Samira Wiley on How ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Helps Her ‘Embrace Every Single Part of Me’

Former “Orange Is the New Black” star Samira Wiley wasn’t initially sold on playing Moira in
“The Handmaid’s Tale.” “I had just come off playing another lesbian character for the past four years, so I didn’t want to get pigeon-holed,” says Wiley. Her wife — a Margaret Atwood fan — urged her to take the role, which would land her an Emmy nom. Clothes are crucial to the show — “These colors are talking without even having a script!” she notes — and she’s exploring their significance in her own life. “I’m learning that it’s OK if people can’t figure out which box I fit into,” says Wiley, who can feel fully herself on a red carpet or at home in sweatpants. “I’m learning to embrace every single part of me.”

The first year “Orange is the New Black” racked up Emmy nominations — including ones for casting, writing, directing, and comedy series — Wiley was pretty new to fashion. She was also most eager to abandon prison attire. “It’s hard to not be aware of the fact that we’re in the same exact clothes every single day, and wanting people to see me as being able to play different things,” she says. Her stylist Sam Spector encouraged her to try this Christian Siriano dress from the back of a rack, and Wiley obliged, only to find it was “awesome.” The other thing she wore to her first Emmy awards? “A big smile on my face the entire time,” she says.

Wiley credits the Netflix show, a best drama series nominee in year two, for giving her “a family of sisters” and instant fame. “It was really one of the first shows that was in this binge-watching format. And so people were sitting on their couches, just watching us, hour after hour, and they got pretty close to us,” says Wiley, who began being recognized days after the show’s debut. She felt a little more confident this second Emmy year, and considers the fuchsia Jill Stuart look her favorite. “I think I had like two outfits up until the last second, and I finally just picked that one and it ended up being perfect.” The news media overwhelmingly seemed to agree.

An Emmy nomination for her work on “The Handmaid’s Tale” “was the furthest thing from my mind,” Wiley. Siriano was less shocked: “He had already sent over to my stylist maybe 10 sketches,” she recalls. The custom end product was “pink and bright and pretty girly,” and she modeled her hair after Whitney Houston’s first album cover. Wiley, who was rooting for co-star Ann Dowd to take their supporting actress category, doesn’t need an award to recognize Moira’s impact. “Since there has been a shift in our leadership in the country, I have felt a little more emboldened to be more outspoken in terms of what my own beliefs are, and I think that comes from Moira’s openness.”

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