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THE HANDMAID’S TALE’s Ann Dowd discusses the life of Aunt Lydia before the cruelty of Gilead

“Gilead is within you” is a favourite saying of Aunt Lydia, the woman tasked with indoctrinating the handmaids of Bravo’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE and manipulating them into accepting their fates.

As they attempt to resist and strive for freedom from Gilead, the formidable Aunt Lydia portrayed by Emmy® Award-winning actress Ann Dowd is the opposing complicit force who supports the patriarchy in order to hold onto the little power she’s afforded.

Recently, Dowd discussed what the future holds for Aunt Lydia in Season 2 of THE HANDMAID’S TALE currently airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.

What to expect from Aunt Lydia in Season 2:

In Season 1 I think Lydia thought, “This is not going to be tough, not at all. I’m going to get these girls in order, I know how to do that,” but what she didn’t realize is that when you deeply care for and even love these young women, as she does, something happens to the heart. I think she is far more challenged by her role than she anticipated she would be.

I wouldn’t say she’s subversive in this season, she’s all in, but still she realizes, it’s not such a straight shot, and all these young women are not the same. They all have different needs. And when their babies actually come into the world, she is present for the births. I think she begins to love the Handmaids deeply, and has then come to know them personally, so it’s not as easy as she thought, to just stay in the party lines.

What the Handmaids did at the end of last season absolutely shocked Lydia to the core. I think she thought she had them controlled, but she underestimated their willingness to, in solidarity, stand up, together.

I don’t think she saw it coming, and she had a realization that she had not been strict enough with the Handmaids, and that they would not survive in Gilead thinking they can do such things.

And seeing as they got so out of control and dropped all those rocks at the end of last season, how dare they. I think she realized she had to become harsher as a result of their act of rebellion.

How she brings life to the stone-cold Aunt Lydia:

There’s no denying her actions are cruel, but if you were to ask Lydia she would have a different perspective on that.

You know, “spare the rod and spoil the child,” she takes that to the fullest extent possible and I don’t think she sees her actions as ones of cruelty.

It’s my job to display her, that means it’s my job to understand her, and to step into a place where despite the fact that her actions hurt the Handmaids, her girls, it’s her responsibility to do it, otherwise things will get much worse for them.

I’m a mother of three children, I can barely stand to put a consequence in place and keep it there. My job as a mother is to make sure that they enter this world as respectful human beings who cooperate, who bring something to their lives and the lives of others.

Now, Lydia believes that same thing with the Handmaids, that it’s her job to raise them. But I think something very, very significant might have happened with Lydia.

There’s many unknown reasons why she could have come into this very narrow mindset. My point being, she thinks she is doing right by these girls, and to her, it is not cruelty and as the act of playing her it is my job to not judge her but come to a place of understanding.

What she thinks Aunt Lydia’s motives are:

When we’re talking about all that’s been going on with the Time’s Up movement, the question is, what do men get out of forcing a woman who does not want to be with this man to do something sexual?

Why would you do that to a human being, aside from pure cruelty and abuse, what does it give you to do that another person?

And the answer always is, power. And I don’t get it. I don’t- I cannot relate to that. I have to somehow dissect that word, because for Lydia, I think it was a true calling to be an Aunt and that she was all in. Now the reality is, Lydia lives in a dorm with other Aunts, they have no sex life. I think she must feel tremendous loneliness, so I think somewhere in her mind she’s saying what else is there?

I don’t think she’s motivated by power, but I could be wrong about that. I do think she’s wondering what else is there here, for me?

How she developed her character after Season 1:

In episode 1, Lydia is direct and authoritative with the Handmaids, coming straight out and telling them how the Red Center is run. I first developed Lydia by asking Bruce Miller, our head writer, what do you think she did beforehand, and he said, “She was most likely a schoolteacher,” which makes tremendous sense to me.

I could imagine her in an all-girls school, a religious school. I could imagine her even in a public high school being made fun of, “Oh, look at the hag, oh here she is.” I could see her being humiliated in that way, and learning to develop tremendously thick skin. And she’s a natural, she’s a born teacher if you will, meaning she can organize the room, she can get everybody to pay attention and stop the nonsense, very, very quickly.

It was also very helpful that Reed Morano, who directed our first three episodes of Season 1 was remarkably insightful and continually giving me the question, “What does it cost Lydia to get to that extreme?”

It does cost her something, she is a human being, and she does care for them. How does she bear the pain of knowing that what she’s doing is shocking to these young girls? What does it cost her to initiate stoning someone to death? So the rest of the season became about, who else is she and what other parts of her exist? How does she shift in different circumstances?  

For me, developing Lydia is about finding different parts of her, different sides of her in different circumstances. And thanks to the writers, there’s very much an opportunity to do that.

How THE HANDMAID’S TALE can be a part of the solution:

You know I was riding my bike just before we premiered Season 1 in New York, and I saw a group of Handmaids in red. My Handmaids, Lydia’s Handmaids, and I almost fell off my bike, I thought, “What is going on here?”

Now, it was actually Hulu’s brilliant idea of how to spread awareness of the show.

But then there were women in protest who chose to wear these red Handmaids cloaks, to say something. Something about seeing the show, and putting a face and language to repression and abuse, I think it gave people strength.

I think when you see people wearing Handmaids costumes, it can make you realize…wait a second, I don’t have to stay quiet, I am not the only one who is afraid, I am not the only one who has been abused, I’m not the only one.

There is strength in numbers, there is strength in solidarity, I think the show sparks something real.

 

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Ama Sechere
ama.sechere@bellmedia.ca

THE HANDMAID’S TALE’s Ann Dowd discusses the life of Aunt Lydia before the cruelty of Gilead

“Gilead is within you” is a favourite saying of Aunt Lydia, the woman tasked with indoctrinating the handmaids of Bravo’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE and manipulating them into accepting their fates.

As they attempt to resist and strive for freedom from Gilead, the formidable Aunt Lydia portrayed by Emmy® Award-winning actress Ann Dowd is the opposing complicit force who supports the patriarchy in order to hold onto the little power she’s afforded.

Recently, Dowd discussed what the future holds for Aunt Lydia in Season 2 of THE HANDMAID’S TALE currently airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.

What to expect from Aunt Lydia in Season 2:

In Season 1 I think Lydia thought, “This is not going to be tough, not at all. I’m going to get these girls in order, I know how to do that,” but what she didn’t realize is that when you deeply care for and even love these young women, as she does, something happens to the heart. I think she is far more challenged by her role than she anticipated she would be.

I wouldn’t say she’s subversive in this season, she’s all in, but still she realizes, it’s not such a straight shot, and all these young women are not the same. They all have different needs. And when their babies actually come into the world, she is present for the births. I think she begins to love the Handmaids deeply, and has then come to know them personally, so it’s not as easy as she thought, to just stay in the party lines.

What the Handmaids did at the end of last season absolutely shocked Lydia to the core. I think she thought she had them controlled, but she underestimated their willingness to, in solidarity, stand up, together.

I don’t think she saw it coming, and she had a realization that she had not been strict enough with the Handmaids, and that they would not survive in Gilead thinking they can do such things.

And seeing as they got so out of control and dropped all those rocks at the end of last season, how dare they. I think she realized she had to become harsher as a result of their act of rebellion.

How she brings life to the stone-cold Aunt Lydia:

There’s no denying her actions are cruel, but if you were to ask Lydia she would have a different perspective on that.

You know, “spare the rod and spoil the child,” she takes that to the fullest extent possible and I don’t think she sees her actions as ones of cruelty.

It’s my job to display her, that means it’s my job to understand her, and to step into a place where despite the fact that her actions hurt the Handmaids, her girls, it’s her responsibility to do it, otherwise things will get much worse for them.

I’m a mother of three children, I can barely stand to put a consequence in place and keep it there. My job as a mother is to make sure that they enter this world as respectful human beings who cooperate, who bring something to their lives and the lives of others.

Now, Lydia believes that same thing with the Handmaids, that it’s her job to raise them. But I think something very, very significant might have happened with Lydia.

There’s many unknown reasons why she could have come into this very narrow mindset. My point being, she thinks she is doing right by these girls, and to her, it is not cruelty and as the act of playing her it is my job to not judge her but come to a place of understanding.

What she thinks Aunt Lydia’s motives are:

When we’re talking about all that’s been going on with the Time’s Up movement, the question is, what do men get out of forcing a woman who does not want to be with this man to do something sexual?

Why would you do that to a human being, aside from pure cruelty and abuse, what does it give you to do that another person?

And the answer always is, power. And I don’t get it. I don’t- I cannot relate to that. I have to somehow dissect that word, because for Lydia, I think it was a true calling to be an Aunt and that she was all in. Now the reality is, Lydia lives in a dorm with other Aunts, they have no sex life. I think she must feel tremendous loneliness, so I think somewhere in her mind she’s saying what else is there?

I don’t think she’s motivated by power, but I could be wrong about that. I do think she’s wondering what else is there here, for me?

How she developed her character after Season 1:

In episode 1, Lydia is direct and authoritative with the Handmaids, coming straight out and telling them how the Red Center is run. I first developed Lydia by asking Bruce Miller, our head writer, what do you think she did beforehand, and he said, “She was most likely a schoolteacher,” which makes tremendous sense to me.

I could imagine her in an all-girls school, a religious school. I could imagine her even in a public high school being made fun of, “Oh, look at the hag, oh here she is.” I could see her being humiliated in that way, and learning to develop tremendously thick skin. And she’s a natural, she’s a born teacher if you will, meaning she can organize the room, she can get everybody to pay attention and stop the nonsense, very, very quickly.

It was also very helpful that Reed Morano, who directed our first three episodes of Season 1 was remarkably insightful and continually giving me the question, “What does it cost Lydia to get to that extreme?”

It does cost her something, she is a human being, and she does care for them. How does she bear the pain of knowing that what she’s doing is shocking to these young girls? What does it cost her to initiate stoning someone to death? So the rest of the season became about, who else is she and what other parts of her exist? How does she shift in different circumstances?  

For me, developing Lydia is about finding different parts of her, different sides of her in different circumstances. And thanks to the writers, there’s very much an opportunity to do that.

How THE HANDMAID’S TALE can be a part of the solution:

You know I was riding my bike just before we premiered Season 1 in New York, and I saw a group of Handmaids in red. My Handmaids, Lydia’s Handmaids, and I almost fell off my bike, I thought, “What is going on here?”

Now, it was actually Hulu’s brilliant idea of how to spread awareness of the show.

But then there were women in protest who chose to wear these red Handmaids cloaks, to say something. Something about seeing the show, and putting a face and language to repression and abuse, I think it gave people strength.

I think when you see people wearing Handmaids costumes, it can make you realize…wait a second, I don’t have to stay quiet, I am not the only one who is afraid, I am not the only one who has been abused, I’m not the only one.

There is strength in numbers, there is strength in solidarity, I think the show sparks something real.

 

For more information

Ama Sechere

ama.sechere@bellmedia.ca

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