The Handmaid’s Tale has entered its third season—and is starting to feel more like a plausible warning than a dystopian nightmare, as more states, like Georgia, continue to sign laws restricting access to safe and legal abortions. Now, the woman who embodies one of the show’s most devout believers is speaking out, saying “something has to be done” to fight back.
“If you think it can’t happen, that women lose control of their lives, think again. Open your eyes. Pay attention. Speak up. Put your phone down and protest,” Ann Dowd told io9.
We recently had an opportunity to chat with Dowd, who plays Aunt Lydia on The Handmaid’s Tale, about the journey her character takes this season (as well as her thoughts on the rise in anti-abortion laws). Following her near-death experience last season—having been stabbed by Emily (Alexis Bledel)—Aunt Lydia is struggling to uphold her strongly held beliefs as she’s confronted with sides of Gilead she didn’t know existed. Things she does not care for.
We’re also finally going to see Aunt Lydia’s backstory this season, something fans have been eagerly anticipating. Dowd did confirm to io9 that Aunt Lydia was a schoolteacher before Gilead, in a backstory that matches (and exceeds) the one she’d envisioned all those years ago.
“The teacher part is right on the money,” she said. “What the writers came up with in the backstory was 100,000 times more interesting than what I came up with. I love the take they have on it.”
Watch the video above for more details. The Q&A is also transcribed below.
io9: When I saw the first poster for season three of The Handmaid’s Tale I was a little surprised for Aunt Lydia to be on a “Blessed Be the Fight” poster. I wanted to get a sense of what her fight is, and what her role is in it this season?
Ann Dowd: Her fight, I think, is to maintain the goal of Gilead, which is to bring these handmaids to a place of meaningful life, a relationship with God, serving God in the caring of a child. Learning what is good about them, concentrating on that. Her goal I don’t think shifts, but certain things happen that challenge it. First of all, her injury makes her rethink a lot of things. But I don’t think it deters her from getting back to the main message:
[Speaking as Aunt Lydia] “You know, the world’s fallen apart as we know it. Your behavior before you came here—from promiscuity, the cursing, the...no relationship with God...you wouldn’t consider going to church. Phone, phone, phone, phone, phone. And the biggest thing...and the pollution, disgrace. God’s Earth decimated. And on top of it all, most importantly: No babies. So darling girls, here’s a chance to begin again.”
So, I think that remains the focus. But then things like the Washington [episodes], when they’ve taken it another step, which Lydia is not into. I think Lydia’s goal is not to shut them down, but to liberate their souls. To give them a chance to find their true goodness. Their true service to God. So that remains—that’s a fight for her. To, “Hey, come on now, we’re doing the right thing. What’s out there? That’s not going to help you one bit. And you know, sometimes I have to use strong measures. I don’t want to hurt you, I love you. But come on now, that’s up to you.” But again, she’s challenged by it, the extreme measures. So she fights, I think, with “Where is this going? And who’s in charge of this part? Because I’m not in for this.”
io9: We get to explore her backstory in this season, and I know that’s something a lot of fans have been really excited about. I know early on, the showrunner had told you, when you had asked about what her backstory was like, “Oh, I think she’s a teacher.” And you had built on that. What is her actual backstory like, compared to the one you had imagined, and how you blended the two?
Dowd: Well, the teacher part is right on the money. That opened up many [doors]. It just centered her for me, when Bruce [Miller] said [that], I thought, “Of course.” I used to imagine her, you know, in an all-girls school, or even a public school where everyone’s going, “Ugh, Auntie’s in.” Where she was disrespected on a regular basis, as things progressed in the world and fell apart. She’s very good at getting a room under control. So that part of the backstory was 100 percent.
What the writers came up with in the backstory was 100,000 times more interesting than what I came up with. I love the take they have on it. It’s just the beginning. I mean, it’s not her whole past, but it is part of it that is very significant. I thought it was beautifully written. Loved the choices and it easily—this is what was so extraordinary. It lined up so well with my understanding of her. I don’t know how that happens but it [did], and it was a beautiful experience.
io9: I wanted to close out by talking a bit about the anti-abortion laws that have passed in Georgia and other states, which you’ve called “disgusting” in previous interviews. What lesson do you feel The Handmaid’s Tale can impart to us on this issue right now?
Dowd: If you think it can’t happen, that women lose control of their lives, think again. Open your eyes. Pay attention. Speak up. Put your phone down and protest. It’s scarier than...
I don’t know, I may have been tired when I saw in the paper [what’s happening in] Alabama, but for a minute or second I thought, “This isn’t the present, though. Where’s this from? This must be a story from...” The fact that it was current and the degree of absurd restrictions were so alarming. It is so alarming and enraging, and something has to be done. No way. No way.
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