It seems that all anyone can talk about right now amid Hulu's debut of The Handmaid's Tale is how frightening and relevant Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel is more than 30 years after its release. The TV series adaptation (premiering Wednesday on the online streaming site) brings the "fictional" tale to life about a future where a political regime favoring men rises to power and strips women of all their rights, including autonomy over their bodies. Sound a little too familiar? Yeah, most of the cast will agree on that.
But the accidental timeliness of the real fear associated with the story was truly an accident for some of the stars like Alexis Bledel. When the Gilmore Girls alum signed on for the Hulu drama, she had no idea just how prescient it would be. When Bustle connected with Bledel while she was on a press tour for her new series, she admitted that it wasn't until much later in the process of making the show that she realized just how timely The Handmaid's Tale actually is.
"I have to say, I didn't feel the full weight of that correlation signing on," she tells me over the phone. "It felt like an adaptation of a book, so we had that road map to follow. I was just working toward honoring that work with my work. I wanted to follow that map carefully and respectfully. And then more recently I've become aware of what it was bringing up for people when they watch it."
In fact, it wasn't until much later, after she finished filming, that she realized how close to home the subject matter of the series hit.
"I think I noticed that fully when the reviews started to come out," Bledel says. "Reading some of the reviews have really made me understand better what it might bring up for people. I think it's going to shock some people at how hard it is to imagine people living in such a world like this one, because as Margaret Atwood has said, she didn't make anything up. Everything that happens in the book has happened somewhere. Some of it can seem frighteningly real which makes it scarier."
She continues, "When Margaret published the book in 1985, many reviews said that it was very relevant then, so I think that's just a testament to her brilliant writing. She has the ability to comment on human nature in a very real way that is probably always timely. And now there are some eerie parallels people have been drawing today."
Poised to become the TV show of the year (if not decade) due to subject matter alone, Bledel praises the show for allowing her to explore a whole new side to her acting.
"I didn't have any set of expectations going into it," she says. "I was just open to learning as much as I could from [showrunner] Bruce [Miller] about what he was envisioning and then absorb as much as I could from [director] Reed Morano. She was such an excellent director and gave me guidance to what was happening emotionally in each scene, but it was an intricate process for me. And a really personal one. The most personal."
She pauses, and then adds, "It was imperative to do this storyline justice. Gilmore Girls was a great training ground for me for this. And now this certainly raises the bar in terms of what I look for in a character. I hope I get to play similarly complex characters moving forward. It's fulfilling."
Something that excited Bledel was how her character Ofglen's (meaning literally "Of Glen," her male master) journey was expanded for the show from the book.
"They sent me the first three scripts so that I knew what happened to that point and I was very excited about the opportunity to play this character. So much happens to her and she's challenged so greatly," Bledel says. "You see what happens to her after she's imprisoned, because in the book, I believe she kind of disappears and it stayed with Offred [Elisabeth Moss], and you're left wondering what's happened to her."
She continues, "In the series, Bruce created this arc for her where you see her in prison and she's terrified. She has probably more of an idea than any of the other inmates of what could happen to her because she has been gathering information and is part of the resistance network. She knows a lot more than she should. She also knows that there are probably unimaginable horrors that she doesn't know about. She's imagining the worst and that's what you'll see play out."
There is one scene at the very end of episode 3, where (no spoilers), the camera lingers on Ofglen's face at a crucial moment. For the rest of the scene, there is no dialogue, only Ofglen's face and her wordless reaction to her new reality. It's raw, gutting and a masterpiece all because of Bledel's performance.
"A lot of it was instinctive," she says of filming that pivotal moment. "That moment of complete loss was hard for Ofglen to comprehend what has happened, even though it's her own body. It's not like it's the clearest description. I think she's still left questioning, 'Did this really happen? Did this really happen?' There's confusion as well as sheer horror and disgust. She's still so scared and there's this fear like, if they can do this, what else can they do? This government is capable of anything. It's so frightening. I just wanted to make that as authentic as possible."
What Bledel hopes that viewers take away from the experience of watching The Handmaid's Tale is inspired conversations.
"I hope they find it thought provoking," she says. "If it's a conversation starter and those conversations are interesting and lead to productive, positive things in people's lives, then that's wonderful."
No word on if the conversations have led to anything "productive" just yet, but people are certainly talking, and the show hasn't even premiered yet. I'd say that's a good sign.