It’s been nearly two years since fans of Hulu’s bleak political drama The Handmaid’s Tale got a glimpse of Gilead.
Two years is a long time, by any measure, but add in a real-world pandemic and an election that threatened our preciously guarded democracy and, well … returning to a fictional world where a theocracy powered by misogyny and oppression subjugates women, turning them into breeding machines for its new world order feels like a reminder of sorts. This might be why the show’s latest season, which drops April 28, is filled with more immediacy, more restless political maneuverings, bloody displays of violence, and wide-ranging forms of rebellion by its main players.
Things are changing in Gilead, though in whose favor we’re still not sure. Stars Bradley Whitford and Max Minghella undoubtedly know, but they’re not telling. Whitford’s Commander Lawrence is presented by Minghella’s Nick Blaine, now a Commander himself, with an intriguing proposition. The two men share more screen time this season than fans might have expected and their “partnership” fuels some of the show’s most interesting twists.
We chatted with Whitford and Manghella about returning to a fictional dystopia in the middle of lockdown, the ambiguous motives of both of their characters this season, and whether any of the Commanders in Gilead actually have Twitter accounts.
What about this season had you ready to get back to work?
Max Minghella: I couldn’t believe that I get to work this much with Bradley Whitford.
I mean, what a dream.
MM: Truly, if you told me five years ago that I was going to get to be in one scene with Bradley Whitford, let alone half a dozen … it’s crazy. I can’t get over it. That was the thing I was most excited about. I was happy that they paired us together. He’s one of my favorite people on and off the screen and I think we have real chemistry that comes through. The camera’s such a fascinating thing. You can’t lie to it. It will always find your truth no matter what you think you’re doing on the outside. It was really fun to look at the scenes that we have this year because I think you can tell that we’re friends. There’s a sort of playfulness to those interactions, which I’m really happy with.
Bradley Whitford: Yeah. There’s a fraternal connection. There’s a similarity in these guys. There’s kind of a remote pragmatism, maneuvering these different political currents. I think my evolving affection and admiration for June too… I remember we all had a scene, last year where I clock what’s going on between them. I think I get a kick out of them as a couple.
Both men have a bit more power this season. Does that power begin to corrupt them, or is it bringing out parts of themselves that were already there?
BW: I think Lawrence since he lost Eleanor, there’s a kind of abandon to him; a kind of recklessness and fearlessness, which was a lot of fun to play with; which was different for him this year. By the way, I remember when I was doing West Wing and thinking, “Man, don’t tell the feature people I am having the greatest creative experience.” Every episode I get this phenomenal writing. I have this evolving relationship with an audience, with my fellow castmates, with the character. This show absolutely confirms for me the joy of being able to do these complex characters and ongoing shows.
This is a very popular show. Sometimes controversial. When you get recognized for it, what are people’s reactions?
BW: People get pretty unnerved and creeped out by Lawrence.
That scans. The guy is not trustworthy.
MM: He’s pretty mercurial.
Okay, but to be fair, Max you have it easier as the love interest here.
BW: [laughs] Yeah, smoldering hot boy has it easier.
This season you get the feeling there may be a way out of Gilead for some of these characters. Are either of these guys thinking that far ahead? Or are they very much in the moment? A, “How do I save my ass today” kind of thing?
BW: The second. I think they’re struggling. I think a lot of their behavior that is most disturbing is the product of them just navigating an unfolding situation where they have to be pragmatic. In a lesser show, think a character like Lawrence would have an epiphany and be an unmitigated ally all of a sudden, but that would do a disservice to the obstacle that June and the other handmaids are up against.
Nick makes some really questionable choices in the first few episodes of this season. What’s his game plan?
MM: Because I play Nick, I feel like I’m on his side. You know what I mean? So my perspective on it is that he’s always focused on her and using his position as best as he can to help support her situation. He’s not useful if he’s outside of the system so it is this balance that you’re talking about. He has to walk a fine line of not becoming too suspicious, otherwise, he loses this instrument that is useful. I think he’s constantly forced into positions he doesn’t want to be in and forced into moral quandaries he’d rather not think about but ultimately is worth it because of this deep-rooted love he has for this woman.
You guys are filming some heavy material during a really crappy year. Did everything happening outside of the show make it more difficult to come back? Or was filming kind of an escape?
BW: I think the whole COVID situation just emphasized how lucky we were. Not only that we were people who were able to work during this difficult time, but I think I am acutely aware of how rare a situation like The Handmaid’s Tale is, where you have this extraordinary material, extraordinary writing room, extraordinary casts, an extraordinary crew, the best creative atmosphere I’ve ever been in, in terms of freedom and safety. I’m 61 years old and I’ve got lucky a couple of times, but the older I get, the more I know what a miracle it is for things to be firing on all cylinders like this, and the obstacles this year just made me realize even how privileged we are to be able to do it.
Twitter was mentioned for the first time this season. The thought of social media existing in Gilead is just too weird but now I have to know: Do Commanders have Twitter accounts?
MM: They’re on Parlor.
Probably. I’m assuming, if Lawrence has Twitter, he’s just posting Josh Malina digs. I know in real life, you guys have a feud going, Bradley.
BW: [laughs] That’s a whole problem I’ve escaped temporarily in Gilead. But I don’t think Lawrence is tweeting. I think he’s more of a TikTok dance man.
Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ returns on April 28.