×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Margaret Atwood on New Book ‘The Testaments’: ‘Instead of Moving Away From Gilead, We Started Moving Towards It’

Margaret Atwood, upon the worldwide publication Tuesday of her sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” said she was inspired to return to that repressive world because that repressive world had returned to her.

“Instead of moving away from Gilead, we started moving towards it, especially in the United States,” Atwood said in London on Tuesday, in her first public comments upon the release of “The Testaments.” She said she began writing the novel more than two years ago, notifying her publishers of the project in February 2017 – soon after Donald Trump moved into the White House.

Since then, parts of the U.S. have moved to restrict women’s reproductive rights in ways reminiscent of the theocratic, reactionary dystopia of Gilead. “For a society that claims to value individual freedom, I would say to them, evidently you don’t think this individual freedom extends to women,” Atwood said.

“The Testaments” picks up about 15 years after “The Handmaid’s Tale,” far past the point where the acclaimed TV adaptation has taken the story through its three seasons. MGM and Hulu are reportedly developing “The Testaments” for television and discussing with showrunner Bruce Miller whether the new book can be integrated into “The Handmaid’s Tale” series, a fourth season of which has been ordered.

The narrator in the sequel is no longer Offred (the character played by Elisabeth Moss in the Hulu/MGM series) but instead three women, including the fearsome disciplinarian Aunt Lydia (played by Ann Dowd).

“Although I could not continue with the story of Offred, I could continue with three other people concerned in these events and tell the story of the beginning of the end, because we know from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ that Gilead vanishes. It’s no longer present 200 years into the future, because they’re having a symposium on it” at the end of the original novel, Atwood told a small gathering of journalists in London. “How did it collapse? How do these kinds of regimes disappear?….I was interested in exploring that.”

If “The Testaments” can be worked into the current TV series, a wardrobe shift will apparently be necessary: The book jacket shows a silhouette of a handmaid in a green robe instead of a red one. “There [are] some new costume choices in this book,” said Atwood, who is Canadian. “Human beings throughout time love outfits that tell you who you’re looking at, like football teams and things like that. So yes, we have some new outfits.”

The author said she was in regular contact with Miller and clued him in, at least in general terms, about where she planned to take the story in “The Testaments” – for example, her intention to write about Nichole, the baby Offred has with Nick, Commander Waterford’s aide. “When I said, ‘Hands off that baby,’ [Miller] said, ‘Oh, OK,’” Atwood recalled with a laugh.

As for the show, “I read the scripts; I make notes on them,” she said. “I have influence but no actual power. But luckily we’re in accord most of the time.”

The anticipation surrounding “The Testaments,” which comes 34 years after publication “The Handmaid’s Tale,” has resembled the frenzy that greeted new Harry Potter installments. Crowds gathered at midnight Monday night to lay their hands on a copy at bookstores across Britain. On Tuesday evening, Atwood will speak at a sold-out event at London’s National Theatre that will be live-streamed to 1,300 cinemas worldwide. Actress Lily James will read from the new novel.

“I’m very pleased and grateful to the readers who have stuck with me all these years, and to the teams of people both here and in the U.S. and Canada who have been working an amazing number of hours trying to keep a lid on” the book, Atwood said.

She has also been impressed with the adoption of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and its costumes as symbols of resistance around the world.

“It’s brilliant as a protest tactic, because you’re not making a disturbance. You’re not saying anything. You’re sitting very quietly and modestly, and you can’t get kicked out for dressing inappropriately, because you’re all covered up…no frightful bare shoulders,” Atwood said. “It’s a very striking visual image.”

Atwood was one of Variety’s Power of Women honorees last year. She told Variety that she began writing “The Handmaid’s Tale” in 1984, when Germany was still divided and many countries in Eastern Europe were surveillance states under the thumb of the Soviet Union. “My rule for [the book] was, nothing goes in that didn’t have a precedent in real life – somewhere, sometime,” she said.

More TV

  • Peppa Pig

    U.K. Competition Watchdog to Examine Hasbro's $4 Billion Deal for Entertainment One

    Britain’s competition watchdog will investigate Hasbro’s $4 billion takeover of Entertainment One. The Competition and Markets Authority was deeply involved in scrutinizing the sale of Sky, which was ultimately bought by Comcast at an unusual auction. The CMA said Thursday that it would examine whether Hasbro’s intended acquisition of eOne would result in a “substantial [...]

  • Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind.,

    MSNBC and Washington Post Air Strong, Substantial Democratic Debate (Column)

    The Democratic party primary debate in Atlanta ran long (by about 20 minutes) and had a crowded stage of 10 candidates — and yet, relatively speaking, flew by efficiently. After a passel of debates that had been wildly oversubscribed and caught fire more for personality conflict than policy difference, the MSNBC and Washington Post debate [...]

  • Subhash Chandra Chairman of the Zee

    Another 16% Slice of India’s Zee to be Sold by Essel

    The Essel Group is to sell a further 16.5% stake in Zee Entertainment Enterprise Limited, India’s largest private sector broadcast group. The debt-reduction move comes just months after Essel auctioned off an 11% tranche of ZEEL. “The Group seeks to sell up to 16.5% stake in ZEEL to financial investors, in order to repay loan [...]

  • Fuller House

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Sets Premiere Date for Final Season of Fuller House

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix announces the Fuller House’s final season premiere date, HGTV provides a Variety exclusive to the reboot of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and Freeform announces the premiere date for Josh Thomas’ new comedy “Everything’s Gonna Be Okay.” DATES HGTV provided Variety with an exclusive trailer for the reboot of “Extreme Makeover: [...]

  • Tomiko Iwata

    Fox Promotes Creative-Services Head Tomiko Iwata

    Tomiko Iwata has been promoted to executive vice president, head of creative services at Fox Entertainment. She will be responsible for overseeing all of Fox’s creative services, including experiential marketing across divisions. In addition to overseeing her Los Angeles-based staff, she will lead a team based in New York. Her previous role was senior vice [...]

  • Frank Cicha

    Listen: Why Fox Television Stations Embraced Trial and Error in Daytime

    Frank Cicha, head of programming for Fox Television Stations, saw the future coming nearly a decade ago when Fox’s TV station group committed many millions to land syndication rights to “The Big Bang Theory” back in 2010. Even then, it was clear that big hits on the scale of “Big Bang” were going to be [...]

  • Sterling K. BrownVariety and Women in

    Sterling K. Brown to Narrate Disney Plus Documentary 'One Day at Disney' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sterling K. Brown is set to lend his voice to the upcoming Disney Plus feature documentary “One Day at Disney,” Variety has learned exclusively. “One Day at Disney” will highlight the people who work on some of Disney’s most beloved stories. The film will highlight 10 specific people and their role at Disney through the lens [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content