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#Showbiz: A darker descent

THE multiple Golden Globe-winning series The Handmaid's Tale is currently airing its fourth season on HBO GO.

Based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood, the dystopian tragedy is set in a time following a second American Civil War where a totalitarian society, led by the Gilead government, subjects fertile women, dubbed Handmaids, to child-bearing slavery.

The story follows June Osborne, played by Elisabeth Moss, who is captured and made a handmaid to Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).

June later becomes the handmaid to Commander Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford).

Strahovski plays the pivotal character of Serena, who together with her husband was instrumental in Gilead's founding.

Elegant, extremely religious and capable of great cruelty, Serena is a complex villain.

In Season 4, June strikes back against Gilead as a fierce rebel leader but the risks she takes bring unexpected and dangerous new challenges.

Her quest for justice and revenge threatens to consume her and destroy her most cherished relationships.

Below, Strahovski, who has starred in various TV series such as Chuck, Dexter and 24: Live Another Day, talks about her role in Season 4.

THE PREVIOUS SEASON ENDED WITH FRED'S BETRAYAL OF SERENA. WHAT KIND OF PATH IS SHE ON NOW?

Serena is often manipulating people and is up to something, and she continues that in the new season. She has let go of the notion that Fred and her will be anything again, and there is no going back at this point.

When she returns this season, it is purely for show and for personal gain, though she does join forces with him eventually in the courtroom. But at this point, it is for show. Serena is only looking toward her own future.

DO YOU THINK THAT AUDIENCE MEMBERS ARE MORE SYMPATHETIC TOWARDS SERENA NOW?

I believe so, because people definitely get sucked into Serena's humanity when she shows it. There are certainly people who hate her, but there are some who do have compassion for her. It is difficult given the disgusting choices she has previously made.

As an actress, I ask myself what kind of upbringing she had, you would see that she was heavily influenced by religion and the abandonment from her mother. Realistically she would need a therapist to help unpack all of this.

TELL US ABOUT THE COMPLEX RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN JUNE AND SERENA.

After filming a demanding scene with Moss on Wednesday, I realised that this is an example of a highly-dysfunctional relationship. Following the many things they have been through and continue to blame each other for, they are just dysfunctional. I may only be able to speak for Serena, but she is kind of an island. She doesn't have friends and for some time, she reaches out to June because she wants to connect with someone. She feels that June is on her level of intelligence, and has some kind of fantasy that maybe they could be friends. Besides this hope, they still return to dysfunction.

We shot a scene where June screams at Serena on the ground and goes in her face and said: "Do you understand me?" This was reminiscent of the scene from the first season where Serena does the same thing, but this time, June had twice the venom and left Serena broken. Serena was searching for forgiveness from June.

HOW HAS COVID-19 IMPACTED YOU ON SET?

It took a little getting used to, but the transition to masking and distancing was a lot faster than I had thought. I couldn't wrap my head around how exactly we were going to do this, but it felt quite normal, to be honest.

The most difficult part was the quarantining and testing, especially with Toronto in lockdown. Ordinarily we spend six months there filming, and I would travel around on the weekend to see polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba or go see a trail in Nova Scotia. I like to take advantage of the city or country that I am shooting in, because it's my escape from playing a depressing character like Serena, so not having that is the most difficult part.

SERENA IS A PERPETRATOR BUT ALSO A VICTIM OF GILEAD AND FRED. TELL US ABOUT THAT DUALITY.

This fine line can often be a lot to make sense of, but it is mirroring the point in life where you have two opposing sides simultaneously. Happy and sad may be a basic example, but truthfully Serena is constantly showing her inner conflict and though it may be a fine line, it is a zig-zag.

She consistently goes back and from one side to the other, and she struggles with certain elements of this conflict. She is often in denial and sometimes her head conflicts with her heart and her compassion. An example of this is in her defence of the choice to create and contribute to Gilead, and I am sure there are some things that she would still defend with a couple of tweaks.

Though Serena is highly manipulative and an ugly person on the inside, she is in constant denial and I believe that she is aware of this. She willingly chooses this state of denial for the sake of survival.

TELL US ABOUT WHAT SERENA IS CONFLICTED ABOUT?

Some of her conflict arises from June holding up a metaphorical mirror and forcing Serena to think about her actions. Often times Serena thinks that what she did was necessary for the babies and to carry on God's will, which conflicts with the part of her that carries some humanity and compassion.

DO YOU THINK THAT SERENA ENVIES JUNE?

I do, because Serena knows that June has the willpower to make big choices that are for the greater good. I'm not sure that Serena is willing to make those kinds of choices at the expense of her own needs and wants. Having said that, I still think that the two of them understand each other well because of what they have been through together, but they simultaneously hate each other for their differences, which leads to a constant push and pull.

Courtesy of HBO


Stream or download the 10-episode Season 4 of The Handmaid's Tale on HBO GO. New episodes air every Thursday. Previous seasons are also available. Download the HBO GO app via the Play Store or App Store and get a free trial. Visit HBO GO at www.hbogoasia.com for details.

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