Like the character she plays on “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Elisabeth Moss has changed considerably since the Hulu series started.
In addition to flexing her producer muscles as the dystopian drama has twisted and turned, she made her directing debut this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“From the beginning to the end, from prep to shooting to post, Lizzie and I never spoke face-to-face,” says creator Bruce Miller. “The level of difficulty is remarkable. You don’t see any of it in the work. The work is just effortless and beautiful and perfect.”
Moss says the job was one she never wanted to go into half-heartedly. When she was given executive producer credit, “I said, ‘I want to be able to participate and I want to be able to help. I want to be able to also learn.’”
Since that start five years ago, Moss has created her own production company and crafted a slate of upcoming projects.
“The intensity and the focus (she brings) to acting, she now brings to everything,” Miller says during a Zoom conference.
Because COVID-19 protocols kept production staff to a minimum, Moss was often the go-to producer in Toronto, where the series is shot. “She, in a difficult and impossible year, has taken on an incredible job,” Miller says.
During her directing stint (which started before the series had to stop shooting for more than six months), co-star Ann Dowd texted Executive Producer Warren Littlefield and said, “I’m in heaven with this director. She has another superpower – and that’s directing.”
Although many thought Moss' character might be killed off after the end of the last season, Miller says it was never a consideration. “The show is called, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’” Miller says. “It’s about her.”
The Emmy-winning series did, however, have to go through rewrites just to comply with COVID standards. “We were constantly making adjustments to the script and the story,” Miller says. “It was difficult to get our cast into Canada to shoot. So we had to keep people out of episodes simply because they didn’t have enough time in their schedule.”
At certain times, Moss says, there were only two people in a room. “Thankfully, we were able to proceed with the performances as we would have wanted to, even if we were restricted in numbers.”
Already renewed for another season, “The Handmaid’s Tale” will go on “as long as I can rope Lizzie into it,” Miller says. While Margaret Atwood’s latest edition in the book series, “The Testaments," goes in another direction, that will be a standalone series.
“We’re delivering on the things that we’ve set up and that’s very satisfying,” Miller says.
Littlefield says the new season is going to pay off situations set up in the previous three seasons. “It’s about patience rewarded. We’ve planted seeds for several years about this uprising and hot spot in Chicago and that the forces of Gilead really can’t keep it under control.”
“We are not claustrophobic,” Miller adds.
Fans may remember the dystopian world “Handmaid’s Tale” introduced in 2017. Women, like Moss’ June, were enslaved by leaders who used them to produce offspring in a world where fertility rates had collapsed. Determined to get back with her husband and daughter, June turns into a resistance fighter and does what she can to change the world.
In season four, Littlefield says, “we’re nomadic. We are following June’s passion, her drive, her relentless pursuit for change and that takes us everywhere. There is no home base.”
While current events have seemed eerily like moments in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Moss says Atwood’s book is the inspiration, not headlines. Atwood “never put anything in that book that hadn’t happened or was currently happening. And here we are, however many years later, and we still feel that relevancy. Unfortunately, there are these gigantic events that happen in real life that have been in the book or have happened on the show.”
Television, Miller adds, is a safe place to “see your worst fears acted out and kind of experience them at a remove. That’s one thing. It’s very different to come up with what you think is something horrible in your head and put it on television and then hear something like it happening in the real world. That is just sickening.”
Luckily, Moss makes “The Handmaid’s Tale” a story about a woman, “not a story about a political time,” Miller says. “The thing that Lizzie does beautifully is resist the urge to play the everywoman. She plays June…and that allows us to kind of go through that experience with a specificity that reflects the specificity of our experience in this time period.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale” returns April 28 on Hulu. The first three episodes will air that night.