Yvonne Strahovski is not afraid of a challenge, whether it’s bringing to life Serena Waterford, a Commander’s wife of a totalitarian society yearning for a child of her own on The Handmaid’s Tale, or taking on the twists and turns of a woman accused of taking her neighbor’s child in the new thriller, Angel of Mine.
In fact, the Emmy-nominated actress quite enjoys the challenge, especially on the latter project, which was a welcome reprieve from the emotional turmoil she’s put through on Hulu’s TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel.
The series, which was renewed for a fourth season, typically takes up about half the year, with the actress filming in Canada. The other half, she says, is reserved for “playtime,” which includes getting to do projects in her home country of Australia, like the series, Stateless, or Angel of Mine. Projects that are different enough from The Handmaid’s Tale that “keep my own creative juices flowing,” she says.
In director Kim Farrant’s new film, available in theaters and on demand Aug. 30, a troubled woman, Lizzie (Noomi Rapace), becomes obsessed with her neighbor, Claire (Strahovski), whom she believes has taken possession of her late daughter. Claire is terrorized to the point of fighting back in order to keep her family safe. But it’s eventually revealed that not everything is what it seems as both women confront certain realities.
“There’s a fine line you walk when you play a character like her who has kind of a reveal at the end,” Strahovski says of striking a balance of not revealing too much, but playing the character in a way that if fans go back to rewatch it, “it makes sense from that character's point of view.”
On top of that were the physical challenges -- ice skating, running and fighting -- that came with the role, which she had to do with a growing baby bump. The actress became pregnant with her first child toward the end of filming The Handmaid’s Tale season two. By the time she arrived on set for Angel of Mine, she was in her second trimester.
In addition to trying to figure out how to cover her bump with costumes, Strahovski says there was some negotiating with the crew on how to film certain stunts. “I remember stepping out on the ice skating rink just as we were talking through the scene and five people immediately surrounded me, paranoid I was going to slip and fall,” she recalls with a light laugh. “But people were very protective, which was lovely.”
Then there was the big fight sequence between her and Rapace -- as seen in the trailer -- that probably required the most coordination. “Logistically trying to work out what I could do and I couldn't do to achieve the scene,” she says.
Considering what Strahovski was able to pull off between both projects during her pregnancy, it’s quite an unexpected journey she and her baby have gone through together. Initially concerned about that, she turned to Rapace, who offered her some beautiful words of reassurance. “She said something to me about her own child, who's a teenager now, and how he just randomly one day said to her how she had taught him so much about emotions from his time with her as a baby,” the actress recalls, adding: “It gave me a lot of comfort in a way.”
In October 2018, Strahovski announced she had given birth to a boy before eventually returning to set to film season three of The Handmaid’s Tale, which debuted over the summer. Describing Serena’s journey over the last 13 episodes as a breakdown, she says “it’s allowed me to really dive even deeper into her vulnerability.” She adds, “I feel so lucky to play this person who is so hated.”
After giving up her baby, Nichole, to June (Elisabeth Moss) at the end of season two, Serena spent much of season three trying to get her back from Canada and reclaim her status within Gilead. Her determination to get her baby led to her and husband Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) to secretly cross the border, only to end up captured by authorities.
While most characters have spent the entire series up until now trying to get to Canada, Strahovski hopes that season four will see Serena return to Gilead. “Perhaps a punishment or a trade-off,” she suggests in order to justify her character’s return. “Gilead is her home. It’s kind of where she wreaks the most havoc in a lot of ways.”