Acknowledging her own involvement in the #TimesUp movement, Moss says there is a "slightly more present relevance" for her in the second season of The Handmaid's Tale. "I feel a sense of responsibility to tell the story of a person who is a survivor of assault so [this] feels very present."

Moss plays Offred – an assigned name which reflects her status as the property of Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes); her real name was June Osborne – who is a "handmaid" to Waterford and his wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski).

To briefly recap, and warning: spoilers ahead, in case you did not watch the first season: there is a growing resistance movement within Gilead. Waterford's driver Nick is an "Eye" (that is, an informant against traitors). He becomes involved with Offred and she falls pregnant, more likely to Nick than Fred.

The second season moves past the text of the original The Handmaid's Tale novel and into somewhat uncharted territory, though the production has included Atwood in story discussions and she has given the show's new storytelling her public endorsement.

Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) in The Handmaids' Tale.

Photo: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

"It's a mix of new things and it's also a mix of things from the book that we haven't done yet," Moss says. "So even though we are moving past the book in a certain way, there are things that we never did. There's things that I feel like we're still taking from the book."

One of the most potent themes of the series, Moss says, is that of motherhood. "There's so many different ways that you can be a mother and a father, and the different approaches that people have to it and what it really means," she says.

Elisabeth Moss with her awards for outstanding lead actress in a drama series and outstanding drama series for "The Handmaid's Tale" at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards in 2017.


"I think that for us is about how you want to raise a child in this world, but the kind of world that you want to bring them into," she says. "And making sure there is a place [for them] and that there is freedom for them. That's a huge part. So it's not just about motherhood but what kind of world do we want to bring this child into?"

It's hard not to see Moss an unusually blessed actress, having worked her way through some of the most challenging and fascinating characters in recent memory, including Zoey Bartlet in Aaron Sorkin's The West Wing and Peggy Olson in Matthew Weiner's critically acclaimed Mad Men.

The Handmaid's Tale.

Photo: Take Five

She made her Broadway debut in the revival of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, and on the West End in Lillian Hellman's The Children's Hour. On top of that she starred in Detective Robin Griffin in Foxtel's critically acclaimed Top of the Lake.

"The character is obviously important [to me, as an actress] but it's almost secondary to the actual script itself," she says. "When you get both, when you get a really good character and a really good script, that's amazing. It's just all about what is the best material, I don't care if it's a TV show, or a play or movie, or big or small."

She is cautious about the label "feminist" when it comes to the performances she has given, and the characters she has played. "I feel like any time you've got to play a strong, complicated woman then it tends to start [being labelled] a feminist role and, actually, it's just a strong woman," she says.

"Obviously in Mad Men there's a very specific feminist story there and then, of course, with The Handmaid's Tale, you can't get much more feminist than that," she says.

"I guess I am just attracted to strong, complicated characters and I think that, unfortunately, we've been living in a man's world for so long so our challenges are often overcoming the patriarchy. That's a lot of our drama sometimes, unfortunately, so that is going to be kind of main thrust of the story."

There is a certain delicacy in the delivery of The Handmaid's Tale, particularly in striking a balance between the moral gravity of the storytelling and the shades of grey it finds between the light and the dark.

"Our first episode, the subject matter that it [explores] and being where we are in the story, it is pretty full on and it is a bit more of a darker, violent episode," she says. "[But] there is another, where I could say it's so romantic and beautiful and elegant and sad. I was watching an episode the other day and it was making me laugh out loud.

"I think we temper it a lot of times and I think that you have to, but I also think that if we were to shy away from the reality of this world, meaning Gilead, that wouldn't work either," she says. "I think as long as [violence] is never gratuitous and as long as we are truthful and telling a story, then we're doing what we're supposed to be doing."

But perhaps the most challenging aspects of The Handmaid's Tale, Moss says, is how it explores – or at times, fails to explore – the absence of solidarity between the various classes of women in its world.

"I think the hardest, saddest thing about season one for me and Yvonne [Strahovski] was Serena not having solidarity with Offred or with any of the handmaids," she says. "Any scene where I got to play [that], just not understanding how she could turn her back on her fellow women, was always very moving for me and for her.

"Without spoiling anything, we do get into that more in season two and start raising the question more and more of, why are you doing this? Not just with Serena but with the other wives as well, why are you turning against your fellow women? Don't you see how you're standing in solidarity with the oppression by not standing up for these women?"

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Michael Idato

Michael Idato is a Senior Writer based in Los Angeles for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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