Do something. Stay awake. Beware of morons. Those are the deeper messages expressed in Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which bows April 26.
Stars Elisabeth Moss, Alexis Bledel, Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fiennes, Ann Dowd, Samira Wiley and other cast members, showrunner Bruce Miller, director Reed Morano and exec producer Warren Littlefield gathered Friday night for the premiere screening and panel at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Here are 12 things we learned from the conversation about the series that presents a chilling look at an America where women are enslaved as breeding machines for a totalitarian regime dubbed Gilead.
- Atwood makes a cameo in the first episode as a menacing aunt who delivers quite a slap to Moss’ Offred. Moss insisted that the blow look authentic. “She didn’t want to and then she really got into it,” Moss said.
- Moss was convinced that she needed to do the show by a 90-minute telephone conversation with Miller. She loved Miller’s pilot script and then was even more impressed by his second episode. “The writing is brilliant,” Fiennes added, praising Miller.
- Fiennes deftly tackled the “isn’t this show awfully political” question. “Of course it’s political; let’s hope it’s not prescient,” he said.
- Dowd really, really doesn’t like Donald Trump. “I hope it has a massive effect,” she said of the series as a motivator for activism. “I hope they picket the White House wearing these costumes. Never underestimate the power of morons.”
- Littlefield seconded that opinion, quoting a line from Offred in the series. “Do something,” he said. “That’s the message we want to carry to the world outside.”
- Offred isn’t designed to be a feminist hero, nor was “Mad Men’s” Peggy Olson, Moss insisted. “It’s not a feminist story, it’s a human story, because women’s rights are human rights,” she said. “I never intended to play Peggy as a feminist and I never expected to play Offred as a feminist.”
- Dowd’s fearsome talent can be really, really scary. Bledel described a lengthy two-hander scene with Dowd’s tyrannical Aunt Lydia her that plays like a “horror movie.” Wiley concurred: “I had to remember to tell myself this is a show.”
- Although the book is told from Offred’s point of view, the series will feature other character perspectives. “In the book you stay with Offred the whole time. In the show you may not. You’ll just have to watch and see,” said Morano, who directed the first three hours.
- Miller has a vision for taking the story beyond where it ends in the book for future seasons. “Once you create this world you have a lot of places to go,” Miller said. “The end of the book is quite a mystery so I get to make it up.”
- Dowd really, really has concerns about the current political climate and encouraged the crowd to stay vigilant and active. “Stay awake. Don’t think for a minute ‘I’ll get involved some other time.’ Don’t wait. Stay awake.”
- Morano underscored that point by noting that every horrible stricture placed on women in the book is something that has actually happened to women somewhere in the world. “We’re sheltered here,” she said. “It’s interesting to be reminded of the things that happened to other people.”
- Littlefield really, really wants to see “Handmaid’s Tale” live to fight on another season. Or two, or three. “We’ve only scratched the surface with the first 10 hours,” he said. “Our hope is that we leave you with the feeling ‘We have to have more.’ “
(Pictured: Samira Wiley, Elisabeth Moss, Reed Morano and Yvonne Strahovski)