Warning: "The Handmaid’s Tale" season 3, episodes 1-3, spoilers below.
Samira Wiley only accepts a role if she feels deeply connected to the character she’s bringing to life. This became ever so apparent last week when "The Handmaid’s Tale" actress choked up while discussing her character’s season 3 arc.
Sitting on a sofa at The Beekman Hotel, Wiley, 32, is full of smiles — until she starts discussing the pain her character Moira continues to experience at the hands of the dystopian world of Gilead.
It’s a pain she feels, too.
The third installment of the television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel sees Moira protest Gilead from the outside. As a refugee in Canada, Moira finds herself unable to shed the scars left by the regime known for its enslavement of women, even as she becomes the guardian of new escapee, baby Nichole.
Her rebuilding efforts in season 3 translate to a life with her best friend June’s husband, June’s baby and the constant reminder that June is still stuck on the other side of the (symbolic) wall.
"I feel that’s really Moira’s goal this season: trying to figure out how to continue the fight from the outside," she says. "Playing that game every day of, what can I do? She comes up short a lot. But then, she finds ways to penetrate."
The following is an excerpt from Wiley’s passionate conversation with amNewYork, edited for clarity.
We really see Moira adapt well to becoming the guardian of baby Nichole in the first few episodes. Why is this so easy for her?
We see Moira readily embrace it. There’s really no hesitation there and I think she does that because she needs a place to channel her energy. The way I see Moira, Gilead is right there.
(She motions toward her chest.)
She can’t get it off her. She dreams about it. It’s almost like she doesn’t know what to do. A little innocent child comes into her life, it’s a distraction, in a way, from the horrible trauma that constantly fills her head. This baby has started a healing process for Moira where she’s able to feel love post-Gilead — a thing she might have thought was lost forever.
How does Moira’s story show us that for refugees, there’s a struggle that keeps going even after they flee?
One hundred percent. It would be great if you could just escape and everything was awesome. But everything she cares about is in Gilead. All of her friends, all of the people she loves. They’re either in Gilead, or their bodies are in Gilead.
It’s a very, very difficult thing to be a refugee in a strange land where you’re trying to make a new life. She has people that she does love, Luke, but also Luke doesn’t understand what she went through. He can imagine. He can try.
And Emily (Alexis Bledel) can understand.
When Emily comes, there’s an unspoken understanding between the two of them that we have this shared trauma. It doesn’t go away. When something like that happens to you, it is with you forever. It is not a journey of trying to understand how to forget and move past. It’s honestly a question of how to live with it every single day, which sucks.
It was a huge deal to fans that June (Elisabeth Moss) chose to stay in Gilead to fight for her daughter, Hannah, rather than escape with her newborn, Nichole. Why isn’t June’s decision more of a shock to Moira?
I think Moira has more of an understanding than Luke does, for some of the reasons I just mentioned about her being there, but also for being a woman. Hannah is still there. What is her life going to be if June wasn’t there?
Also, every single thing Moira has done in her entire life has been to help people other than her. I think all the time about that scene with her leaving, in season 1, when she leaves June on the train. Why did she do that? I think she did because there’s no way she could have helped anyone if she stayed. Her mind is about her sisters who are still there. In a way, she completely understands. It’s difficult.
Do you think she feels guilt now, knowing what’s going on in Gilead for those she left behind?
(She sniffles. There’s a long pause. She’s begun to tear up.)
Sorry. I’m just very connected to my character. Yeah, I think she does.
Because she left June?
(A rep places a box of tissues on the end table next to the sofa. She doesn’t grab one.)
I didn’t mean to upset you.
It’s fine! You didn’t know! I think she does. I think she has to convince …
(She pauses, sniffles again and takes a deep breath.)
Do you feel comfortable talking about why this is hitting you so hard?
I do. This [my tears] is even surprising me right now. I’m not like a method actor. Respect to the method actors, but I don’t know. I don’t take on a character unless I feel what just happened between us.
(She motions with her hands in the space between us on the sofa.)
I don’t feel like I’m doing a character justice unless there’s this feeling. I felt the same with Poussey [from "Orange is the New Back"]. It goes deep. From the very first time I read Moira’s words, I knew I had to play her. I knew that woman’s feelings, her everything, was somewhere inside me.
(Her rep tells us we have time for one last question.)
Well, since I only have time for one more, do you feel we should be watching this season of "Handmaid’s" as a cautionary tale, given the clear parallels to today’s refugee experience and abortion laws?
Wow. Just one last question.
Just squeezing a big one in there.
You’d be blind to say you didn’t see parallels. All you have to do is turn on your TV. Open your newspaper. And, that’s really hard for me — being on this show and creating something that’s fiction, while knowing what’s going on in the world. I hope that’s hard for other people, too. I hope they’re able to see and not able to put a veil over it. I hope our show opens people’s eyes.