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Samira Wiley Breaks Down Her Big Escape Scene in ‘Handmaid’s Tale’

‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ Hulu / Season 1 ep. 4, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”
Written by Leila Gerstein; Directed by Mike Barker

Samira Wiley became a beloved fixture of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” before her character Poussey was tragically killed at the end of the fourth season. Now she’s in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in which she plays Moira, an activist lesbian who finds a way to fight Gilead’s oppressors even as they tighten their grip around her. In the fourth episode, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum,” Offred (Elisabeth Moss) remembers Moira’s rebellion — from speaking up during “training” to staging a daring escape plan. Wiley recounts playing the episode, in which she first attacks Aunt Elizabeth (Edie Inksetter) and then manages to sneak onto a subway.

Wiley: It was the first episode not directed by Reed Morano. So we already had to get used to someone else at the helm of the project. [Mike Barker] was amazing. I felt like all of my fears went away once I got to set. Literally it was Lizzie Moss telling me how great the director was and that we didn’t need to be afraid. But by that time, I think that one of the things that really helped me is creating that relationship that Moira has with Offred’s character. I’d been able to do that over the past three episodes. So to be able to feel like this tag team, not having to got through that alone … Moira doesn’t all of a sudden have the guts to be able to do this. She had her partner-in-crime whom she’s known since college. I always say that being in a scene, you’re only as good an actor as the person who you’re doing the scene with. I know that it probably would have maybe been not as impactful if I didn’t have [Moss] right by my side.

The adrenaline of it, everything felt like high school. [Aunt Elizabeth] comes in; I’m hiding in the corner. And there’s so many things in this project that conjure up so many modern things. There is a basketball. They’re in a gym. That’s where they sleep! They’re literally in a high school. They’re literally there. So it definitely conjured up those feelings. And it was fun and thrilling and dangerous, but really fun.

In the subway scene, Moira is so conflicted. She’s a fiercely loyal person, and to be able to do what she did, was incredibly difficult, so much so that I found myself, Samira, being so confused really as to — and surprised — by the choice that she was making. I remember having a conversation with Lizzie and trying to tell her that I was having such a hard time finding Moira in that scene, because I didn’t think that this was something that she would do. To leave this person on this platform. Because it’s just, it’s a huge thing to attempt to escape from this place. The consequences are … it’s something that they can’t even imagine. And of course the unknown is always so much more scary. [Moss] said, “I feel like this scene is like the ultimate act of love, that’s what can she do.” What can she do if she were to not get on the train? They would both be taken and tortured and have to return, and no one would be out there to help them.

But also, all of these thoughts happen in the blink of an eye. I mean, they have this conversation in a split second just by looking at each other and how much is said during that conversation. But it was again, and it still is difficult, for me that that happened. What are the thoughts that Moira is having on that train as she’s traveling? Did she do the wrong thing? Does she feel horrible?

I do think Moira has probably been in situations where she’s threatened people before, whether she planned to carry them out fully or not.

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