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The Handmaid’s Tale made a splash at Sunday’s Primetime Emmy Awards, nabbing Hulu its first Emmy with multiple wins including best drama, best lead actress, best supporting actress and best writing for a drama series. Hulu (with 18 nominations) has now beat Netflix and Amazon as the first streamer to win an Emmy for drama series.
“Go home, get to work, we have a lot of things to fight for,” said showrunner Bruce Miller while accepting the best drama win which beat out contenders including Better Call Saul, House of Cards, Stranger Things, Westworld, The Crown and This is Us.
Elisabeth Moss accepted the golden statue for lead actress in a drama series and let two F-bombs fly in her acceptance speech. She thanked director and cinematograpaher Reed Morano for teaching her “what it means to be balls to the wall” and he mother for teaching her to be “kind and fucking badass.”
Ann Dowd thanked the streamer for allowing her to be part of the adaptation Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel.
“I know it’s an actors dream and I’m grateful to you,” said Dowd during her acceptance speech. “I’ve been acting for a long time, and that this should happen now, I don’t have the words, so thank you.”
Morano called show’s lead actress Elisabeth Moss her “ultimate inspiration.” She added, “This is as much her as it is me. And the whole cast, everybody you are amazing.” She also thanked Emmy winner Bruce Miller for writing “the most disturbing stuff.”
Miller, after accepting the best writing award, commented on the show’s relation to today’s political climate. “I think nowadays people are worried that they live in a society where there are big things happening and government does things that they can’t affect,” he said backstage. “Certainly you get a little inspiration if you look at a character like Offred who is living in such a terrible, oppressive, horrible situation and yet still finds ways to rebel and ways to live.”
Miller also spoke about how real-life politics have influenced the show. “We don’t look at the politics of the day and try to bend the story. We really try to follow Offred in Gilead going through the challenges she’s going through, but we’re a very plugged-in group of writers — actors as well, producers as well. I don’t think you can help but have it affect you,” he said.
After earning 13 nominations, the acclaimed adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s best-selling 1985 novel came into the telecast with three Creative Arts Emmy wins already under its belt, including best guest actress in a drama series for Alexis Bledel.
Miller praised Hulu for its “incredible bravery” during the making of the first season. “There were so many times when I presented something or pitched them something that I was sure they were going to say, ‘There’s no way you can do that on television,’ and they were always enthusiastic and encouraging,” he said. “They were brave and committed to making the book into a television show, and I also think they were as excited about the show because they’re a relatively new company in this environment, making hourlong dramas, so I think that that enthusiasm that they brought to it; there’s nothing old hat about making drama at Hulu, and that enthusiasm was really wonderful and really shows in the show.”
The Emmys ceremony capped a breakout year for the freshman drama, which made headlines for its all-too-prescient storylines in the Trump era. Despite the show’s very timely March launch, the dystopian drama had originally been in the works at Showtime several years prior with Empire showrunner Ilene Chaiken penning the adaptation.
Instead, The Handmaid’s Tale eventually moved to Hulu, becoming its most watched series premiere ever and helping the streamer score its first true breakout hit. Production on season two begins Sept. 19 — just two days after Sunday’s ceremony.
Atwood was also in attendance and discussed the change in the political environment since the book was released in 1985 and the movie adaptation came out in 1989. “Fewer people were ready to believe that it was really real. More people are willing to believe that now,” she said. Atwood said she hoped that was viewers’ main takeaway from the drama series: “Never believe it can’t happen here.”
Exec producer Warren Littlefield shared her sentiment when he discussed the show’s tackling of women’s rights. “Margaret’s book and Bruce’s words help illuminate what that battle and what the struggle is all about,” he said. “The fact that we can remind people that the resistance is alive and be a part of it. There are days unfortunately in America that it feels like it’s the prequel to Gilead so maybe we can help with the fight.”
Netflix and Amazon had a head start at the Emmys despite Hulu’s drama series win. Netflix’s first best drama series nomination came in 2013 with House of Cards, but it lost to AMC’s Breaking Bad. Amazon, meanwhile, nabbed its first best comedy nomination in 2015 for Transparent, which ultimately lost out to Veep, a dominant force in its category in recent years.
Littlefield and Miller spoke backstage about Hulu’s major showing at the ceremony. “Streaming has arrived,” Littlefield, the former president of NBC Entertainment, said. “And we’re here to say what a wonderful journey our partners at Hulu are fearless. They took a very controversial book and said they wanted to do it and each and every day they encourage us to go for it. And that kind of support for all of us as artists is exceptional. I think our greatest fear would be to let them down in any way given the amount of support we’ve had from Hulu.”
Ten-year-old Hulu spent years dabbling in programming but began investing significantly in original content following CEO Mike Hopkins’ hiring in 2013. Early efforts, including event series 11.22.63 and The Path didn’t register with Emmy voters. Hulu has invested significantly to compete with Netflix and its $6 billion content budget, committing $2.5 billion for U.S. based programming this year. It has also focused on buzzy projects, including its adaptation of the dystopian novel, which has been a critical and awards breakout.
Added Miller: “Certainly the way that Hulu handled our show, they were bold and behind us and really committed to making something interesting so if the streaming services continue to do that, I don’t see any limit to how many of these they can win.”
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