Note: This story contains spoilers from the first three episodes of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
In episode three of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” quietly fierce protagonist Offred (Elisabeth Moss) delivers a chilling monologue that in just a few lines encapsulates why this dystopian story has found new life more than 30 years after the book on which it’s based was released.
“Now I’m awake to the world,” she says, as she moves bonnet-clad down a haunting street, surrounded by armed officers. “I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen.”
She walks silently next to a fellow handmaid, also wearing their standard-issue red robe. In her head, her thoughts continue to swirl.
“When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then either,” she continues. “They said it would be temporary. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”
Opinions on whether the heat is rising in America following the election of Donald Trump in November may vary. But for Samira Wiley, who plays Moira on the show, the message of the show is clear.
“I think it’s scarily relevant right now,” she tells CNN. “I think one of the things we can see – especially through the flashbacks [in the show] – is how it doesn’t happen all at once. And that’s the thing that’s so scary.”
The flashbacks to which Wiley refers indeed paint a picture of a society that was stealthily slow to devolve, eventually rendering detractors powerless.
Before the full establishment of the totalitarian government and the Gilead (the name for the new United States), Moss’ character and Moira were just friends who’d go on runs and enjoy a cup of coffee. They leaned on each other after women were let go from their jobs and participated in political marches as women’s rights – like the ability to control their own money – were stripped away.
“I think right now we think that, ‘Well, this can’t happen.’ And then it does. And then we think, ‘Well, that next thing can’t happen.’ And it does,” said Wiley. “People in the show – and I think it’s dangerous now – become complacent and [aren’t] vigilant.”
Moira’s internal fire and spirit were quick to attract Wiley, who’d just come off playing Poussey for several seasons on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.”
“She’s just a badass,” Wiley said.
Moss, meanwhile, immediately connected to Offred’s will to survive. But after November, the role took on a whole new meaning.
“When you do roles and you do characters, you always try to personalize it and make it relevant for yourself, obviously. With something like this, it became more personal than anything I’ve ever done in a way that was unavoidable,” she said.
Moss, fresh off of “Mad Men,” first read the script for the series back in April 2016 and was the first actor to board the project. She is also a producer. Bruce Miller (“ER”) is the creator and veteran TV executive Warren Littlefield is among the executive producers.
“I think if you are going to commit that time, you do want to make sure you’re going to have some creative say,” Moss said of taking on producing duties for the first time. “And you know, as a woman in this business, I so admire other women who have taken that step themselves and taken some ownership of their career and gotten either behind the camera or gotten involved as a producer. Those are the women I look up to.”
On screen, Moss also looks to play characters with admirable qualities, but not necessarily perfect.
She speaks highly of “accidental feminist” Peggy Olson, but admired her “belief in herself” most of all.
“For me as an actor, I don’t look for heroes. I don’t look for someone who’s inspiring or some sort of iconic person, I look for someone who is human and who is real,” she said. “[Offred] is a hero in the end, but because she has to be.”
Hulu released the first three episodes of the series on Wednesday. Subsequent episodes will be released weekly.