10 Fascinating Facts About The Handmaid’s Tale

Hulu
Hulu

For fans looking for a sunny pick-me-up, The Handmaid’s Tale is not it. Based on the acclaimed dystopian novel from Margaret Atwood, the series stars Elisabeth Moss as Offred, a fertile woman in an infertile land, bound to a military officer in middle management of an extremist, theocratic regime. The Handmaids’ job is to bear children following a steep decline in fertility rates, while all other women serve men in roles as cooks (Marthas) and wives (dressed in blue).

Here are 10 things you might not know about the Emmy-winning series, which will compete for another 12 awards this year (including a second run at Outstanding Drama Series).

1. THE AUTHOR HAD A CAMEO IN THE FIRST EPISODE.

Beyond just adapting the novel, the series invited Margaret Atwood to be a part of the production process from the beginning, so she’s had a hand in shaping the new version of the world. She also had a hand in slapping Offred in the back of the head. In the pilot episode, Atwood has a cameo playing an Aunt (one of the cruel taskmasters lording over the Handmaids) who hits Moss’s character during her initiation into the fold. Playing an Aunt was Atwood’s idea; the slap was showrunner Bruce Miller’s.

2. THE ACTORS HAVE TO RELY ON SOUND SINCE THE COSTUMES LIMIT THEIR VISION.

Ann Dowd and Madeline Brewer in 'The Handmaid's Tale'
George Kraychyk, Hulu

The “wings” the Handmaids wear are meant to hide their faces from others as well as obscure their own vision. Costume designer Ane Crabtree said they help “heighten the cages that [the Handmaids] were in mentally, physically, emotionally,” but they also challenge the actors by removing sight from the equation. Moss and others spend a lot of time listening to their scene partners because, unless they’re looking at them straight on, they can’t see them. “What was actually a hindrance became quite a helpful vehicle for a new way of acting,” Crabtree further explained.

3. AMANDA BRUGEL WROTE A THESIS ON THE NOVEL.

Amanda Brugel plays Rita, a Martha who works in Commander Fred’s household, and her connection to the story goes way back. She first read the book in high school and wrote her college entrance thesis on it—an essay that scored her a scholarship. The main focus of her piece? Rita.

4. IT’S THE FIRST STREAMING SHOW TO WIN THE EMMY FOR OUTSTANDING DRAMA.

The Emmy awarded to the Best Drama Series represents the peak of Peak TV, and has been bestowed on such hits as The Sopranos, Homeland, Breaking Bad, and The West Wing. But The Handmaid’s Tale is unique for playing on your computer screen instead of your TV. Netflix tried for years to break into the gang with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, but Hulu sealed the deal with the dystopian nightmare.

5. IT’S GOT A SUBTLE CASABLANCA CONNECTION.

Elisabeth Moss and Max Minghella in 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

Nick (Max Minghella) doesn’t have a last name in the book, but the creators made him Nick Blaine for the series. It’s unclear whether the connection was intentional, but that makes his name incredibly close to Casablanca protagonist Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart. Both characters are initially seen as out for themselves before they reveal connections to the bad guys and ultimately aid the resistance.

6. THIS IS THE TENTH ADAPTATION OF THE BOOK.

While the novel is enjoying a renewal in popularity thanks to the cultural resonance of the show, this isn’t its first rodeo outside book form. A stage version premiered at Tufts University just a few years after the book was published in 1985; there’s also been an opera and even a ballet. The Hulu show is the first time it’s been done as a TV show, but it was twice performed as a radio play and adapted into a film in 1990 starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway.

7. THEY CHANGED ONE IMPORTANT ASPECT OF THE BOOK TO DIVERSIFY THE CAST.

Samira Wiley and Vas Saranga in 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

In the novel, part of the cruelty of Gilead was the resettling (read: banishment) of non-white “Children of Ham,” which meant that every character was white. But producer Bruce Miller couldn’t imagine having such a homogenous cast. “What’s the difference between making a TV show about racists and making a racist TV show where you don’t hire any actors of color?” he said.

8. MARGARET ATWOOD DOESN’T CONSIDER IT SCIENCE FICTION.

Bucking the genre label, Atwood has commented repeatedly that her story isn’t science fiction, because she purposefully ensured that everything that happens in it is something that’s really happened at some time in some society. She’s long considered that something like Gilead could happen under the right conditions, an especially potent thought now that The Handmaid’s Tale costumes are being worn at protests.

9. COMPLACENCY IS A CENTRAL MESSAGE OF THE SHOW.

Reed Morano, who created the look of the show in directing its first three episodes, views the current political climate as a reason to feel more responsible in the art she’s making. She was astonished by the amount of people who don’t vote (she voted absentee while shooting the show in Toronto). “That’s the message, for me at least, in the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. We’re too complacent. We let things happen to us. And you don’t have to let things happen to you. You can affect change.”

10. THE ARTWORK IN COMMANDER FRED AND SERENA JOY’S HOUSE IS STOLEN.

Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski in 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Hulu

A wry touch that nods toward how Nazi officers stole important, valuable pieces of art from Jewish houses is that the Waterford home is adorned by stolen paintings. But they aren’t random. The show’s producers intentionally picked works currently housed in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, because of its proximity to where the show takes place.

Harry Potter Cast Remembers the Late Alan Rickman

© 2009 - Warner Bros.
© 2009 - Warner Bros.

The world lost some of its most iconic celebrities in 2016, including ​Carrie Fisher and David Bowie. For ​Harry Potterfans, the January 14, 2016 death of ​Alan Rickman hit hard. Unsurprisingly, his castmates were also deeply impacted by the actor's death and have spoken out several times over the years about the magic he brought to the set.

"Alan Rickman is undoubtedly one of the greatest actors I will ever work with," ​Daniel Radcliffe wrote about Rickman a couple months after his death. "He is also, one of the loyalest and most supportive people I've ever met in the film industry."

Over two years later, the cast of Harry Potter is ​remembering Rickman to Entertainment Weekly.

Both ​Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood, and director Chris Columbus remember Rickman for being stoic on the outside, but very sweet on the inside.

"You’re thinking, it’s the guy from Die Hard and going, 'Oh my god.' If he’s in a serious mood, he’s intimidating as hell. But suddenly I had dinner with him ... and when he smiled, he just became the warmest, nicest human being in the world," Columbus said.

"Alan Rickman, pretty much every day of filming, he had a whole troop of little children [visiting]," Lynch remembered. "It was the most bizarre scene to see Snape in this black robe ... surrounded by all these happy little children who were just chatting away to him.”

Oliver Phelps and Warwick Davis recalled Rickman's affinity for iPods.

“I remember once he’d come back from an awards show ... and in the gift box was an iPod, when they’d first come about," Phelps said. "I remember being next to him ... and I ended up showing Alan how to work an iPod, which was not what I thought I’d ever do in my life. He was a very approachable guy once you saw past Snape’s wig."

"I started to wonder, what does Alan Rickman as Professor Snape listen to on his iPod?" Davis stated. "An audiobook? Some Shakespeare? Some classical music? Some techno beats? I don’t know. I never did ask
him, and I wish I had. I’d love to have known.”

​​Rickman's final role was in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Game of Thrones Star Sean Bean Talks Reprising Ned Stark Role for Prequel Series

Nick Briggs, HBO
Nick Briggs, HBO

Former ​​Game of Thrones star Sean Bean had a brief run on the show before his character, Ned Stark, literally lost his head.

During a recent interview with ​The Hollywood Reporter, Bean shared his take on whether he'd be willing to reprise his role for the Game of Thrones prequel series. Since next year's eighth season will also be the ​series' final season, fans are eager to get their fix through the prequel series, which is set to start filming next year.

When Bean was asked if he'd consider being a part of the prequel, he said, "I don't know how we can be ... I don't know how anyone can be, since they're going backwards, I'd be younger. Now, we all look a little bit older."

Before you get your hopes up and put all of your faith in the magic of digital editing, which could potentially make Bean appear younger, the actor appears to have doubts about reprising his role in general. He shared:

"I'm always a bit reluctant to go back to shows under a different format or guise ... But you never know with something like this, it just depends on the time frames ... I think if the quality was maintained. You know, the kind of thought behind it, if it didn't look as though it was an add-on just to capitalize on earlier success."

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