Season two of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” will offer a deeper look at the social and political conflicts that led to Gilead’s succession from the United States.
“Handmaid’s” producers and star Elisabeth Moss talked up the big themes of the upcoming season on Sunday morning during Hulu’s portion of the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena. Calif. Moss spoke alongside Bruce Miller, showrunner and executive producer of the MGM TV series, and exec producer Warren Littlefield.
The dystopian drama based on the famed 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood tells the story of an alternative reality in which the U.S. is rocked by civil war and women lose most of their civil rights in the Gilead state. Moss’ Offred character is a breeder who is forced to have sex with Gilead leaders in an effort to conceive at a time when most women have become infertile. Season 1 ends on a cliffhanger with Offred becoming pregnant and facing discipline for defying Gilead rules.
Season two, which bows April 25, is actually a few shades darker than season one, “if that’s possible,” Moss said.
“So much of this season is about motherhood,” Moss said. “We’ve talked a lot about the impending birth of the child that’s growing inside of her as a bit of a ticking time bomb, The complications are really wonderful to explore. She does have the baby, but it gets taken away from her. She can’t be its mother. It makes for good drama.”
Marisa Tomei is one of the guest stars who will appear in the new season, Miller disclosed. Tomei will be in the second episode when the show starts to explore the idea of the colonies, although he would not give up any details about her character.
The stakes are high for all involved because “Handmaid’s” has been such a juggernaut for Hulu. The series scooped up top Emmy Awards in September and just last week added Golden Globe wins for drama series and for Moss.
“The biggest barrier to Season 2 is always Season 1,” Miller said, acknowledging how high the bar is for the show.
The upcoming season ventures well beyond the story that unfolds in the novel. Offred is on the run, Littlefield disclosed, and key characters will visit an area known as “the colonies,” an element that is mentioned in the novel but not fully explored. “It’s a pretty forbidding world,” Littlefield said.
Miller noted that during the making of the first season, there were aspects of the book that they couldn’t explore in the initial 10 episodes.
“We saved a lot of things from Season 1. We kept a nice long list,” he said. “It’s just an expansion of that world. We’re not exiting that world [of the novel] at all.”
Atwood remains actively involved as a consultant who is in regular communication with Miller. Reed Morano, the director who established the look and feel of “Handmaid’s” by helming the first three episodes, will not be back for Season 2 because of her busy production schedule. Half of the directors for Season 2 are women this time around, Littlefield said, compared to four out of five directors who worked on season 1.
“Handmaid’s Tale” touched a nerve in its debut last April as the issue of sexual harassment and gender discrimination took center stage in politics and culture. The resistance effort within Gilead by the “Handmaid’s” had resonance at a time when “resist” has become a rallying cry for many who oppose the Trump administration and its political agenda.
The concept of women organizing a resistance effort “had a big influence on the first season and will have big influence on second season,” Miller said. “Offred’s level of awareness has gone up. She’s more able to see things around her.”
Moss added: “There’s more than one way to resist, as well. There’s also resistance within her. That’s something that is a big part of this season.”
As the plot thickens for Offred and other handmaids, Miller said the show is sticking with the fantasy ethos spelled out by Atwood for the novel. The abuses inflicted on female characters in the show have to be grounded in reality for women somewhere in the world. Miller said producers have consulted with the United Nations and Human Rights Watch to ensure they know whereof they write.
“It’s easy in a show like ours to come up with perverse cruelties toward women and then it just turns into pornography,” Miller said. “You have to keep tethered to the world. It’s a loser on every front to be imagining evil.”
Speaking to reporters after the session, Miller downplayed the idea that current events have influenced the story. “I wouldn’t say that the story is ripped from today’s headlines,” he said. “I would say that today’s headlines were ripped from the book.”
He did, however say that news events such as the women’s march, the #MeToo movement to expose sexual harassment, and the decision by Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive, have been discussed in the writers’ room.
Miller and Littlefield took time to heap praise on the extraordinary performance Moss delivers under trying circumstances.
“Without action, without dialogue, there’s a relationship the camera has with Lizzie’s face,” Littlefield said. “There’s an entire narrative that’s taking place when that camera is on her face.”
Moss’ skill has “allowed us to write things we really wouldn’t be able to [otherwise] write,” Miller said. “Its just incredible. It’s a weird world, she’s wearing a weird hat. The degree of difficulty is super high.”
Miller cited Moss’ experience on AMC’s “Mad Men” as having given her the experience of how to build a character over time and over long story arcs. “It’s rock-climbing, little tiny step by little tiny step,” he said.
Moss returned the compliment, expressing her appreciation for Miller’s openness to discussion when she has questions or concerns about a scene or Offred’s motivations. The two recently had an hourlong telephone conversation over a scene. “He stuck to his guns,” Moss said. “I trust him. He explained it to me in a way that I was like ‘Oh,’ and it was a great scene.”