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There’s a saying in Gilead: “Under his eye.” For the Hollywood premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale season two, however, the saying requires renovation: “Under her eye.”
Indeed, multiple eyes watched over the red carpet rolled out in front of the iconic TCL Chinese Theater on Thursday night along Hollywood Boulevard, as women dressed in the iconic handmaid uniforms from the Hulu drama (which debuts the first two episodes of its second season April 25) held their ground on an elevated platform, unflinching in their dedication to the role. The commitment to character certainly added an element of uneasiness to the otherwise celebratory occasion, so much so that even executive producer Warren Littlefield felt somewhat unsettled.
“Their heads are down, and they are in character, being obedient to authority,” Littlefield, the TV veteran who produces the award-winning Hulu series in collaboration with MGM TV, told The Hollywood Reporter early in the evening, glancing up at the handmaids in between words. “It’s kind of haunting, isn’t it? There’s a beauty to it, but it’s also haunting — which is also our show.”
Staring up at the handmaids somberly standing guard over the carpet, it’s hard not to think of the final words uttered in season one: Is it the darkness, or else the light? At least, it’s the question viewers were left with at the end of the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale, not to mention the book it was based on, written and published by Margaret Atwood in 1985. Both the text and the first season of the streaming service’s adaptation culminated with Offred (played to award-winning heights by Elisabeth Moss) stepping into the back of a van and away from her life with the Waterford family — her future, and the future of her unborn child, fully up in the air.
“Whether this is my end or a new beginning, I have no way of knowing,” Offred offers in her final narration of the season, as she prepares to drive off into the unknown. “I’ve given myself over to the hands of strangers. I have no choice. It can’t be helped. And so I step up into the darkness within, or else the light.”
Gilead is within Hollywood at #TheHandmaidsTale premiere… @THR pic.twitter.com/HVMyLWHvLv
— Josh Wigler (@roundhoward) April 20, 2018
Now, the answer to Offred’s fate is almost here; indeed, the answers have already arrived for the cast, crew members, loved ones and other assorted guests who attended the premiere, the first in the world to see the next steps in the life and times of June Osborne, Offred’s name before the formation of Gilead. With the meat of Atwood’s novel mostly carved and served in the first season, the cast and creators of Handmaid’s entered season two with a mostly empty plate, free to create a new meal accordingly. With that said…
“You should still expect so much that comes from Margaret’s world,” said Bruce Miller, who created the Hulu series and serves as showrunner. “This is very much a continuation of that story. In some ways, when you read the book, all you want is for the story to continue. It’s the biggest cliff-hanger in the world at the end of that book. I feel like I’ve been thinking about season two ever since I read the book!”
“This season, people should expect to see Offred grow — to see June grow — and to be able to navigate this world with even more proficiency,” he continued. “In season one, so many things happened that she didn’t think were possible: she never thought she would see her daughter again, or hear from her husband again, and those things happened. When enough impossible things happen? They start to become possible.”
Having won eight Emmys in its first season, including best drama series and multiple acting accolades (including for Moss, who called the shot while speaking with THR in July 2017: “It’s lucky number eight,” she teased at the time, two months before winning the award), The Handmaid’s Tale arrives for its second season under many watchful eyes. The Hulu series landed with immediate impact in 2017, a jarring work of fiction in the thick of Trump’s America, sadly and tragically relevant in light of the current political climate. The relevance only continues in season two, debuting mere months following the launch of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, once again a timely tale in light of the sexual harassment and assault reckoning reverberating throughout Hollywood and beyond.
“I don’t even know how the writers keep making this show so relevant,” said Samira Wiley, who plays Moira, Offred’s best friend who managed to escape Gilead at the end of the first season. “Having the show timed up with what’s going on in Hollywood right now with Me Too and Time’s Up? I think it just shows how in tune our writers are with what’s happening right now. It makes me very proud to be a part of something like this. I love as an artist to be a part of something that reflects the times we’re living in. This is doing that like nothing else is. If people thought season one was something? This is going to knock them off their seats.”
Beyond its cultural significance, The Handmaid’s Tale seeks to push its own story and expand its dark universe further in season two. The growing world includes new locations beyond the dystopian Boston at the heart of the tale: the safe haven known as Little America in Canada, for example, as well as the Colonies, a veritable hell on Earth set to serve as the main setting for the stories of Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Janine (Madeline Brewer), among others.
“From a distance — the bird’s-eye view, flying overhead — it’s exquisite and beautiful,” said Littlefield, describing the terrifying new setting. “It’s like a painting. And then you get closer…and closer…and closer…and that’s when you realize it’s a toxic wasteland. The animals who live there are treated with more care and concern than the women who have been sentenced there. It’s a tough, tough environment, even if it’s one that’s beautifully rendered. It’s very powerful.”
As for Offred, season two is very much grounded in the titular handmaid’s pregnancy and her attempts to break free from the chains of Gilead. Whether or not she’s successful in escaping the dystopian nation? The tight-lipped cast won’t reveal that detail, though it’s spoiling nothing to confirm that Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) and the other Gilead faithful won’t react well to any and all acts of rebellion.
“It’s horrific,” said Amanda Brugel, who plays Rita, the “Martha” of the Waterford household who has a unique vantage point of the dictatorial family’s horrible ways. “Physically, it’s horrible. Emotionally, it’s terrifying. Everything the Waterford house had been trying to achieve, at the end of season one, had escaped. Now, it’s like everything they tried to built has completely fallen apart. You can feel it in the house. The house is crumbling. It’s a very hard environment to exist within.”
Entering the first season, the cast and crew of the Hulu series could sense the power brimming in the veins of their series, even if they couldn’t have possibly predicted its greater social impact. With season two on the cusp of a wide release, do the creative minds behind The Handmaid’s Tale feel a sense of added pressure or weight, knowing what they know now about its award-winning reception and its role in so many important cultural and political conversations? Not so much, according to the star of the show.
“It was actually really fun, honestly,” said Moss, wearing a red dress in honor of the show’s iconic color. “We made the first season in a vacuum, hoping people liked it. We liked it! We hoped people would agree, and we hoped they would let us do it again. To have this global attention and the fans being so excited about it…it makes you excited about it. I’m so excited to show it to people.”
And show the people she did: following the carpet, the action continued to unfold inside of the Chinese Theater, with Hulu’s Craig Erwich presenting Moss, the rest of the cast, and executive producers Miller and Littlefield to the packed audience. Erwich went on to hype season two as not only avoiding the “sophomore slump” that plagues so many other shows, but also adding that the new year of Handmaid’s plays out as a “greatest hits album.”
“We’re very proud of what we accomplished in season one,” added Littlefield, “and we really didn’t want to just repeat it. Because of the people on this stage, and many more people who stand behind us, we were able to accomplish the undertaking of season two.”
Littlefield then handed the microphone to Moss, who he introduced as not only the leader of the cast, but also the show’s leader behind the scenes through her role as executive producer. After thanking her fellow castmembers, Moss proceeded to lead the entire Chinese Theater in a round of song, singing happy birthday to Miller’s 19-year-old son.
“That’s the last bit of joy you’ll get this evening,” she promised to a laughing crowd, seconds before the lights dimmed down and 2018’s first new hour of Handmaid’s began.
In her defense, Moss was right: the premiere episode of season two is a bone-chilling experience from the very first sequence until its very last, with the final scene in particular causing theatergoers to writhe in their seats, palpably uncomfortable. Speaking with THR after the screening, Moss said she was eagerly anticipating the crowd’s reaction to the premiere’s final scene; she was not disappointed.
“I don’t usually even watch screenings,” she said, “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.”
After the squirming at the screening, guests flooded out of the Chinese Theater and were greeted by a shocking sight: glass enclosures featuring the signature handmaid uniforms, slowly engulfed in smoke and fire, a testament to a key moment in the Handmaid’s Tale premiere. The sight was awe-inspiring and unnerving in equal measure, not unlike the tone of the series itself.
Handmaid’s dresses are “burning” here outside the #HandmaidsTale season two premiere in Hollywood. Hard to find a single person NOT instagramming them right now. pic.twitter.com/SsO80zL69C
— Bryn Elise Sandberg (@brynsandberg) April 20, 2018
Next, attendees made the mile and a half trek to the afterparty hosted at Chateau Marmont, with a long line of vehicles extending so far back on Sunset Boulevard as to stand outside the Laugh Factory comedy club. Once inside, guests were treated to a similarly crowded level of foot traffic: three bars were studded throughout the space, including one in an outdoor garden, kept warm in the chilly evening air thanks to some highly coveted heat lamps.
For food, partygoers were treated to passed hors d’oeuvres, including fried seafood, shrimp with cocktail sauce, sliders, ricotta toasts with lavender honey, and ramekins filled with spaghetti and meat sauce. Powerful whiffs of pungent cheese wafted through the air at multiple points in the evening, a smell that would certainly sideline even the wanting citizens of Gilead.
As for the guests themselves, the group mostly consisted of cast and crewmembers and their loved ones, as well as members of the Hulu family. A sparse gathering of celebrities unaffiliated with the show were on hand, including Moss’ Mad Men co-star Jon Hamm, and Teen Wolf veteran Dylan O’Brien.
Attendees mixed and mingled into the early morning hours, the space so packed that even the most social of butterflies would likely need a moment to rest their wings. The star of the series was understandably the star of the evening as well: Moss, happily soaking in the moment, conversing with one social circle after another. Shortly before the clock struck midnight, with the fires consuming the handmaid’s uniforms well in the rearview mirror of the night, Moss sat down for one last chat with THR, in which she expressed a mixture of elation and surprise at the turnout for the Handmaid’s premiere.
“It’s pretty crazy, honestly,” she said. “It’s very surreal. We make the show in Toronto, in a little bit of a bubble. We shoot it for a little over seven months. It’s our happy place, where we all like to be as a cast and crew. Then when we leave, and we see all of these other people who are fans of it, with signs outside of the Chinese Theater? It’s very surreal. It’s incredible. It’s obviously an honor, and all of that stuff that everyone says, but it’s surreal. We’re so in the work, and then we leave the bubble, and we’re reminded of all these other people who are waiting to see it. Knowing it’s going to start airing next week? It’s so crazy. The fact that people are going to get to see this…it’s so weird, because this is our baby.”
The Handmaid’s Tale bows its new season April 25 with its first two episodes. A new episode will arrive on Hulu every Wednesday for the remainder of its 13-episode second season.
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