“I’ve always tried to play characters that are as different from one another as I possibly could,” the actress tells THR of going from ‘Gilmore Girls’ to the Hulu drama.
Alexis Bledel may be synonymous with Gilmore Girls favorite Rory Gilmore, but 17 years after her acting debut the actress is tackling one of her most challenging roles yet with Hulu’s highly anticipated take on Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
On the streaming service’s drama, Bledel takes on the role of Ofglen, a prominent member of the resistance in the fictional world of Gilead. Her character in the novel (and on the series) plays a big role in getting Offred (Elisabeth Moss) to pass on information to the rebellion at the center of the drama.
Picked up straight to series, the 10-episode drama stars Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss and is based on the book by award-winning Canadian author Atwood. The series takes place in Gilead, a futuristic but simplified world in which fertility issues abound and women’s rights are a thing of the past. In order to keep the population up, government officials in a totalitarian society send young and fertile women — the “handmaids” — to affluent families, where they are forced to help couples procreate via sexual servitude.
But while Bledel’s Ofglen is a fringe character in the book, showrunner Bruce Miller has fleshed her out into a more complex, surprising role in the Hulu offering in a way that may surprise die-hard Gilmore Girls fans.
“I was trying to give her an interesting backstory about how she got caught and all these other things; it was a decision based on what I thought she’d be like,” Miller tells THR. “She’s such a fascinating character because from the outside it looks like she’s almost a committed bubblehead. A ‘pious shit.’ But she spends the whole first episode trying to figure out if Offred is someone she can trust. On one hand she seems like a pious little shit; on the other she’s a recruiter for the resistance. I was trying to fill her out just in all sorts of ways.”
Ahead of the April 26 premiere, THR caught up with Bledel to discuss growing up from Gilmore Girls and Ofglen’s significance.
What was it about Ofglen that made you sign on?
She’s such a rich character so it’s a real opportunity for me to dig in a bit deeper. It’s endlessly interesting to play a character who had this former life and a family and an identity that was stripped from her and now she’s essentially enslaved and oppressed and fearing for her life. If she takes a misstep or says the wrong thing in front of the wrong person…there’s an underlying tension in all of the scenes.
Episode three revolves around Ofglen and her life before the world changed. How did you prepare?
I wanted to be sure to do the material justice. I knew it was such a strong storyline and there is a really intense moment in the episode that I got to do, I was excited to do the work and I wanted to get it right. There is a crazy scene that was maybe my most challenging…every day I have to focus but I especially wanted to be on my game. It’s horrifying, imagining what happens to these people. As it plays out in the script it’s so harsh and tragic.
How dog-eared is your copy of The Handmaid’s Tale at this point?
I read the book once I was cast; somehow I didn’t get it in school. But when I did read it, it informed so much about the life of the handmaids. There are certain lines in the book I drew from. One was how someone felt drugged at one point in time. I thought, ‘What if they are drugged? What if somebody had drugged her?’ That was something to imagine. Then there were other lines specifically about Ofglen, like one line said that she kept her hands inside her cloak in one moment in the story so I did that in one scene just to include it. There were only little things to work off. But from the overall tone I picked up from the book, Bruce really did a seamless adaptation because he really found Margaret’s voice; it’s all fluid.
How do you think Gilmore Girls fans will respond to you in this role?
I hope they do; it’s great to play really different characters. I’ve always tried to play characters that are as different from one another as I possibly could. I’ve been trying to find out what my wheelhouse is as an actor. Gilmore was my first job so only from there did I have a chance to really experiment and see how far I could stretch; I went maybe a little too far in certain directions. It’s funny because this character actually has certain elements of other characters I’ve played. The rebellious streak and the fighter and at times she has a holier-than-thou quality. I’ve had that in other roles, but this role kind of encapsulates a lot of different things I can do so it’s just exciting.
What kind of physicality did you want to bring to Ofglen?
The handmaids are really vulnerable all of the time. They’re prisoners, essentially, so they’re at the mercy of the state. I definitely thought about that, about Ofglen’s fragility under the circumstances. I love the physicality. I remember seeing the performance Samantha Morton did in Sweet and Low Down where she didn’t speak at all and I loved it so much because she got to do so much work just by expressing herself in her body and her face. With expressions it wasn’t necessary to speak. I find that appealing.
Could this Ofglen have a different fate than what’s in the book?
I was a guest star in season one but they’re saying recurring now so I’m hopeful that I get to come back. I don’t know if she would make it to the end of the full series, but in the hope that this show goes on hopefully she could come back before her ultimate end. It’s my impression that she hasn’t met her end yet in what we’ve filmed but it’s also possible that she does, because of the nature of this world. She could have been sent away and killed easily because of what she does.
The Handmaid’s Tale premieres its first three episodes April 26 on Hulu. What are you looking forward to seeing? Sound off in the comments below. Bookmark THR.com/HandmaidsTale for full coverage.