Spoilers for season 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale below.
When season 4 of The Handmaid’s Tale got here to a violent end, every character’s fate hung within the balance. Would June (Elisabeth Moss) be held accountable for killing her former commander? How would Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) get well after losing the daddy of her unborn child? And what would occur to Esther, the teenage wife played by actual-teenager Mckenna Grace, who was found harboring former handmaids and, as punishment, is now forced to be one? Thankfully, audiences don’t must get far into season 5 to start out getting answers: Two episodes in, we learn Esther has been leaning on Janine (Madeline Brewer) as she navigates Aunt Lydia’s (Ann Dowd) strict tutelage and handmaid life. But ultimately, she feels so betrayed by Janine’s advice that she decides to rebel within the a technique she knows how—by poisoning Janine and herself.
Within the lead as much as the season 5 premiere this week, ELLE.com chatted with Grace, who also recently starred in and co-wrote the Lifetime movie The Bad Seed Returns, about filming disturbing scenes (read: anything involving chocolate) and dealing alongside the “incredible and intimidating” Dowd.
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Before we jump into season 5, we’d like to speak concerning the big Esther reveal at the top of season 4: She’s a handmaid! How did you’re feeling about how that season ended in your character?
I mean, being a wife was already crazy, but putting on the red on daily basis is just a little bit weird. It was really, really wild. But now there’s just one other offended handmaid in Gilead.
Grace and Brewer.
I used to be so struck by the scene in episode 2 where Commander Putnam feeds you chocolate. Not much happens, but I could barely watch. How did you achieve that feeling? What were you attempting to portray in that moment?
I used to be genuinely very, very anxious. I used to be so wired, and hopefully I conveyed that real emotion on screen. It was an interesting scene to shoot needless to say, nevertheless it was an actual moment for my character. In order much as I used to be wired and anxious, I just really let myself feel that. After we were done, I went and sat outside, although it was snowing. I used to be like, phew, I want to detox from that.
How have you ever learned to regroup and recenter yourself after working on a difficult scene like that?
I’m still figuring it out. I’ve been working on one other project [Peacock’s upcoming series, A Friend of the Family] where I’m playing someone who’s abducted by an adult man and is convinced that she has to have a baby with him. That was a extremely heavy project, and there have been quite a lot of strange, uncomfortable scenes that we needed to shoot, and I feel like I’ve learned so much from that. [On] Handmaid’s, that scene was my first introduction into anything like that. I believe I took that discomfort, and I attempted to actually use it within the scene, because I used to be nervous. I couldn’t shake this little icky feeling like, ugh, that is so gross. It goes back to what I at all times say about working on Handmaid’s—I’m honored that they hired an actual 14-year-old to play 14, because if we’re that uncomfortable shooting these scenes, we’re that uncomfortable with showing these scenes, possibly we should always really be doing something about what is occurring in real life.
But I’ve found an excellent groove of creating sure I’m comfortable with whoever’s there, ensuring I actually have individuals who have my back and which might be searching for me and that I can say if I’m uncomfortable. That’s genuinely a very powerful a part of shooting a scene like that. Just ensuring there’s at all times some type of protection. And it at all times goes back to music. I take heed to music to get right into a scene. I take heed to music to get out of the scene. I sit, I breathe, calm down. I attempt to enter a scene with an excellent mood, then as soon as I’m out of it, attempt to breathe it out and go around, consult with everybody, be joyful, and shake it off. Like, “That was the scene. And now I’m me.”
Grace, Brewer, and Dowd.
This season, you’re also working more with Ann Dowd, who, after all, is iconic—
She’s so iconic!
What was it wish to work alongside her? What did you learn from her?
I hadn’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale before I used to be on the show, because I used to be young, and it wasn’t really something my parents would’ve offered as much as me. But each time I began last season, I binge-watched the entire show. I became such an enormous fan, and I used to be so excited to get to set and work with everybody, and that has still not gone away. I feel like there’s not one bad actor within the show, and so it’s such an incredible thing to be an element of and to have the ability to look at these people perform, especially Miss Ann Dowd. She is genuinely the sweetest person I’ve ever met. Watching the show before meeting her, I used to be like, oh my God. I hate this woman. I hate this character a lot. Then I met her and I used to be like, oh my God, you’re the nicest person in the complete world, and I hate your character a lot. You’re just such an incredible actress. It’s incredible and intimidating to be in a scene with Aunt Lydia.
So what did you think that if you first read that you just were going to poison yourself and Janine? Did you see that coming?
So I got a message from—I’m pretty sure it was [showrunner] Bruce Miller—I got a message concerning the script. I can’t say what the message was about, because I can’t spoil or say an excessive amount of, but he was like, “Yeah, something really crazy happens, so just beware each time you’re reading the script.” Then I got a message from Miss Madeline and he or she was like, “Oh my God, you little turd.” I used to be like, “What’s happening?“ I got sent the script that day, and I used to be reading it, and I used to be flabbergasted, needless to say. I couldn’t consider it. I do what? Why am I yelling right away? Why is my character freaking out? Oh my God. Am I dead? Do I die two episodes in? Oh my God. Esther!
Moss directing Grace in season 5 episode 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Grace and Brewer.
I had the identical exact thought. What are the logistics of filming a scene like that?
I used to be really intrigued concerning the process. We’d shoot it, and we’d eat the truffles and be talking, and we had one truffle that I’d take a bite out of, after which I’d start coughing. What was in the midst of the truffle was just a little chocolate ball, and it was full of something that looked like blood. I’m so excited to see what it looks like. And they’d bring over these little cups filled with fake blood, and we downed the cup, put it in our mouth, after which fall over and begin coughing, after which there’s blood in every single place. It was so sticky. I even have so many pictures of myself covered in blood. I needed to go to the toilet and wipe myself off with baby wipes and splash my face, and my face was stained red. My voice was hoarse as heck the following day from coughing.
I also love that it’s like a callback to Esther’s superpower in season 4, which is that she knows learn how to make poisons.
I didn’t even take into consideration that. Oh my gosh. That’s so true. Why am I such just a little poison demon?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Madison is a senior author/editor at ELLE.com, covering news, politics, and culture. When she’s not on the web, you’ll be able to probably find her taking a nap or eating banana bread.