Exclusive: Emmy Nominated Samira Wiley Talks The Handmaid’s Tale

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Exclusive: Emmy Nominated Samira Wiley Talks The Handmaid’s Tale
Posted by Wilson Morales

August 28, 2017

Nominated for a whooping 13 Emmy Awards is the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, which is based on the award-winning, best-selling novel by Margaret Atwood and stars Elisabeth Moss as Offred, Joseph Fiennes as The Commander, Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy, Samira Wiley as Moira, Alexis Bledel as Ofglen, Max Minghella as Nick, Madeline Brewer as Janine, Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia and O-T Fagbenle as Luke.

The drama series, based on the award-winning, best-selling novel by Margaret Atwood, is the story of life in the dystopia of Gilead, a totalitarian society in what was formerly part of the United States. Facing environmental disasters and a plunging birthrate, Gilead is ruled by a fundamentalist regime that treats women as property of the state. As one of the few remaining fertile women, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) is a Handmaid in the Commander’s household, one of the caste of women forced into sexual servitude as a last desperate attempt to repopulate a devastated world. In this terrifying society where one wrong word could end her life, Offred navigates between Commanders, their cruel Wives, domestic Marthas, and her fellow Handmaids – where anyone could be a spy for Gilead – all with one goal: to survive and find the daughter that was taken from her.

For Wiley, who also received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, the Juilliard grad gets to go back to the awards ceremony as an individual nominee. Prior to “Handmaid’s Tale,” Wiley went as a cast member from her previous series, “Orange is the New Black,” where she spent 5 seasons as a recurring, regular and guest actor. She can also be seen currently on the big screen in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit.

Blackfilm.com recently caught up with Wiley as she discusses her Emmy nomination, her role and the streak of good projects coming her way.

How did you hear about your nomination?

Samira Wiley: That morning I was in car. I wasn’t able to watch the Emmy nominations being announced live on television. I was in the back seat and had to look it up and read that the show had received a Best Drama nomination. I was over the moon. I couldn’t believe it. I felt that if the show was nominated then Elizabeth (Moss) had to be nominated. I looked that up and saw that she did and honestly, I put my phone down. I was like, “Yes! Two nominations.” Then I started getting calls from agent and my publicist and I didn’t know why they were calling me. I thought they were calling me to congratulate me on the show being nominated. I didn’t think that it could happen to me, but they were calling to congratulate me on my nomination. “Wait. Me?” That’s how I found out.

The show picked up numerous nominations. Why do you think it has had a big impact with audiences?

Samira Wiley: Everyone’s talking how well they think the show is and the time that we’re living in now. It’s so relevant. It’s so timely and all of those things are true. I believe in that, especially when a lot of people’s right are infringed upon. You can’t deny how timely the show is. I also want to say that it’s also just good TV. Even if it wasn’t this timely or relevant, it would still be excellent television. You have excellent talented actors like Elizabeth Moss, like Ann Dowd, like Alexis Bledel. All of the them got Emmy nominations. They have come together and are making something with a common goal. Not only that, but you have Bruce Miller, who is the creator and show runner. He’s so amazing and works closely with (author) Margaret Atwood. It’s interesting to have a man at the helm of all of this. He surrounds himself with women in trying to tell this story right. I think everyone’s working toward this common goal, but I also think it’s a piece of art that has an integral art and integrity.

For those who haven’t watched the show, how would you describe your character?

Samira Wiley: I would say that Moira is a complete badass. She is the person who would say things that other people are afraid to say. She’s a person who would do things that other people are afraid to do. She’s a woman of action. She’s just not all talk. She bolsters other people around her and emboldens others to emulate her resolve and her actions. She’s fun and funny and those are parts of her we don’t always get to see because of this regime. That’s the person she is. She’s a person that inspires others.

Is it complicated explaining your character to others when each episode goes back and forth between the present and the past?

Samira Wiley: Honestly, I think that’s a great idea and a great way of story telling. It’s interesting to see in those scenes how quickly people can figure out the time that the scene is set just because of people’s actions and how they are feeling about things and how they are moving through the world. There’s a scene where Moira and Elizabeth’s character are jogging and it really feels like 2017 until they go into the coffeeshop and you just see little teeny things start to happen that takes away from life as usual. I honestly think it’s a good way of storytelling.

This is a far cry from your last show. How exciting is it for your career to go from one show and network to another?

Samira Wiley: It’s amazing. There are so many mixed emotions that I had after “Orange.” I was optimistic. I was happy to be back in the world of actors trying to get roles. I actually liked auditioning. I was optimistic about that and looking forward to that, but I was also heartbroken. I can’t deny that. Heartbroken and scared. All of those as well. To be able to go from a show like “Orange is the New Black,” which is this cultural phenomenon and people hadn’t seen a show like this with this kind of following since like Friends and Seinfeld. That’s the sort of fans we were getting. To leave that and go to the unknown; and to have my unknown be “The Handmaid’s Tale,” another show that is really hitting accord with the people, especially in the United States, is something I could never dream of and I just feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Besides the series, folks get to see you in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. It’s not a big role but it’s an important film.

Samira Wiley: Yes. Honestly, the role could have been smaller than that for me. I wanted to work for Kathryn Bigelow so much and in my career, I have been able to work with so many powerful women and so many strong women in front and behind the camera. The people behind the camera really inspired me. They have showed me that if one day I want to do that, I can do that. On “Handmaid’s” all of the directors in the first season were all women; and to be able to work with a features director like Kathryn, I jumped at the chance.

Do you have other projects coming up?

Samira Wiley: It’s going to released later in the year, I just did a project with YouTube Red called “Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television.” The star of the show is Ryan Hansen, who plays himself on television. The premise is that the mayor of LA gets a bunch of actors to join the police force and I play a real detective and he plays himself and hilarity ensues.

Episode 8 – “Jezebels”


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