It’s not always easy turning a beloved book into a TV show. But streaming network Hulu hit it out of the park with its first season of The Handmaid’s Tale, which took home the top drama series prizes at the Emmys and Golden Globes and inspired women’s rights activists to use the show’s signature red costume as a form of protest.
So what happens when you pick up where the book left off? “This is a more common experience for me in television writing, approaching something without source material,” showrunner Bruce Miller said. “It was more comfortable than adapting one of the world’s greatest pieces of literature, which, you know, has a smidge of pressure attached to it.”
Last week, the series kicked off its sophomore season with two heart-pumping episodes.
Below are highlights from a conversation with Miller.
On how to pick up the TV show after the novel ended:
The way we approached it was to try make it still feel like the world Margaret Atwood created. A lot of times you adapt a classic work and the author is unfortunately long gone, and Margaret’s very much with us, so we got to pick her brain.
But also the biggest thing, honestly, was she was so encouraging with coming up with new stuff. When the book ends, you’re furious. So you get this great benefit of saying, “Oh, I get to come up with what happens next.” Margaret made us feel very free in terms of what we could do.
Potential future seasons:
Given the rich, very dynamic world Margaret set up, there really is no shortage of possible stories. There are international elements, political elements, beyond just the personal
Also when you start to get into the practical arc of a place like Gilead, if eventually it does fall, I would love to see that. And I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see the Nuremberg trials with the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).
On shooting Season 2 amid Hollywood’s sexual misconduct revelations:
It caused a lot of discussions that were kind of embarrassing, honest and difficult. When you’re in a position like I am, you feel ashamed that things are happening all around you that you were never aware of, which just makes you feel like a dope and a bad boss and a bad friend. The first thing you do is turn to your friends and colleagues at work and say, “Is this how things work here? Is this how things were in your career?”
Our show’s a little bit of an outlier because there was such a huge push from (us), and me personally, to hire women at every single level. The show has such a female-centred voice in the main character. Throughout the first season you really recognise the difference between a female director’s eye and a male director’s eye, because we had all female directors.
The political environment shaping Season 2:
It’s a combination of just having a bunch of news and political junkies on the writing staff and in the cast, and it’s a very political time. People are talking politics all the time - about what it means to be a democracy, the way we would need to be led and what moral leadership is. That’s the world the show swims in. We certainly don’t have to reach for relevance. Margaret did that for us and, unfortunately, the tide of history did that for us.
The criticism that Season 1 didn’t directly address race:
In (the book) it was an all-white society. And we didn’t want (the show) to not look like the society people have around them today. It is important for us to represent people of colour, both visually and narratively, and follow these people’s stories, and how much of a force race and racism was in their journey. We still want to tell those stories.
That said, we were criticised and we took it to heart. And honestly - it gets such a bad rap, all the conversations people have on Twitter and stuff - this was spectacularly cordial and thoughtful and enthusiastic, so we learnt a lot.
We’re dealing with politics, fertility, and women’s sovereignty over their own bodies, and I think we’re just going to continue to focus on that struggle. But race is a huge factor in that. This season, we made a big effort to explore those things more deeply.
How to watch this emotionally taxing series:
Listen, I’m with you. I find it a really challenging show to make and watch over and over again, because a lot of it is stories of a terrible place. A character like Offred (Elisabeth Moss), what makes her triumph so miraculous is the fact that (her circumstances) are so awful. It’s so gut-wrenching. Her heroism is measured against the terribleness of the locale she’s been posted in.
My advice to people is: one at a time. We did not write a show to be binge-watched. We’re certainly not trying to make it impossible to watch. You don’t want it to turn into torture porn. We followed the same rule that Margaret followed: what happens to our characters, especially the women, isn’t something that hasn’t happened to women or isn’t happening to women right now.
I only show what’s necessary to tell the story. We don’t use (the terrible) as entertainment. The entertaining part of it is the character triumphing.