Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ can't escape politics

Kelly Lawler

WASHINGTON — When the first trailer for Hulu’s adaptation of the feminist dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale (streams Wednesdays) hit the Internet, viewers on both sides of the aisle cried “Trump.” Some YouTube comments said it was “terrifying how prescient (it) is,” while others criticized it as “anti-Trump” propaganda.

Elisabeth Moss, left, stars in the new Hulu show 'The Handmaid's Tale' which is based on a popular Margaret Atwood, right, novel.

A stone’s throw away from the White House at the Hay-Adams Hotel, author Margaret Atwood and series star Elisabeth Moss are quick to remind viewers that both the book and the show were conceived before he was elected.

“I think we were on maybe Episode 6 when the election happened,” says Moss, 34. The former Mad Men star is wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with “I am a suffragette” in French and a bold red skirt, the color of her prescribed uniform as the show's main character. After the election, Moss says, filming scenes “definitely felt a little more surreal, especially in the ensuing months. But we were telling the story that (Atwood) wrote in 1985.”

That story follows Moss's Offred, a “handmaid” in a totalitarian theocracy that was formerly the United States. Women have been stripped of all rights and enslaved, and handmaids including Offred are forced breeders for the upper classes due to widespread infertility. The show, which co-stars Alexis Bledel, Samira Wiley, Yvonne Strahovski and Joseph Fiennes, examines how the democracy slipped away slowly, with flashbacks to Offred’s life before the fall.

Alexis Bledel and Elisabeth Moss in 'The Handmaid's Tale.'

Had the election gone a different way, Moss and Atwood might have fielded different questions. But like many other recent TV and movie projects, Handmaid’s has taken on a more pointed meaning in the Trump era. The seemingly newfound relevance, Atwood says, stems from the fact that the totalitarian theocracy she created for the novel is grounded in history.

“I put nothing into (the book) that has not been done in history at some time, in some place,” the 77-year-old author says. “I didn’t intend it to be prescient, I intended it to be a (warning).”

She adds that whenever a “weird law” is enacted that's reminiscent of the novel, fans flock to her on social media in a panic.

“Being able to write this book in 1985 is a real testament that this is something that people have been dealing with for a long time,” says Wiley, who plays Offred’s friend Moira. “Minorities — especially women, when it comes to this book — have been struggling since the beginning of time to be heard. And that hasn’t gone away.”

Samira Wiley in "The Handmaid's Tale."

At such a politically fraught time, Atwood hopes the show inspires viewers to “wake up” and “pay attention, and maybe vote next time.”

Moss already has had her awakening. “My close relationship with the book, and with what the book stands for and what the book says, has definitely made me personally more vocal in what I believe in and more active when I can be,” she says. “Which I think is true of a lot of women right now. So thank you,” she says to Atwood.

“For what it’s worth,” Atwood jokes, “I ruined your life.”

“I was happy before,” Moss laughs. “I was asleep, but I was happy.”