The fourth season of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was quite a whirlwind for supporting drama actress Emmy nominee Yvonne Strahovski. Her character, Serena, may have been mostly confined to scenes within her Canadian holding cell, but her mind was doing mental gymnastics to figure out how to still come out on top — for her and her unborn child.
Because yes, after years of Serena and her husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes) using a handmaid because they struggled to conceive, it turned out Serena was fertile after all, which was a “slap in the face” to their handmaid June (Elisabeth Moss), Strahovski tells Variety on the Awards Circuit podcast — and probably to many audience members as well. Listen below!
The biggest complication for Serena didn’t come until the end of the season, however. After so much flip-flopping about being aligned with her husband, he was killed — literally beaten to death and strung up by Gilead refugees, including June. The season ended without Serena learning that knowledge, though the news has to be coming right around the corner. June did mail his finger to Serena.
“Her hope is that she gets out and she’s in Canada and she’s living her own life with her baby, and she’s fine and everything’s hunky-dory,” Strahovski says. Prior to knowing Fred’s fate, the actor thinks her character is still “undecided” as to whether or not she will “keep using Fred.”
“What’s conflicting, or what’s making that decision harder to make, is that she does realize that there was a fan club for her out there when she’s united with Fred, when she’s supporting Gilead. And in my mind, I think it would be really interesting to explore her having a win — and I say that with air quotes — in terms of, she gets out and starts a political career and gets [a] following of some kind,” she explains.
Of course, Fred’s death “throws a massive spanner into the works.”
“If she finds out June is the one that orchestrated it, she’s living in fear at that point because then what’s stopping June for coming for her baby?” Strahovski says. “[June] is capable of anything now. I really hope that moment is in the script next season where we see that June was responsible for that and the reaction.
“In a way it would be her running and hiding. That’s the worst punishment she could have,” she continues.
The fear for Serena, Strahovski adds, is that she could be sent back to Gilead — perhaps to even become a handmaid. Mark (Sam Jaeger) already proved to make a questionable deal to hand Fred over, ultimately sealing his fate. Aside from the questionable legality and immoral ethics behind a similar deal being struck for Serena, Strahovski ultimately doesn’t think that will be her character’s fate because it would be too “obvious” a choice.
Before she has to dive into performing a season in which Serena will likely be in so much fear, though, Strahovski is reflecting on the freedom she felt while filming Season 4. This came, in part, from the character’s journey of having “a new person to prey on in Mark” and some “power over Fred” (“I just felt like she was confident beyond the scale of what she really should be feeling in that scenario,” she says), as well as channeling her own pregnancy experience for the show.
“From my experience, pregnancy makes you quite relaxed. It makes you care less about everything else that’s going on around you,” she recalls.
Though Season 4 saw Strahovski strapping on a pregnancy pad after spending a previous season concealing her own, she was excited to explore such a story.
“Obviously that’s a pot-stirring event for Serena to be pregnant,” she says. “I was excited for what that brings, both to the dynamics of her relationships with the other characters, but also the dynamic with herself and what that means. … Does she learn to realize that perhaps her past actions were more horrendous than she’d like to believe? What direction does that take for her psychologically?”
Anyone who watched Season 4 knows that being pregnant did not make Serena a more selfless person. (Perhaps that will come when the baby is actually born and she’s staring at another being who needs her to put it first. Then again, knowing the character well…perhaps not.) Having the baby to protect kept Serena leaning into her manipulative side, Strahovski notes. Although she didn’t really want Fred as an ally, she had to go back to him after she realized she wasn’t going to find any friends in such Gilead refugees as June and Rita (Amanda Brugel).
“I always feel like I’m walking that fine line between the two worlds in playing her,” Strahovski says of Serena’s vulnerabilities, more explored in the previous season, and manipulation.
This is especially evident in her interactions with her husband. At one point, Strahovski truly believes, they were a strong, loving couple. But as time went on and Gilead formed, things changed. She points to the “first chapter of Gilead, pre-June arriving and going back to the original Offred” as a turning point — and one she would like to explore through flashbacks.
“That was when Fred started to fool around with other people and that was [when] the trust started to go between Serena and Fred. That was the foundation of where I built Serena from — from the bitterness of the hurt and the betrayal that she would have felt during that time,” she says.
A few short years later, in Season 4, their relationship was “a business transaction,” she points out. “The point where Fred decides to throw Serena under the bus and convict her as well, I think is the absolute final straw for Serena in terms of just anything remaining between them that is redeemable.”
Needless to say, when Serena finds out Fred is dead, her response may be some relief, Strahovski admits. But would she be safer if Fred were still around? It’s something the actor goes back and forth on. The supporters she has — shown in Season 4 at a small rally — were showing up for the family values they represented. “I’s her wearing the teal dress and being by Fred’s side,” Strahovski points out. That audience “comes at a price” and is “not necessarily the way she wants to have an audience.”
How she stirs up more support in the aftermath of Fred’s death remains to be seen in the upcoming season, but knowing Serena’s powers of manipulation, that may not be as complicated as it seems.
Also on this episode of the Awards Circuit Podcast, we chat with Hannah Einbinder, who stars opposite Jean Smart in HBO Max’s Emmy-nominated comedy “Hacks.” But first, on the Variety Awards Circuit Podcast Roundtable, we discuss COVID contingencies, whether streamers are moving more to weekly episode drops, and if “Ted Lasso” can be beat in the comedy series Emmy race.
Variety’s Emmy edition of the “Awards Circuit” podcast is hosted by Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Danielle Turchiano and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in television. Each week during Emmy season, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.