‘Handmaid’s Tale’ actress Madeline Brewer teases ‘fiery’ side of Janine

The often-optimistic Janine has left the life of a handmaid behind.

Warning: “The Handmaid’s Tale” season two spoilers ahead.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” continues to find shimmers of hope through the optimistic, yet notably unstable Janine, even in a second season arguably more troublesome to watch than the first.

An unknowing Janine, portrayed by actress Madeline Brewer, ends up completely reshaping the narrative in season two of the Hulu original, which picks up where Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel ended.

The handmaids’ opposition to Aunt Lydia’s demand to execute the character by stoning (for the “kidnapping and endangering” of her own child), left an ominous cloud over Gilead as Offred (Elisabeth Moss) was taken away by the Eyes.

“This season, we’re slowly finding out what the consequences are going to be and it’s powerful. I mean, I could hardly breathe for the first half hour,” Brewer, 25, says.

Those consequences look vastly different, but equally dark, for all of the handmaids involved. Several are cuffed to an open-flame stove and forced to endure a variety of other tortious acts; Janine is sent to the he-who-should-not-be-named Colonies where Emily (Alexis Bledel) has been slaving away.

“I mean, the Colonies are a lot more than meets the eye. Wink, wink … well, wink with my one eye. I can’t wait,” Brewer says, mirroring her character’s playful sense of humor.

Even in the top tier of punishment, the Colonies where disgraced handmaids and wives shovel through toxic soil until their flesh peels off, Janine offers breaks of optimism in form of an impromptu wedding ceremony and a patch of lone dandelions.

“She’s so grateful to be alive that she’s still seeing beauty and really cherishing it and really feeling gratitude for its existence,” explains Brewer.

With the second season now streaming on Hulu, Brewer takes us deeper into her character’s psyche and the Republic of Gilead.

We finally know what happened to Janine and Emily. Comparing two evils, is this new existence better than being a handmaid for Janine?

It was really intense to not know where we were. I didn’t know until months (after season one ended) that like, “yeah, you’re probably going to be in the Colonies.” I was like, “am I dead? What do I do?” I was very glad to be back … For Janine, I think that in the second season it’s not like ideal, obviously, but I think also just knowing that she’s closer to Charlotte [her child], and even knowing she’s breathing the same air as Charlotte, is enough for her.

The Colonies were a looming threat in season one. What does this faction look like?

You look at the Colonies and you see these gorgeous rolling hills. They see rich, lush, green trees and like these beautiful cornfields and all this. Then you put a magnifying glass on it and you see that these women, their skin is coming off, their teeth are falling out, their hair is falling out and they’re dying because they spend their days breathing in toxic chemicals, touching toxic soil. So, it shows how deeply, deeply cruel the world of Gilead can be. You know, these women suffer until they just expire.

We get to see a new pairing, the optimistic Janine and Emily, who’s not afraid to stand her ground.

Yeah, it was an absolute gift to be able to work opposite Alexis and share screens with her. She’s incredible. But exploring the polar opposite character we play, you know, she is more of a realist, a pessimist in some ways. Emily can’t wrap her brain around Janine’s perspective and it comes to a head in one scene, like “why would you do this? What are you doing?” Janine is just so happy to see her; to see a familiar face.

Janine may not have been in a fully aware mental state in season one, but there appears to be brief moments of horror in her face this season. Will we see a new side to her?

I mean, that’s something I’ve been really grateful for this season. Janine is not unhinged. As the episodes progress, she becomes more and more lucid … Yes, Janine does have that fire and that combative just ready to take anybody on and we don’t see that outright because we’re still in Gilead. But, you get more of a sense of her humor …. We’re not seeing so much of the combative side yet. I’d like to someday, see that fiery, takes no s— Janine, but she’s there.

The second season dropped in a post-#MeToo Hollywood. Do you feel the plot was at all influenced by today’s climate?

I mean, it has to be because that’s just like as they’re writing the scripts, the #MeToo movement is coming about gaining all of this attraction. At the same time, we all attended the Golden Globes and wore black and spoke about the movement. So, it’s kinda built into our core as a society … I can tell you, it makes a difference to be surrounded by women, to be directed by women, to have stories by women. You can tell.

Meghan Giannotta