Alexis Bledel just earned a fourth Emmy nomination for her turn as Emily Malek on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which scooped up a total of 21 Emmy citations for its fourth season this year. Bledel competes in the Best Drama Guest Actress category, in which she took home her first victory, for “Handmaid’s'” debut installment in 2017. “To be singled out by the Television Academy means a lot because I’ve spent many years working in television,” the actor, who is also known for her starring role as Rory Gilmore on “Gilmore Girls,” says in response to her fourth career nom. In our exclusive video interview (watch above), Bledel elaborates on Emily’s newfound occupation in Canada, on Emily’s friendship with Moira (Samira Wiley), and on the two events that dramatically trigger Emily in season 4.
The series is based on Margaret Atwood‘s 1985 novel of the same name, which is set in a dystopian near-future America, where women are enslaved as ‘handmaids’ due to plummeting birth-rates and forced to bear children for the ruling class in the new authoritarian Gilead theocracy. A now 75-time Emmy nominee and 15-time winner, the show took home the Best Drama Series honor in 2017 and became the first series on a streaming service to take home a series prize at the Emmys.
The fourth season sees Emily at work alongside Moira, rehousing Gileadean children who don’t have relatives in Canada. “She’s able to throw herself into that work because it’s really what she knows,” Bledel says about her character, who “can feel useful and productive” in this environment. The actor underlines that Emily also has the support of her family — her wife, Sylvia (Clea DuVall), and their son, Oliver (Charlie Zeltzer) — and has created not only a friendship but also a team with Moira, who has been Emily’s “touchstone” since the latter arrived in Canada. Even though Emily and Moira underwent different experiences in Gilead, the fact that both were oppressed not just as women but as queer women creates “a deep connection for them in their friendship,” Bledel explains. She highlights that having such a support system around her at her workplace is particularly significant for Emily, who faced challenges and discrimination as a lesbian in her pre-Gilead college teaching position. “At the outset of the fourth season, she’s on a good path,” Bledel ultimately asserts with respect to Emily, adding, however, that June’s (Elisabeth Moss) eventual arrival in Canada turns the tide. “It’s like a grenade is thrown into what’s in place and everything gets shaken up,” the actor concludes.
This manifests particularly in the eighth episode of the season, titled “Testimony,” which was entered as Bledel’s episode submission to Emmy judges. In this installment, Emily is forced by June to confront Irene (Carly Street), a former Aunt who informed the Eyes of Emily’s relationship with a Martha, causing that Martha to be hanged in front of Emily’s eyes and Emily to be mutilated as a punishment. “She goes into shock and is completely triggered back to a place where she felt so vulnerable and fearful,” Bledel expounds in regard to Emily’s reaction to reencountering Irene, who begs for Emily’s forgiveness. The actor continues, “Emily has a scientific mind. She’s really used to methodically figuring out problems and looking at things from different angles in a very organized way. So, when she has a flood of emotion, it’s something that I think really challenges her because she can’t sort it right away. She can’t find a solution to it quickly or easily at all, so I think she’s completely thrown off.”
Just when Emily is ready to speak to Irene privately, she discovers that the latter has committed suicide by hanging herself. Even though things did not play out as Emily expected them to, “her problem begins to be solved,” Bledel elucidates, adding that “pieces start to get reorganized” in Emily’s mind knowing she will no longer have to confront the former Aunt. While Emily is “trying her best to have a way forward with” her wife and child, she would have never decided to confront Irene and unloaded her unprocessed rage if not for June’s forcefulness, Bledel concludes.
Bledel is one of only two actors to have been nominated for each season of “Handmaid’s” thus far, with the other being Wiley. After being upped to the supporting actress category for the show’s second season in 2018, Bledel moved back to guest for the third last year. A potential second victory in the Best Drama Guest Actress category — in which she’s nominated alongside her co-star Mckenna Grace — would put her in a seven-way tie for most wins in the category.
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