leading the cast of BBC drama The Serpent. The latter is based on real events and sees Rahim play Charles Sobhraj, the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal’s ‘Hippie Trail’ in 1975 and 1976, who repeatedly avoided capture to become Interpol’s most wanted man.

4. Gugu Mbatha-Raw
The UK-born actor began her career with appearances in British series such as Spooks and Doctor Who, before a breakout performance as Kelly in acclaimed Black Mirror episode San Junipero. More recently, she played a pivotal role in Apple TV+’s standout series The Morning Show, portraying the show-within-a-show’s head booker Hannah, a character whose traumatic experience goes on to shape the series’ powerful #MeToo storyline. From one new streaming service to another, Mbatha-Raw’s next television series will be Loki, the Disney+ drama based on the Asgardian villain from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

3. Laura Smet
From the team behind Dix Pour Cent (Call My Agent) comes La Garçonne, in which French star Smet (Les Corps Impatients, The Bridesmaid) plays Louise Kerlac. In Paris in 1920, Kerlac witnesses the murder of a relative by government agents who want to blame her. She subsequently poses as a man to join the police under her brother’s identity as a means to investigate the killing, drawing her into the dark underbelly of high society and bohemian Parisian nightlife.

2. Adam Pålsson
Stepping into the shoes of police officer Kurt Wallander, a role already made famous by Rolf Lassgård, Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh, is no easy task. But that’s next up for Swedish actor Pålsson, best known for roles in The Bridge, Moscow Noir and Before We Die, who will appear this year in Netflix original series Young Wallander. Inspired by Henning Mankell’s detective, the English-language series is set in contemporary Sweden and sees the young Wallander investigate his first case as a recently graduated police officer in his early 20s.

1. Yvonne Strahovski
The Australian actor is best known as Serena Joy in the harrowing adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. She can now be seen on screen with an equally emotional and complex performance in six-part Australian drama Stateless. Strahovski plays Sofie, an air hostess who, after fleeing a performance cult that initially captivates her before leaving her on the brink of a breakdown, surfaces at an on-shore detention centre. Under a new German identity, Sofie’s experience is shown alongside that of an Afghan refugee, a prison guard and a bureaucrat who all come under unprecedented pressure.

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State of mind

The cast of Australian drama Stateless recall the emotional journey on which they embarked for this story of four disparate characters who find themselves in a detention centre.

Pitched as a powerful and timely series, six-part drama Stateless uses a star-studded cast to tell a story about four strangers whose lives collide at an immigration detention centre in the middle of the Australian desert.

Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale) plays free-spirited flight attendant Sofie, whose life begins to unravel after being seduced by a self-improvement group’s charismatic leaders, played by Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Dominic West (The Affair). When she quits her job, she later turns up at Barton Immigration Detention Centre claiming to be Eva Hoffman.

Jai Courtney (Suicide Squad) portrays Cam, who is struggling to provide for his young family until he signs up to work at the centre as a guard, though he finds his attitude is at odds with his co-workers who treat the detainees like criminals, testing his morality and his conscience.

Ameer (Fayssal Bazzi, The Commons) is fleeing persecution with his wife and two daughters, seeking safe passage to Australia. When he is separated from them by people smugglers as they try to board a boat heading to their destination, Ameer is next seen arriving on the shores of Christmas Island, where he is transferred to Barton before learning what has become of his family.

Then there’s ambitious bureaucrat Clare (Asher Keddie, The Cry), who is appointed as the new general manager at Barton in response to the growing media scrutiny surrounding the centre. She soon discovers she is completely unprepared for the challenges ahead, particularly when she discovers Eva is actually an Australian.

Yvonne Strahovski plays Sofie, who ends up in a detention centre after escaping a cult

Strahovski first heard about the part of Sofie when she was contacted over email by series co-creator and executive producer Blanchett, who then relayed her personal passion for the issues confronted by Stateless and the story itself in a subsequent phone call.

“I ended up reading the scripts and falling in love with how they were written and how beautifully these stories were told,” the actor says. “The relatability factor is something that’s especially important for a script like this, because it is such a sensitive and dividing issue, especially for Australians. I think it’s so lovely to have so many storylines that are so relatable, littered through this one big piece.”

The multiple perspectives and relatable characters were also key to drawing both Courtney and Keddie to the series.

Cam, says Courtney, might have been a more functional character in another story. “But his unravelling over the course of the series is truly heartbreaking,” he says. “When I got to read some of the scripts and see where things were going, I leapt at the opportunity to take that challenge on and to represent someone who’s in a community of people where this sort of thing is devastating – the welfare of the guards, the lack of support, lack of funding, lack of training. That was something that I found kind of fascinating and wanted to learn more about.”

Keddie picks up: “Quite often as an actor, you’ll have a handful of really good, solid reads of a film or TV series that you’re making, and then really have to knuckle down into the work of your own character. When I was working on this, each night that we were filming, I would just keep reading the other journeys, Cam’s in particular. You get so immersed in the guards’ story. It’s such a wonderful perspective to have.

Jai Courtney as detention centre guard Cam

“When I first read the script, to be perfectly honest, I felt mildly frightened by the idea of playing a bureaucrat and someone who had been working in government for 20 years. My ignorance played into that fear as well – I’m not a political animal. I probably am much more now that I’ve made this show. I’m nowhere near as lethargic as I used to be.

“However, the attraction was also because I knew next to nothing about the complexity of the situation. I thought it was a really interesting time to explore in Australia because I don’t think Australians knew what the hell was going on when it was happening. It sits in the recent past, but it’s so present now and it’s so timely because it’s happening all over the world. It’s a discussion that’s more relevant now than it ever has been.”

Though the stories of the four main characters appear quite singular, they do collide as the story progresses, with the emotional and mental toll on each becoming increasingly clear.

“It just humanises the people behind it,” Courtney explains. “It doesn’t take a stance necessarily on policy or anything like that. We’re not telling the audience to feel a certain way. It’s just putting faces to those stories that otherwise people might just think of as statistics.”

Keddie adds: “It’s so complex, but the way it comes together later in the project is that all four perspectives really marry beautifully. It’s incredibly moving.”

Talk to West, meanwhile, and you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s starring in a different show. While episode one largely focuses on Ameer’s journey to reach Australia and introduces Cam, the story also reveals how Sofie becomes infatuated by GOPA (‘Growing One’s Potential Achievement’) and its husband-and-wife leaders Gordon and Pat. Despite the initial singing, dancing and eye-catching outfits, it soon becomes clear Sofie has become hypnotised by a cult. Then matters take a decidedly dark turn, forcing her to flee the group and ultimately land at Barton with a mysterious new identity.

Asher Keddie plays a bureaucrat hired as the centre’s manager

West came to the project at the last minute, having received a message from Blanchett while he was filming the final season of The Affair in Montauk, at the tip of New York’s Long Island peninsula.

“I hadn’t met her before and she said, ‘Come and do this thing.’ I thought, ‘I’d love to do anything with Cate Blanchett, that’s marvellous,’” he says. “Then she told me a little bit about it. It seemed a very intriguing project. I went out to Adelaide and I was done in 10 days. So it was quite easy, really.

“It was interesting what she said to me when we first spoke, saying that in her glittering, amazing career – and we’re sort of the same age – now she’s keen to spend her life doing important things that contribute in some way to the debate of the big issues. That really struck me as a wonderful thing to be thinking of and something that I need to think about.”

West describes Gordon as a “psycho” and “a deeply mediocre man who’s given immense celebrity and credibility by his disciples, and there’s a lot of those people around.”

He continues: “It’s amazing how much influence you can have on people’s lives if you say, ‘there, there’ and make them feel wanted and needed. We all need that, we love being told that, and manipulative people like him are able to tap into that.”

Dominic West as cult leader Gordon

The actor, who also starred in HBO’s seminal crime drama The Wire, agrees the beginning of the story disarms viewers about what’s to come. “That’s what great drama does, particularly episodic drama,” he says.

“Mainly because of the outfits and the ludicrousness of it, it was funny because Gordon and Pat did remind me and Cate of our experiences of drama school and the sort of nonsense that people talked. It was very reminiscent of that. So I felt I knew it very well. But mainly because of what Cate and I were wearing and the comedic elements of it, I was a bit worried we were doing this comedy in the middle of this huge tragedy. It’s still a bit like that, but it does work.”

Elise McCredie, who co-created the series with Blanchett and Tony Ayres, says the idea was to bring people into the show “by stealth,” because it’s not initially what you might expect from a story about an immigration detention centre. “We get you in with an all-singing, all-dancing Dominic and Cate,” she jokes.

McCredie (Jack Irish, Nowhere Boys) and Blanchett went to school and university together, and it was in Blanchett’s kitchen in 2014 that they first talked about the themes and ideas behind Stateless, which is produced by Matchbox Pictures and Blanchett’s Dirty Films.

“I’d been writing a lot for TV and so we just started talking about ideas and things that we might do together,” she says. “Immigration detention was a very hot topic at the time in Australia and it was a very political. So we both felt very passionate about it. We were talking about whether, as dramatists, storytellers and artists, we could contribute to the debate around that issue without being didactic. Once we settled on a bit of an idea, we brought in Tony and then we started to workshop further.”

Fayssal Bazzi (centre) plays refugee Ameer

McCredie says they never intended for the series to be “gritty or realist,” instead imagining it as colourful and with a whimsical quality. She wrote four episodes, with Belinda Chayko (Safe Harbour) writing two, while the pair spent almost four years on and off developing the story with Ayers (Glitch, Clickbait).

The series was originally going to comprise just four episodes, but extending it to six provided time to develop the characters more fully.

“When it was four episodes, it went like the clappers but you didn’t feel as much,” Ayres notes. “When we put a little bit more space in, particularly for both Cam and Clare, it helped with the emotional effect of the show. It’s like a relationship drama set in a detention centre.”

The subject matter meant the show was initially difficult to finance, with support coming from Australian broadcaster the ABC, Screen Australia, the South Australian Film Corporation and distributor NBCUniversal Global Distribution. Netflix will air the series worldwide.

Once production was underway, filming largely took place chronologically in a specially built detention centre set outside of Adelaide, which meant the actors didn’t have any trouble finding the emotion of their characters and the story.

Cate Blanchett, who plays Pat, helped create the show

“[The set] may just sound like a space to talk about, but when you’re inside it and surrounded by 100-plus extras, a large majority of whom experienced detention for many years, walking into that each day never became easy. It felt more authentic to me because of the incredible preparation of our writers, directors, producers and art department to create something so oppressive,” Keddie explains.

“Playing the bureaucrat, I had extreme difficulty pushing the emotion down. I had to just try all day to push it down, push it down, push it down. I’m a big sook as well – that didn’t help. But I found that extremely difficult because the stories are so human and so relatable, whether you’re a bureaucrat, a refugee or a guard. They are human stories and they’re extremely complex and moving. So it wasn’t a difficult project to commit to.”

Courtney adds: “It’s going to look inside an issue that is too easy for people not to think about. Because of how well these characters are crafted, it’ll be impossible for people not to relate to it on some level.”

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Returning to Gilead

In the first instalment of a two-part feature, the cast of acclaimed dystopian epic The Handmaid’s Tale reflect on the challenges in store for the Hulu series’ hotly anticipated second season.

Praise be! The television breakout of 2017, Hulu’s dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale, returns to US screens next week for its second season.

Set in a post-apocalyptic US that has been violently commandeered by religious zealots, the MGM Studios-made show centres on the life of Offred (Elisabeth Moss, pictured above), a woman forced into sexual slavery as a child-bearing ‘Handmaid’ in the nightmarish society of Gilead, serving the corrupt Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).

In spite of – or perhaps because of – its bleak tone, the show became an unexpected cultural reference point during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, with protesters across the country donning the show’s signature red robes to protest over women’s rights issues throughout the calendar year. Publications ranging from Time and The Nation to The New York Times and The Atlantic fell over themselves to write think pieces about the show’s relevancy and urgency.

The first season went on to sweep the board come awards season, winning eight Emmys, a trio of Critics Choice Awards and two Golden Globes, including the outstanding drama series prize at all three ceremonies. Adapted from the 1985 Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale depleted most of the book’s source material in its first season, leaving showrunner Bruce Miller free to chart an original course for the sophomore outing, which lands on Hulu next Wednesday.

In the show, Offred seeks to flee the ruins of the US for refugee safe haven of Canada, which – perhaps fittingly or perhaps ironically – is where the American series is filmed.

The second season of The Handmaid’s Tale moves beyond the events of Margaret Atwood’s book

On a cold and rainy day in late February, DQ travelled an hour or so from Toronto to the town of Hamilton, Ontario, to observe filming of the ninth and 10th episodes of the second season’s 13-episode run. “We have shot outside in the winter and I look at the Canadians, who look as if it is a spring day; they never look cold and they never complain about the weather,” says actor Ann Dowd. “Meanwhile, the Americans are huddled in a corner, begging for their lives.”

Dowd won an Emmy and was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as the villainous Aunt Lydia in the drama’s first season. Commuting from her home in New York for the eight-month Ontario shoot, she jokes that she finds the Canadians’ imperviousness to cold weather “deeply annoying.”

In returning to a character as cruel as Aunt Lydia, who is in charge of the Handmaids, Dowd notes that “you have to step away from judgement” and embrace the role in full. “To come to know a character well is like a friendship or a relationship,” she says. “If there is judgement, there is only so far you are going to get.

“I can understand from the outside that Lydia could be called an evil character, certainly a dark character, but I think from her perspective – and, therefore, from my perspective – she believes she is doing the only thing that will keep those girls alive in this world. As far as Lydia is concerned, I don’t think she sees any other way to get it through to them. She is a big believer in ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.’”

Dowd acknowledges the show returns to screens with a weight of hype and anticipation that wasn’t present when it launched. The success of season one has been transformative for Hulu, demonstrating that it can compete as a premium drama network in much the same way that Mad Men did for AMC, or House of Cards for Netflix.

Yvonne Strahovski and Joseph Fiennes as the Waterfords

“What a wonderful problem to have,” she reflects. “The great thing about the work in this business is that they are 15-hour days. I say great, even if it brings me to my knees, because the chatter, the publicity, the awards, the award shows… all of that falls away when you are doing the work.

“Plus, I am 62 now. Can I just say that age is underrated? Because after a while, all of that chatter falls away and you realise you don’t have to pay attention to anything at all except what is in front of you today, and today I am going to tackle a scene which is very challenging.”

During DQ’s visit, the cast and crew are filming at a beautiful, ivy-coated, three-storey heritage building in rural Hamilton. Familiar to viewers as the home of the Waterfords, the Bankier House – which dates back to 1893 and takes its name from its original owner, lawyer Patrick Bankier – is doubling for a fictitious residence in Boston.

Returning from a disastrous trip, the episode sees Commander Waterford and Serena Joy, portrayed by Fiennes and Strahovski respectively, ascending a staircase and wearily retiring to their separate bedrooms. It’s 18.30 as the first take starts, and filming will continue until midnight.

During a break from shooting, Strahovski tells DQ that her character’s relationship with Moss’s Offred “ebbs and flows in more dramatic ways” and “has become even more complicated” in the second season.

Viewers can expect an even more cinematic experience in the second run

Despite their adversarial positions, “there is closeness that is found between us, because of certain circumstances that arise in the household. Negotiating that, given the circumstances that already exist, is very complex.

“It just seems to be a bit of a rollercoaster journey in that particular relationship, which is so interesting for me because it was already so heavy and guarded, and there was so much envy and frustration and anger towards her,” she says of her character’s feelings about Offred.

During the first season, critics were quick to draw comparisons between the powerful Joy and some of the most prominent women in the Trump administration, such as Melania and Ivanka Trump and Kellyanne Conway.

“A lot of people saw parallels, and I don’t blame them at all,” Strahovski says. “Our show is incredibly relatable and potent right now because of Trump’s America and everything that’s going on with women’s rights, all the new stuff that’s arising. But we became accidentally aligned with that, because we started shooting the show well before the presidential election.

“As with any character, I approached this one the same way, in that I stripped away all the judgements you can place on Serena. Having read the book, I see she is bitchy, but once you strip all of that away and realise she is a woman who doesn’t have any trust or faith in her husband anymore, in her marriage, she doesn’t have any intimacy with her husband, those raw emotions were my springboard into shaping her further… connecting with her emotionally and finding that humanity in her.”

Alexis Bledel’s Ofglen toils in the ‘colonies’

The Australian-born Strahovski adds: “I don’t think anyone, ultimately, thought this was going to have such a massive impact, and that this show was going to become a show of resistance, particularly the ‘Handmaid’ red outfit. It’s incredible to be part of this positive movement where we are getting to talk more freely and more openly about women’s issues.”

British actor Max Minghella, who plays the shadowy Nick, the Waterfords’ driver and Offred’s love interest, echoes her sentiment. Having initially signed on for just a minor part in the show’s pilot, Minghella takes on a significantly expanded role in season two.

“It’s been a fascinating thing to be a part of something that actually has become relevant in a way none of us anticipated, predicated or necessarily intended,” he says. “The fact that we have become a part of a bigger conversation is kind of remarkable.”

In returning to the show, “I was nervous there might be some kind of shift in tonality on the set,” he says, “but there isn’t at all; everyone’s very work-focused. It’s an ambitious thing to try to continue the story beyond Margaret’s book, which is astonishing, but to have her hand in it – to have her blessing – I think gives us the confidence to keep telling the story.

“And certainly, from what I’ve seen and what I’ve read, I think it is stronger than last year. It feels more cinematic to me, it feels richer. There is an artistry to it which I think we are all craving more and more in this media.”

The red robes worn by Handmaids have become a symbol of women’s rights protests

Indeed, the cinematic quality has been a source of recurring praise for the US streaming service’s breakout hit, offering further evidence of the oft-discussed crumbling barrier between television and cinema.

“The whole of television, the whole platform has shifted into new, exciting territory with budget, talent and production value, and with writers that have come from cinema,” says Fiennes, who earned a Bafta nomination earlier in his career for his role in 1998’s Shakespeare in Love. “I think this is the television golden age and you really feel that in this production.”

Reflecting on his character, Commander Fred Waterford, Fiennes says that “like many men in positions of great power, who believe they are untouchable and who think they can get away with things, he breaks the rules. And I think this is something we see all the time in that area of authority; it’s very human.”

He also acknowledges that his role has taken on a particular resonance in the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, with his character standing in for the many men who use their powerful positions to abuse women.

“Before Harvey Weinstein there was Roger Ailes at the Fox News network, and there are many white men in big positions of power,” Fiennes reflects. “We see it. It’s right the way through history, and when the book [The Handmaid’s Tale] was conceived and written, it was happening then.

“Every day you are reminded of regimes, theocracies and patriarchal rulers, that is what is really startling to me. And they are all human, they are all fallible. I think a lot of it is to do with repression; you give a person with deep repression great power and you are in danger of creating someone like Fred,” he adds. “That is maybe a simplistic breakdown, but I am fascinated by that. There is a benign ineptitude that he is aware of, but he has been given a desk and he’s been given a power position.”

As for the show’s storyline now that the events of the book have been expended and the story is heading off-piste, Fiennes offers enthusiasm. The second season promises to expand upon the world established in the first, showing life in the toxic ‘colonies,’ the free country of Canada and using a flashbacks to explain how Gilead came to be.

“It’s rather like doing a great classical play, where someone in the front row has got the book and is muttering the soliloquies along with you,” he remarks. “Now they can’t. They are forced to enjoy a new narrative, so there is a departure. I think it is 100% authentic to the book and to the first season – darker and creepier in many respects, but still authentic.

“It liberates everyone to a point of just enjoying the narrative for the first time; that’s what is really special.”

Stay tuned for the second part of this feature, which will include interviews with showrunner Bruce Miller, director Jeremy Podeswa and DOP Colin Watkinson.

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