In a world where women's rights still aren't considered human rights, The Handmaid's Tale is as terrifyingly prescient as it is genius. And a character like Joseph Fiennes' The Commander is a constant reminder that actual men in power are actively working to strip women of their agency. He's a fundamentalist who's completely consumed by sexism, and in the final episode—when Offred is hauled out of his house by men who could either be good or evil—The Commander finally experiences what it's like to have something taken from him.
MarieClaire.com spoke to Fiennes about the finale's giant cliff-hanger, how The Handmaid's Tale will jump into season two without Margaret Atwood's book as source material, and how real-life political leaders impacted the creation of 2017's most complicated antagonist.
On Whether or Not June Should Trust the Men Who Put Her in the Back of That Van:
"To finally get out of The Commander's house is a double-edged possibility. I would like to feel there's hope. I would like to think this potentially is a good thing, but June has been blackmailed by Serena, so there's a component which roots her back to the household in terms of her child. There's a sense of maybe she gets her freedom, but maybe she has to come back to save her child. It leaves a cliffhanger, but of course that's what we want—we want you to come back."
On Filming Another Season Without the Book as Source Material:
"A second season will be compelling for an audience that doesn't have material or spoiler alerts to fall back on. But there's that tall order of inventing a new narrative, which I'm sure and hope will be inspired by Margaret Atwood. It will be like an actor doing a new play for an audience. What I don't find compelling is doing classical plays that everyone already knows—and people are following with the text in their hand because no one is listening. So, I love the idea that we'll have people completely present because there's no source material to compare."
On the Terrifying Possibility That Real Life Will Mimic the Show:
"When you wake up and you see that America has pulled out of the climate deal in Paris, that sends huge messages about putting coal before the planet. Gilead has suffered from a fragile ecology that is now toxic and affecting fertility rates. There is truth to it—there is connection, themes, and parallels, sadly. It's getting sharper and sharper, especially for women—the autonomy of their bodies, and pro-choice vs. pro-life. Look at the administration, the imbalance of the female presence—there's a lot to draw on. But it was wonderful seeing the woman's marches, and seeing numbers bigger than the president's inauguration. It gives one great heart that there are people present, alert, and awake, and voicing their frustrations. We need more of that."
On How the Show Has Made Him an Even Bigger Feminist:
"The three most important people in my life are my wife and two daughters, and certainly the show has jolted me into a much more alert state of the inequality amongst the sexes. By virtue of that, I feel much more switched on to feminism, and what it means and stands for. I want my daughters to live in a world where there is equality and parity of pay. We've got a long way to go. I read a statistic that if you're a Hispanic women it'll be over 200 years until you achieve parity of pay. So yes, the show has jolted me into a state of consciousness."
"I feel much more switched on to feminism. I want my daughters to live in a world where there is equality and parity of pay."
On Basing His Character Off Real People:
"Margaret Atwood's source material was the most important to me, and then I fleshed it out from there. As the election in America came into fruition and we saw the results, there were certain people in the administration that I couldn't help but be curious about. I didn't necessarily borrow from them, but there are facets that bolster them—a man in power, a man who, in a puritanical sense, wants to go back to traditional values. There are people who look avuncular and nice. Assad in Syria looks like an avuncular professor, yet is behind the intent of using chemical weapons that killed so many children."
All ten episodes of The Handmaid's Tale are currently streaming on Hulu.