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[This story contains spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale.]
Winfrey, who recently inked a content deal with Apple, supplies a brief but pivotal voice cameo in the latest episode of the Hulu drama, titled “Holly.” The episode focuses on Offred (Elisabeth Moss), stranded and alone in the wake of one of the most emotionally tumultuous moments of her life. As she fights for survival under desolate conditions, Offred comes across a functional car and debates whether or not to drive away and leave Gilead behind forever. As she contemplates this choice, the car’s radio comes on, and Winfrey’s iconic voice comes in over the airwaves, “broadcasting from somewhere in the great white north.”
“The American government in Anchorage received promises of economic aid from India and China,” says Winfrey’s unnamed and uncredited character, as she reads a news report. “In the United Kingdom, additional sanctions on Gilead were announced, as well as plans to raise the cap on American refugees relocating from Canada.”
From there, a familiar tune begins to play over the radio: Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart.” As the unmistakable anthem builds, Winfrey’s voice continues: “Now a tune to remind everyone who’s listening — American patriot or Gilead traitor — that we are still here. Stars and stripes forever, baby.”
“We’d heard Oprah was a fan of the show, and had a story idea, and thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if … So we asked and she said yes, and it was a lovely, easy process,” The Handmaid’s Tale creator/showrunner Bruce Miller said in a statement to THR. “The radio segment she recorded was inspired by the free radio of the Allies from World War II. It was an absolute honor to have Oprah featured on the show, and especially thrilling as she was the one who presented us with the Emmy last year.”
Aside from Miller’s remarks, the streaming service is remaining quiet on how the Handmaid’s cameo came together, though Winfrey has made her admiration for the show known in the past. In April, speaking with THR, star Moss revealed that she and Winfrey spent time together speaking about The Handmaid’s Tale during The Hollywood Reporter‘s Drama Actress Roundtable in 2017.
“She was in the dressing room next to me and she kept popping back into the room to ask questions about the show or to make comments or ask what was coming up for a specific character,” Moss said in the April 2018 interview, not quite a year after that initial meeting. “Then she’d leave and I’d close the door and have a silent freak-out moment, just screaming silently, that Oprah Winfrey even knew what the show was and then she would pop back up with more questions.”
During THR‘s Drama Actress Roundtable discussion in June 2017, Winfrey spoke about The Handmaid’s Tale and its eerily prescient quality, directing her comments at Moss: “It feels ominous. It’s the reason why I heard you saying that it’s the one show that you don’t feel people should binge-watch, and I agree with you.”
Winfrey’s relationship with Hulu’s dystopian drama continued a few months later, when she presented The Handmaid’s Tale team with the best drama series Emmy in 2017. Immediately following the announcement, Winfrey swiftly embraced Moss, the first person from the Handmaid’s Tale team to arrive onstage to accept the award. Watch the moment here.
Speaking with THR, co-executive producer Kira Snyder, who co-wrote the episode alongside Miller, was unable to comment specifically on Winfrey’s involvement, but made it clear that the character of the radio operator was not intended to be the same person as the speaker’s real-life counterpart within the context of the show. “We did not think of that [role] specifically as that person,” says Snyder. “It’s left up to the viewer’s imagination. You hear what you hear.”
Whatever Offred heard, it was enough to inspire her into tremendous action, as she immediately reacts to the broadcast by preparing to escape Gilead once and for all. Other circumstances prevent Offred from following through with her plan, but the broadcast remains a galvanizing moment all the same.
“It’s an inspiring voice for anyone to hear, but especially for June in that moment,” says Snyder. “It’s a moment of utter inspiration and hope, hearing that America is still out there and patriots are still out there. It’s incredibly powerful. I believe it’s the first time since June has been in Gilead that she’s heard any broadcast or media coming from outside Gilead. All she’s heard has been Gilead state media. The knowledge that the outside world at all is still there, and specifically the United States, is completely inspiring to her, to hear that voice, and to hear the music that comes up underneath it. She’s fired up.”
For her part, Snyder says she shared Offred’s “fired up” reaction upon seeing the scene cut together for the first time.
“I got chills, hearing those words and seeing Lizzie’s face, and hearing the music rise up. It’s hard not to get choked up,” she says, speaking about the scene’s importance. “It’s so important for us all to remember: We have to hold on to our values, and that’s what it means to be patriotic. Dissent is patriotic. Protest is patriotic. There’s no way we could have foretold the specific [political] moment as these episodes are coming out; believe me, it’s very eerie to us. The last couple of weeks in particular have been very hard.” Snyder continues, “We’re all politically interested in the [writers room]. We’re news junkies, perhaps to our detriment. We take current events very seriously and feel them very deeply. When you come off of a very rough run like we’ve had over the past couple of weeks and this particular week with the Supreme Court decision, [it’s about] finding resilience and hope and a chance to dig deep and say, ‘We still have a lot of work to do and a lot to fight for. This is our country.'”
Keep following THR.com/HandmaidsTale for more coverage of the Hulu series.