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Elisabeth Moss Talks Season Two of The Handmaid’s Tale and its Connection to Gilmore Girls

ParedeElisabeth Moss, the former Mad Men actress, 35, returns to her Emmy-winning role in the critically acclaimed Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale—based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel—when it returns for its second season April 25.

What’s going on with your character, June/Offred, in season two?

She has this ticking time bomb, her pregnancy, that we deal with all season. In a way, it’s a beautiful thing from her love affair with Nick [Max Minghella]; but at the same time, she knows that [her child] will be taken away from her at birth.

Even though Offred’s not in a position of power, the fact that she can have a baby means she has an ability to which other women aspire.

Absolutely. What everyone wants most is a healthy child. That is going to create a bond, a link, between Serena [Yvonne Strahovski] and June that isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it’s there. June is carrying something that Serena wants very badly. I can’t say how that manifests itself, but it’s something all the characters are highly aware of the entire season.

What do fans say to you?

The thing that means the most to me is that [the show] gives them strength, or bravery. This show is very dark, and those moments are distracting sometimes because they’re so brutal. But I do think that the idea is how you rise above that brutality that is grinding you down.

Your biggest challenge right now?

Getting enough sleep. I know that’s probably lame, because I have such a wonderful, privileged life. But sometimes sleep is a bit of a struggle. When I’m working, I get an average of five or six hours, so it’s not good.

After seven seasons of Mad Men, did you have to be convinced to sign on for another series?

When I got the script, I was in Australia, shooting a second season of Top of the Lake, and it was more of a, “Damn, I’m going to have to do this.” I didn’t think I’d sign on to another show so quickly, but I was like, “I’m not going to be able to say no to this. I’m going to have to do it.”

The thing that finally pushed it over the edge was the idea of anyone else doing the role, and how jealous I would be if anyone else got to do it. For actors, that often pushes you over the edge. It’s a good sign. That’s what you look for. I asked to see the second episode, and the second episode was even better than the first one, and then I knew.

How will Offred evolve in season two? Does her inner rebel come out, or is she going to drink the Kool-Aid a little bit?

Her inner rebel is extremely present, especially in the beginning of the season. We love to give her some hard knocks. Her challenges are nowhere near over. I think that there is a certain amount of finding what the resistance is for her, and finding out that, ultimately, resistance starts within you and there are many different ways to resist.

I think that the ways she maybe hoped or thinks that she could resist don’t always work out and you have to find other paths. Just when you think we’ve done enough to her, we do more, and she has to rise above that. It makes her a stronger person, but it is very challenging.

What else can you tease about the coming season?

We’re going to get into the colonies, which is really exciting. We worked really hard on that to make sure that it was as epic, dark and scary as we could make it. This is promised in the book. You’ll see Little America, Canada and the refugees, and how two characters over there, Luke [O-T Fagbenle] and Moira [Samira Wiley], are dealing with that.

Ofglen [Alexis Gilmore Girls Bledel] is back. I can’t say what she’s doing or where she is, but she is back and we do get to see a bit more of her life pre-Gilead, as well as some other characters’ flashbacks that we haven’t seen before. We love our flashbacks. We love showing where these characters were before, how they got to Gilead, or how they got to the present.

Of course, there is still the search for Hannah [Jordana Blake] and wanting to make sure her daughter is OK. There are a lot of very heavy issues that June’s dealing with as a mother.

As well, there is the whole Nick versus Luke conundrum, which we will get into. Then there are 9 million other things that I can’t tell you.

Do you think that the controversies of the Trump presidency, especially about women, made the show more topical?

I’ve had that question asked a lot, and it’s so hard to answer because we can’t predict an alternate future of what would have happened if it wasn’t a Trump presidency. I have heard some really interesting conversations about it.

A lot of the stuff that we talk about on the show comes from the book that Margaret Atwood wrote, and lots of what we do on the show—such as genital mutilation storyline—and there is a storyline coming up in season two that is very much an international issue.

That stuff is still present. That stuff has, unfortunately, been around for a long time, and will, unfortunately, continue to be. There are things that I think would have been relevant regardless, but at the same time, I think the reason why the show spoke to people is because the people felt like they needed a voice before Trump was elected and then certainly afterwards.

There is definitely a sense of tapping into the culture at a certain time that has been really interesting for us.

Do you wake up and pinch yourself in the morning and say, “I can’t believe the attention this show and I have gotten. It’s just incredible.”

It’s pretty crazy. It really is. It’s not something you think you’d get used to. I spend six months of the year working on the show in Toronto. I work with an incredible crew, an incredible cast, but it’s not glamorous, it’s not fancy, you know? We work 60, 70, 80 hours a week. We joke around.

We get excited when the cheese and cracker tray comes by. Like, that’s the highlight of the day. All of this is something that you almost forget about, because you’re just so absorbed in making the best show possible. That’s the most important thing. I actually really value that because it is very centering and grounding.

Then you come to L.A. and you meet all these nice people, and all these fancy celebrities, and everyone says nice things to you. All of a sudden you learn that Patrick Stewart or Gary Oldman is watching the show. You’re like, “I cannot believe Patrick Stewart knows who I am.”  There is definitely that element of it that is surprising. You forget about the outside world when you’re working.

In the six months you weren’t doing The Handmaid’s Tale, you managed to film The Seagull, in theaters May 11.

I play Masha in The Seagull. It’s a wonderful cast. There is Saoirse Ronan, who is doing all right for herself, and Annette Bening, who is spectacular. It’s a really, really great cast.

Michael Mayer directs it. Adapting Chekhov is always a challenge, but we had an incredible script by Stephen Karam, who is a playwright. We wanted it to be a faithful adaptation of a Chekhov play; we also wanted it to be a good movie.

I’m very proud of it. I ran into Annette Bening in Toronto, and she was so excited about the movie. That was cool because Annette Bening has good taste. I’m excited for people to see it. It’s very different than anything I’ve done.

What do you love about being an actor?

It’s so many things. Why an artist loves what they do is often so hard to describe. Why a musician loves playing jazz, or classical music, or what makes them happy, and why an artist likes to paint. It’s so hard to actually put into words what that feeling is of joy that we get, but that is what I get, a feeling of joy when the camera is rolling, even if I’m doing something that is not joyous.

I also love the collaborative aspect of it. Ever since I was 15, when I did my first movie by myself, where my mom wasn’t there and I had a guardian, I got to know the crew, and I got to be part of a group and a family. I love that part of it, the friendships that you make.

Then producing has been a whole other wonderful addition to everything. It has only made me appreciate the acting so much more. It has only, I feel, made my experience of acting so much deeper.

The best advice you’ve received?  

Clichés are clichés because they’re true, so for me, to be true to yourself, to be true to your own ideas of what success is and who you want to be, and to not be anybody else’s version of that. I think it’s very important to do things the way you want to do them and be true to yourself, your own goals, and your own ideals.

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