10:15am PT by Josh Wigler
'The Handmaid's Tale' Stars Preview "Relentless" Season 2: "It Doesn't Let Up"
Elisabeth Moss makes no apologies about it: when it comes to season two of her Emmy-winning Hulu series, the erstwhile Offred wants to see viewers squirming in their seats.
Literally, that was Moss' goal when she attended the Hollywood premiere of The Handmaid's Tale season two — and consider the mission fully accomplished. A packed audience at the TCL Chinese Theater watched in stunned silence as the brand new hour of the dystopian drama unfolded, until the stunned silence evolved into vocal discomfort in the final minutes of the episode.
"I don't usually even watch screenings," Moss told The Hollywood Reporter only a couple of hours after walking out of the theater, "but I wanted to watch tonight for one reason: I wanted to watch the final scene with an audience, because I'm so proud of it ... and I was very satisfied. You could literally see the audience start to squirm."
Indeed, the final scene of the season two premiere (called "June," named after the titular handmaid's pre-Gilead identity) stands ready to leave viewers reeling once it launches April 25 on Hulu. (The premiere will be released simultaneously with the second episode of the season, "Unwomen," which continues June's story while digging deeper into the world outside of Gilead.) But the palpably painful final scene isn't the only source of stomach-dropping dread in the Handmaid's premiere, and it's certainly not the last time an audience will feel anxious and upset over the course of watching season two.
Based on Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel of the same name, The Handmaid's Tale will push its story past the details of the book in season two, beginning by answering a cliffhanger more than thirty years in the making: what happened to Offred (Moss) after she stepped into the van at the end of Atwood's story? Did she find light, or only more darkness? The question receives an immediate answer within the premiere's very first moments, setting an unsettling tone for the story beats ahead.
"As a fan of the book, it's been so cool to see the book extended," said Moss. "I always wanted to find out what happened to [Offred] when she gets out of the van. To be one of the first people who knows? It's been really cool. As a fan, I had my frustrations that the book ended where it did. I felt like there was so much more material there. Luckily, other people thought so, too. We've gotten to mine it."
What's more, Moss pointed out that the Handmaid's team has an invaluable resource on board as they mine the depths of Gilead for brand new season two stories: Margaret Atwood herself.
"We're so lucky to have her available to us," said Moss, "to have her reading scripts and adding her input and approving or disapproving — which she never does. When else do you get that opportunity to have [the author involved] in extending a prolific novel? It's a very rare thing, to get to do that with the author's input and approval. The book is a small sliver of life, and there's so much more story to tell there."
The story continues to be told this week, when season two premieres April 25 on Hulu. For more about what to expect from the premiere episode and its aftermath, here's what the Handmaid's cast tells THR about the scope, scale and story of season two:
Alexis Bledel ("Emily"): "The scope of [season two] just seems so much bigger — and it's brutal, the story that's unfolding. Now that we don't have Margaret Atwood's book as a template, our writers have created stories that are built on the shoulders of the first season."
Amanda Brugel ("Rita"): "[Executive producers Bruce Miller and Warren Littlefield] and the writers are so genius in how they spread out little breadcrumbs in the first episode. Those breadcrumbs lead to some of the biggest payoffs in the world. It's so well done, that it still ends up feeling so true to Margaret's book. The only thing that season two does do [differently from the novel] is that it opens up the scope and allows us to see beyond Gilead, like the Colonies and more of Canada."
Max Minghella ("Nick"): "[The season] picks up right after the first season finished, which had ended on a very tense cliffhanger. We pick up and resolve some of those questions right away for people. The first episode, much like the rest of season two, has a scope to it that overwhelms even the first season. It's a much bigger story and a much bigger canvas. The emotionality is quite intense."
O-T Fagbenle ("Luke"): "It doesn't let up. I remember watching the first episode and thinking, 'When am I allowed to breathe?' It's just relentless."
Joseph Fiennes ("Commander Waterford"): "It launches us back into the world of Gilead in palpable, tense, mind-bending fashion."
Madeline Brewer ("Janine"): "When I first watched the first episode, I couldn't breathe for 20 minutes. Then I cried for the next 15 minutes. I'm ready to see how everyone else reacts."
Ann Dowd ("Aunt Lydia"): "[The premiere] is beyond belief — meaning, you just cannot see it coming, where the writers took this. It just floored me, when I read it, and when we shot it. It's an extraordinary way to begin the season."
Samira Wiley ("Moira"): "This season is really dangerous. The reasons why Handmaid's became famous last year, the grittiness and being such a bleak show ... it really doesn't let up. It brings you truth. This show is grimy and it is brutal this season. It really is."
What are your predictions for The Handmaid's Tale season two? Sound off in the comments section below and keep checking THR.com/HandmaidsTale for more coverage.