“The Handmaid’s Tale” star Elisabeth Moss has found her voice. In making the second season of Hulu’s Emmy-winning dystopian drama, Moss discovered a world of difference vs. Season 1: While she might play a woman trapped under authoritarian rule, behind the scenes she felt able to speak out a whole lot more.
“It’s made me a stronger person,” the Emmy winner said about her experience making the critically acclaimed series about a future world where women have no rights. “Having to say my own ideas, having to go up against people, having to argue, has definitely brought out, I think, a bit of a strength in me that I didn’t know that I had.”
This was because Moss isn’t just the star of the series. After serving as a producer last year (a job at which she worked hard, because the title wasn’t just “a vanity credit”) she became an executive producer in Season 2.
“Mainly because I inserted myself into so many situations in Season 1 that they were like, ‘let’s just make her an executive producer,'” she said. “Which just means more responsibility, which I love. It’s been, honestly, so incredibly fulfilling, that side of it. It only informs the acting for me, because I’m involved in things from the very, very beginning.”
Moss has been incredibly busy in recent months, but spoke to IndieWire last January while the show was still midway through production on the 13 new episodes. And the experience, she said, had taught her a lot about how to behave off screen, especially in collaboration with showrunner Bruce Miller.
“The moments where she talks about things that don’t work for her have increased from Season 1 to Season 2,” Miller told IndieWire. “And it’s not always ‘This doesn’t work.’ It’s, ‘Is there a way to make this better? This is bumping me for some reason.'”
Miller acknowledged that one aspect of this was that he and the writers weren’t exactly crafting a sitcom here. “In your career, you don’t get the opportunity very often to write absolutely the hardest stuff you can. And she can still knock it out of the park. So that’s just a pleasure none of us are going to give up,” he said. “We write hard stuff for Lizzie. So I think on that side of things, the stuff has more questions in it. There’s more potential for things that are difficult to play or impossible to play.”
But Moss was also working against cultural expectations that might have, in the past, kept her silent. “You actually have to consciously work past this thing that we are conditioned to have, as women, where you’re not supposed to be difficult — you’re not supposed to be too argumentative or you’ll be considered difficult,” she said. “I think, thank God, I’ve sort of gotten over that pretty fast.”
It didn’t come easy, however. “Definitely the first couple times you have to say something that is against what everybody else is saying, it’s a little scary,” she said. “But I work with incredible collaborators who want to hear what I have to say and who value my voice, and value my opinion — then they end up respecting me more. That’s been a big lesson that I’ve learned.”
From Miller’s perspective, “I think she feels freer having those conversations. She knows that I’m open to talking about that stuff… It’s she and I against the work, as opposed to me against her.”
The conversations between Moss and Miller extended beyond her own role on the show, Moss said, because besides her official producing duties, she felt she was, in a sense, “the head of the acting department.”
“It’s my responsibility to take care of my cast and my fellow actors,” Moss said. “I always encourage them to bring me questions, to bring me thoughts, to bring me problems. I tell them, ‘Bring me what you got, I’ll take it to Bruce and we’ll get it answered.'”
Moss made it clear that while she worked hard to make sure her fellow actors felt able to speak about issues that might be bothering them, she didn’t try to insert herself in the process by which an actor might get their answers. “I don’t do the clarifying. I let [Miller] or the director do it. But [I’ll say] ‘I think you might need to clarify that moment for them.'”
Meanwhile, as far as her own character’s journey might go, Moss feels pretty certain about the path, given the way that Season 1 ended with the discovery that June was, miracle of miracles, a pregnant woman in a barren world. “A lot of June’s story in Season 2 is dealing with how is she going to resist in this world? She found some interesting ways at the end of Season 1, with the failed stoning, and the gathering together of what we call the Red Army, the women walking down the street,” she said.
“But I think in Season 2 we’ve made it more complicated for her. We’ve given her challenges that she has to get past, and sometimes, I think, she’s going to have to look at the long game a little bit more than the short one.”
Moss noted that she’s played an expectant mother in the past, but Season 2 represents a very different challenge for her. “I’ve never had the situation, which is that it is a beautiful thing, she has a child growing inside her, she is a mother to that child. But does she want to raise that child in Gilead? Is that a place that you would ever want to raise a baby? And that baby’s going to get taken away from her,” she said. “So, dealing with all that is so incredibly complicated, and it’s so much more complicated than any other pregnancy I’ve ever played. It’s a huge part of the season, and it is this growing, figuratively, and literally, problem.”
But it’s a journey she felt fully engaged with, as both an actor and a producer, and she doesn’t see herself deviating too much from that in the future. “I don’t imagine doing a whole lot that I’m not involved in as a producer at this point, because I think having that control as an actor in this industry is really important,” she said. “I’m pretty into that process. I think that’s the way to go for me.”
The first two episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale” Season 2 are streaming now on Hulu.