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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: Joseph Fiennes Refused to Perform a Season 2 Rape Scene and Fought to Cut the Moment

Fiennes' performance as Fred Waterford earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series this year.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE -- "June" -- Episode 201 -- Offred reckons with the consequences of a dangerous decision while haunted by memories from her past and the violent beginnings of Gilead. Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), shown. (Photo by:George Kraychyk/Hulu)

“The Handmaid’s Tale”


“The Handmaid’s Tale” is known for being one television’s most brutal drama series, and sometimes the show’s content proves too grim for even its actors. Joseph Fiennes, who plays Commander Fred Waterford, revealed during a conversation with the SAG-AFTRA Foundation (via Entertainment Weekly) that he refused to perform a rape scene in Season 2 and eventually got the moment cut from the episode. Fiennes has performed several sexual abuse scenes as Waterford, but this one proved too damaging.

“I guess in many ways, as abhorrent and nasty and evil as Fred is, I have to defend parts of him,” the actor said. “In episode 9, we had a moment where Fred was going to rape — after meeting Luke — rape Serena in a hotel room straight after, and it just didn’t track for me. I had to go out on a limb and refuse to do it because I felt that even though Fred is who he is, he’s human.”

Fiennes said the scene didn’t ring true to him, noting that Waterford would be “reeling from the interaction with Luke” and wouldn’t react by raping his wife. “Suddenly the reality comes face to face with him and he would be digesting that and trying to understand it,” he said, “and he wouldn’t necessarily be switched on by being in Canada in a new hotel and trying to heavily persuade his wife to do something that she wouldn’t want to do.”

In order to get the scene cut, Fiennes wrote “long emails” to “The Handmaid’s Tale” showrunner and writers and pushed them to realize a moment of sexual abuse was not needed in this moment.

“Yvonne [Strahovski] had tracked Serena so beautifully that her disenfranchisement with the regime and Fred was so beautifully charted it didn’t need a heavy scene to kind of suddenly push her over the edge,” Fiennes argued.

Fiennes’ resistance to the moment was heard and the writers removed it from the episode. “It’s really about battling for human nuance within a very dark character,” he said.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” recently wrapped up its second season and will return for a third on Hulu next year. The series earned 20 nomination this year, including best drama series. Fiennes’ work earned him his first Emmy nomination. He’ll compete in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series race.

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