Ann Dowd Interview: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
“I was so beside myself with joy,” admits Emmy winner Ann Dowd about delving into her character’s past last season on “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In our recent webchat, she adds, “Those days shooting that episode, there was no sense of time whatsoever and I’m telling you, you have a sense of time on a set because the days are long. Zero. It could’ve been the first scene of the day or the last. I didn’t care.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Dowd above.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood, starring Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss as June, one of thousands of handmaids, enslaved to give birth for the barren ruling class in the dystopian Gilead regime. Dowd plays the cruel Aunt Lydia, a cattle-prod wielding fundamentalist zealot and enforcer who oversees the handmaids by any means necessary, including physical and emotional torture and abuse. The show also co-stars Emmy nominees Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski as the Waterfords, architects of the authoritarian regime and members of the Gilead elite who were June’s oppressors during the first two seasons when June was known as Offred.
The series’ intense third season follows June and her clandestine resistance against the regime and the Waterfords’ eventual detainment by Canadian authorities to face justice as war criminals. As for the malevolent Aunt Lydia, she is determined more than ever to keep her handmaids in line after the explosive events of the second season in which she was attacked by escaped handmaid Ofglen (Emmy winner Alexis Bledel).
This season finally featured a pivotal flashback episode for Lydia, as the eighth episode (“Unfit”) explored who this woman was and what led her to be so uncompromising, sadistic and cruel. In pre-Gilead flashbacks, Lydia is a Christian schoolteacher who longs for connection and love. After she befriends Noelle (Emily Althaus), a single mother at the school. She also reluctantly lets her guard down to go on a date with work colleague Jim (John Ortiz), a widower that she has taken a liking to. The night ends in tears as the widower politely interrupts their sexual encounter because the relationship is moving too fast. Lydia is overwhelmed by shame, breaks down in tears and later lashes out at Jim and turns on Noelle with devastating consequences. The softly spoken, vulnerable schoolteacher has morphed into a hardened tyrant, exhibiting signs of the Lydia that would fully emerge by the time the Gilead regime has taken hold of the nation.
“As the actress playing the character you have all kinds of ideas, when the backstory comes it’s going to be this and it’s going to be that, not that they’re going to ask me and thank God they don’t! The writers know what they’re doing,” Dowd explains. “However, I knew that something must have gone awry. Some hurt must’ve occurred, because you can’t just shut it down like that and stick to it, unless you’ve kept the armor firmly in place.”
“It broke my heart to see that she gave up that chance with John Ortiz because shame was running the show,” she says. “All those voices that said ‘you’re worth nothing, you whore, you creep! Who were you kidding that you could put that armor down you fool! Don’t ever, ever do it again!”