Elisabeth Moss Says ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is Not a Feminist Story

Elisabeth Moss stars in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the highly anticipated MGM/Hulu television series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel. The first episode of the series premiered Friday evening at the Tribeca Film Festival.

This cautionary tale co-stars Joseph Fiennes, and features Ann Dowd, Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, Yvonne Strahovski and Max Minghella, O-T Fagbenle and Madeline Brewer, all of whom attended the premiere.
The story takes place in Gilead, once the U.S. until a brutal coup by religious Puritans turned the country into a theocracy. Moss plays Offred, a woman whose husband is murdered by the regime and whose child is taken away. She is then forced to be a “handmaid,” which is the term applied to fertile women made to bear children for the elite. Offred, like the rest of the handmaids, is forced to dress in a nun-like outfit with a red cape, all the better to see them if they should try to escape. Most of the story is told through her eyes, a woman who yearns to find her child.

Although filmed last fall before the election season was in full swing, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which debuts, April 26, seems even more relevant now than when it was written.

On the red carpet, Fiennes said his character, the Commander, is a great exploration of people in authority. “People that wear one face and also have anther face. It’s about hypocrisy,” he said, adding, “Certain people who are very powerful and believe they’re untouchable. And he has a taste of it, what it is to be untouchable. He’s at the top of the chain and he cannot help himself.” The previous handmaid in his home before Offred killed herself, possibly because of the Commander and his wife’s abuses. Still Fiennes said, his character is “a human being who’s got likable traits but what he implements is horrifying.”

Elisabeth Moss said  that what attracted her to the role was her character’s fearsomeness and complexity. “Most humans are strong and vulnerable and they’re complicated and flawed. Sometimes they’re heroic and sometimes they’re not,” she said. “I like to play it all.”

How did she find her way into the character? “I read the book over and over and over again,” she told me. The quality she admired most in Offred? “Her stubborness. She just won’t give up!” Is she like that herself? “For sure! Absolutely!” Moss laughed.

The sold-out screening was followed by a conversation moderated by Elle Magazine’s Robbie Myers, with executive producers Bruce Miller, Warren Littlefield, Reed Morano and the cast members.  (See the full panel on Facebook Live at Facebook.com/Tribeca.)

Panel highlights:
Margaret Atwood has a cameo in the first episode and she plays an aunt who slaps Elisabeth Moss’ character – Elisabeth told her to really hit her and after a few takes, Atwood really got into it.

Elisabeth Moss on how her character Peggy (Mad Men) and Offred are similar.  “They are the same height.”  When asked if she tends to gravitate toward playing feminist characters she said in The Handmaid’s Tale, “It’s not a feminist story, it’s a human story, because I never intend to play Peggy or Offred as a feminist, but as a human.”

Moss on how she related to the tragedy in the story: It’s just love that she’s lost. It’s not just her child. It’s her husband, it’s her best friend and it’s her world and it’s her rights as a human, so for me putting myself there and imagining losing everything that I love and having that taken away from me is something that I can get behind, fighting to get back.

Ann Dowd (The Leftover’s) is a hoot and boldly claimed she hopes the show will have an impact on society, “I hope its has a massive affect on people. I hope they picket the White House. I hope they’re wearing these costumes … and I hope it’s all over the place and it doesn’t end and that we never underestimate the power of morons.”


(Photographs by Paula Schwartz)


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