'Handmaid's Tale' Boss on Writing About Female Genital Mutilation and Sexual Servitude

Take Five/Hulu
Joseph Fiennes, Elisabeth Moss (center) and Yvonne Strahovski in the 'Handmaid's  Tale' impregnation ceremony scene that has disturbed viewers and critics alike.

Hulu's Emmy-nominated dystopian drama, from showrunner Bruce Miller, imagines a world where fertile women are conscripted to procreate with men in power and religious fundamentalism reigns — a bleak distortion of conflicts over women's rights that divide the U.S. today.

Talk about timing. When streamer Hulu premiered The Handmaid's Tale in April — its ambitious stab at adapting Margaret Atwood's beloved 1985 novel of the same name — real-life political divisions so closely mirrored the flashpoints of the dystopian America onscreen that the show barely needed to be marketed.

Starring Elisabeth Moss in her first full-time TV gig since Mad Men, the drama was greeted with a rapturous reception from critics — even if the material left some uneasy. (The series' flashbacks to a fundamentalist regime violently knocking back protestors resembled the escalations from anti-Trump demonstrations on the news.) But Handmaid's was more than just opportune. With a unique aesthetic, an enviable cast and relatable writing from showrunner Bruce Miller (The 100), the show has made a true prestige player out of Hulu and will be on most top 10 must-see-TV lists come the end of the year.

The most challenging scene to write this season was …

It would be the ceremony scene [wherein Moss' Offred must submit to sex with Joseph Fiennes' Commander as his wife holds her hands] because you don't want to overemphasize the horror. There's enough horror in the scene as it is that you just want to make sure the audience feels connected with Offred.

I still can't believe we got away with …

The female genital mutilation storyline [with Alexis Bledel's lesbian character, Ofglen].

The biggest misconception about The Handmaid's Tale is …

That you have to read the book to really understand what's going on.

The line of dialogue I am most proud of this season is …

"I think I went to a bat mitzvah here once."

If I could switch gigs with any other nominee for a day, it would be …

Paul Cameron, the director of photography for Westworld.

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ODDS ARE ...

With the launch of The Handmaid's Tale, Hulu suddenly found itself with something that has evaded streamers (except Netflix) up until this point — a series that's both critically acclaimed and one that most everybody in town seems to have watched (or, at least, won't admit they haven't). The dreary tale of an America hijacked by religious fundamentalists headed into its string of 13 Emmy nominations with an awareness unlike any other series in contention — drama or comedy. But is the TV Academy truly ready to crown a streaming show the best of the best? It has been five years since Netflix first broke into the awards conversation, but even the behemoth of streamers has yet to win one of the big prizes. Naming a Hulu show best drama may be too big of a leap for some. 

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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