'The Handmaid's Tale' Star Elisabeth Moss Explains Pivotal Finale, Outlines Season 2

"I had chills all over my body and my jaw dropped," Elisabeth Moss teases.
George Kraychyk/Hulu
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season one finale of Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, "Night."]
Heading into Wednesday's finale of The Handmaid's Tale, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) had plenty on her mind. Between getting pregnant with Nick's (Max Minghella) — not The Commander's (Joseph Fiennes) — baby, learning her daughter's whereabouts after being emotinally tortured by Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and refusing to stone Janine (Madeline Brewer) at the bequest of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), it seemed like the handmaid's world was about to implode.

And implode it did in the final few moments of season one. As the Eyes came to collect Offred from the Waterford household, it was Nick assuring his former lover that they were there to help, leaving viewers to wonder if the men were secret Mayday operatives coming to rescue Offred and Nick's baby or if she really was being captured for her insolence at the execution.

To get inside the character's head during some of those pivotal scenes and to preview season two, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with leading lady Moss. Below, she reveals her reaction to finding out what happens next and tells whether she's given any thought to her character's mother.

What was your first reaction to reading the finale?

I was chomping at the bit trying to get the finale script and kept asking [showrunner] Bruce [Miller] about it. When I finally got it, I sat down in my house in Toronto and just read it in like 17 minutes flat. I called him afterward, kind of teary, and was like, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." I realized the reason he had waited a beat to give it to me was that it was pretty much a completed script.

What it was like to get into the mindset of the scene where June first sees her daughter again but can't go anywhere near her?

I tend to not be a method actor and I like to have fun on set, but I took that scene pretty seriously. I knew it was a culmination of a lot of work that season and it was a big moment for June. I wanted to do it justice, and I loved the scene with that speech to Serena. There wasn't anything to figure out in terms of where she would be and what her mindset would be because it was so obvious. I tried to think about what it would be like if you saw your child and weren't able to get out of the car and how overwhelming that would be. Physically, I had to give it everything I had, since she would just be forgetting about her own personal safety completely and just throwing herself out of the car and banging herself around. So I did that, and of course ended up with several bruises and could barely walk the next day. I'm also not good at "saving it." Sometimes when directors say I don't have to do it full out, I just don’t understand what that means. So the wide shot from the back of the car, which wasn't even my close-up, the first take I was like throwing myself around the car with wild abandonment and finished the take, opened the car door and I couldn't move. I was trying to catch my breath and I couldn't move my arms. In my head I was like, "That was the first take, you moron. You're going to have to do this so many more times!"

What's going through June's head as she gets into that truck in the last moment of the episode?

I worked with Adam Taylor, our composer, on the music for the end of that scene and in doing that I told him a lot about what I thought she was feeling. Bruce and I talked a lot about it, too. It's that walk down the gangplank, that walk to the firing squad. She doesn't want to live in a world that does what it does to these people. That does what it does to their children, to Janine. So she reaches a point where it's incredibly courageous and brave, where she doesn't care if she lives or dies, because she doesn’t want to live in a world like this. She knows that she's going to get punished regardless for the stoning incident — or lack thereof it — and it's almost a form of euphoria that comes with completely stepping off into the great unknown. She just doesn't give a f— anymore. Margaret [Atwood] describes how she feels in the book and she describes it in the voiceover; "I feel a sense of peace." We wanted it to feel strong and that she wasn't afraid. It was the ultimate moment of bravery because she's ready to face whatever comes.

Do you plan on being as active of a producer in the second season as you were in the first?

Yeah, I'm actually an EP in the second season, so I will be more active and I already am. It's great because when we were prepping the first season I was in Australia until mid-July and then only had six weeks before we started the show. So I'm here now and in this stage at least I'm able to be even more on top of things. And as an EP you're naturally more on top of things. But we've already started, hiring crew and directors and everything. I love it. I love the people we work with and the collaborators and directors we're bringing on board. I can't wait to get started.

So your busy schedule isn't preventing you guys from scheduling shooting and keeping episodes on track for a potential 2018 release?

I have no idea [when they will come out] but no. We're going back to shoot in September so chances are no. We don't want to keep audiences waiting that long.

When you're building on such a huge season full of really big knife-twisting moments, do you have conversations about how to avoid being shocking just for the sake of being shocking? 

Absolutely. One of the things we talked about is that there really is a pace to this show. We have the opportunity with it being several episodes that we can draw things out. One of the things that's most important to me is to make sure that we continue to treat it in the cinematic way that we've treated it. There's plenty of opportunity for exciting things and surprises and believe me there are … I've heard about episode one and it's fantastic. I had chills all over my body and my jaw dropped. But it's a character-driven show; it's not an action show. And we do best when we treat it as a character-driven show and it's about these people and their connection and their relationships. That's always the most important thing to us, to focus on the characters and telling their stories. Things that happen around them just inform that.

Given your EP status, is it safe to assume you know more about what's coming up in the second season than you would were you just acting in it?

For sure, absolutely. I know far more than I've ever known about a second season going into it. But I'm a good secret-keeper, so that's good!

So you're in on the conversations between Bruce and Margaret about where the show goes now that it has passed the source material? 

Bruce and I have talked about [it]. We know the book well and there's so much stuff that we haven't done from it. There are so many lines from the book we haven't said in the voiceover and so many things we haven't explored, like The Colonies and things like that. That's something we actually feel very excited about because there's so much more to mine from the book. There's also a sense that it's so great to have the author to speak to. I'm sure Bruce is doing this, but you can run things by her to see if they make sense. She has been so incredibly supportive and she is even more enthusiastic about taking it in new directions and trying new things. It's exciting for her as well, I'd imagine.

Since she was alluded to in an episode this season, how much thought have you given to June's mother?

I do give it thought; for me that story in the book is something that I've always been really interested in. So much of season two is going to be about motherhood because June is carrying a baby and all of Gilead is about motherhood. Gilead is all about fertility and having a baby. June has a child she's trying to get back. It all kind of centers around this idea of motherhood. And for me that has been raising interesting questions about her own mother and that is an interesting area to explore. I can't speak to whether or not we do, but I've definitely thought a lot about it in season one. When you explore a character who's trying to get her daughter back, of course you end up thinking about her own relationship with her mother.

What did you think about the season finale? Sound off in the comments section, below, and click here for our finale interview with showrunner Bruce Miller. Bookmark THR.com/HandmaidsTale  for full coverage.

Twitter: @amber_dowling