After two full seasons of near-relentless darkness, The Handmaid’s Tale has started to find its way towards hope. No single character has endured more of Gilead’s horrors than Alexis Bledel’s Emily; she watched her lover executed, underwent a forced clitoridectomy, and spent much of Season 2 in the radioactive death camp known as the Colonies, where she expected to die. But instead, she lived, and in the final episode of the season she escaped Gilead for good thanks to an unexpected intervention from the mysterious Commander Lawrence.
Bledel’s role has been, to some degree, reinvented in each new season, an opportunity the actress calls “wonderfully challenging. Every time they put Emily in a new environment, she has to go through a pretty distinct change, which I just think of as adding on another layer.”
Bledel spoke to BAZAAR.com about Emily’s dangerous escape and “incredibly difficult” reunion with her wife (Clea Duvall), what she learned about refugees’ PTSD from the show’s United Nations consultants, and Emily’s relationship with Moira (Samira Wiley).
Harper’s Bazaar: Even by the standards of this show, Emily has been through so much. What was your reaction when you found out she was going to escape?
Alexis Bledel: I was glad that I was going to be provided a consultation with someone from the UN to inform me on the experience of refugees who come back to regular life and try to reintegrate into their family dynamic. In a way, it almost felt like a different show to me for a while, until I realized that this was just another layer on top of what they’ve already built in terms of her character. So once we started, it didn’t seem that way after all, even though I was not in the red costume anymore.
HB: The scene where Emily has to swim across a freezing river with baby Nicole, and they both almost drown, looked like it had to be a harrowing shoot.
AB: It was intense. I think it’s the toughest thing I’ve done physically in a role. I’m not the most daring with that kind of thing, so luckily we have an incredible stunt team, and Shelley Cook, our stunt coordinator, and Jen, my stunt double, pretty much walked me through it step by step. They did the tougher shots on their own, and then I would kind of come in in places where they had made sure it was safe. There was wildlife. It was at night. It was crazy. A lot of stuff under the water, it was an urban river. But to be given the chance to play a refugee seeking asylum, I tried to focus on that, because there was this bigger purpose to that scene. Just making sure that it was an authentic portrayal, and keeping in mind that it’s an honor to get to do that was key.
HB: The moment when she makes it across and the Canadian authorities ask her if she’s seeking asylum is so emotional, and so timely.
AB: Yeah, and I think for all of us, that was the moment that made the scene really important to the show, and worth all of us being in the water for. That was the reason.
HB: Was there anything in particular the UN consultant told you that you found helpful?
AB: Understanding the level of PTSD that she would carry with her, and the depth of how severe the anxiety can be. Touch is really not comfortable at first for somebody, so for me a lot of it was really absorbing that sensitivity. Also to sound, and movement around you, where you’re just expecting something horrible to happen—imagining that was really helpful. And then it was finding the right balance so that it wasn’t too much, but you could see cracks in her composure, as much as she’s trying to put up this front and not scare anybody, and not show all of her wounds on the surface.
HB: What’s happening in Emily’s head as she walks into the hospital and everyone starts applauding her?
AB: I think she’s got very little left physically and emotionally at that point. For me, when I was walking through that moment, I just really felt focused on the baby. It’s incredible that the baby’s still alive, and she doesn’t want to let go, of course, when asked. She’s holding on really tightly with probably all the strength she has left. It’s almost like tunnel vision for her, and that’s all I thought about. If other people were talking to her, she’s barely piecing together what’s happened. She’s kind of out of it. I didn’t know that that moment would move people as much as it did.
HB: The reunion with her wife Sylvia in Episode 4 isn’t the totally joyful moment people might expect—it’s awkward, and they don’t quite know how to relate to each other any more.
AB: Emily is sort of fearful. I think this is the first time I experienced her being really fearful. She was scared of physical harm before, and it made her physically defensive, but now she’s fearful on such a personal level that she’s not going to be understood by Sylvia, and that there’s really no way for Sylvia to understand what she’s been through, or to understand some of the choices she made. And she, herself, is reevaluating the choices she made. In this different environment, she has a new perspective that’s still falling into place. And it’s just as hard for Sylvia as it is for Emily on some level to always fight for that connection as they come back together. They both have to want that so much for it to work, because it’s incredibly difficult.
HB: Speaking of the choices Emily made, as far as she knows, she killed Aunt Lydia, and that’s not the first person she’s killed. That must be weighing on her.
AB: Yeah. I think she’s reckoning with a lot of choices. She’s somebody who has turned to violence to, in her mind, defend herself and fight for a cause that she’s decided is important. And then without the constant threat of aggression around her, being able to come down from that a bit, I think she feels very, very far away from who she was before she was sent to Gilead. Trying to tie back together who she was and who she is now, and seeing all the collateral damage in between, and then realizing that that was her doing those things, I think it is a huge moral dilemma. There’s a lot of grief, and guilt, and confusion swirling around.
HB: Moira and Emily have some interesting interactions this season. What’s your take on their relationship?
AB: Moira’s the only person who on some level does understand what Emily has been through. She understands the torture and demands they were living under, which is a huge touchstone for Emily to have, especially so soon coming out of Gilead. I think it really is beneficial to her to get to meet up with Moira a couple of times. I love that the writers made it so that they don’t actually have much in common as the people they were before Gilead. They’re just totally different people, but they have one other huge point of connection, which is they’re both queer women. So they’re able to relate on this other level that’s important, especially because queer women were treated so much more harshly in Gilead than straight women would’ve been. But even in that context, they were pretty different people. It was great that that wasn’t too perfect, and that Moira didn’t provide everything or have a sort of answer for Emily.
Source: Read Full Article