Speaking Up In The Age Of Dystopia: An Interview With The Handmaid's Tale's O-T Fagbenle
With just seven episodes of airtime, The Handmaid's Tale has become a cultural phenomenon. Critics [...]
With just seven episodes of airtime, The Handmaid's Tale has become a cultural phenomenon. Critics and fans alike have fallen in love with the story -- despite how frighteningly real it can be.
While the story brings people in, it's the talent of the actors that keeps everyone invested. The cast of the series - led by the brilliant Elizabeth Moss - is charged with the task of bringing fans into a world of chaos and terror, making it relatable for all of us who couldn't possibly imagine ourselves in that situation.
Fortunately, these performers succeed in tremendous fashion. We're all able to connect to The Handmaid's Tale because of their honesty and passion.
O-T Fagbenle portrays Luke on the series, the husband Moss' character, June. Many fans thought Luke to be dead for some time, until it recently revealed that he'd actually escaped the horrors of Gilead, and has settled nicely in the province of New America, just north of the Canadian border.
This character is accessible to the men who watch the series, as he is someone we can easily relate to and empathize with. He's one of the only characters on the show whose place we feel we could actually take.
Bringing Luke to life was a challenge, to say the least, but Fagbenle has done an impeccable job. The actor took some time to chat with us about what it's been like inside Luke's head, the gravity of this series, and how standing up for what you believe in can pay great dividends in the long run.
How Luke Came To Be
PopCulture.com: Were you familiar with "The Handmaid's Tale" going into this? Or was this something that you researched once you were auditioning for the part?
O-T Fagbenle: I've read boring books in my time but then halfway through 'The Handmaid's Tale', I was like, 'This is extraordinary.' It's such a beautiful piece of literature. I literally was like, 'I can't wait to finish this so I can read it again.'
So what drew you to Luke specifically?
I just feel Luke was for me. I think in terms of age, Luke was the one that suited me the. On a personal level, I just finished doing a couple of action-type roles and I was really attracted to this idea of this every-man character put up against the most brutal circumstances imaginable.
And a lot of people talk about how timely this project is. I also think there are many undertones of Luke's story, who is sort of in a civil war and going into absolute chaos, and see that in other countries, like Syria or others across the world. We see everyday men who are architects and drummers who are forced into becoming refugees.
I think, for most guys watching this show, Luke is kind of our connection because that's the one place we're able to be grounded.
Yeah, that is also a testament to Bruce Miller our show runner. And he understands that that's an eclectic world and the audience wants to relate to an eclectic amount of character and so it's been really gratifying, the response it's had. There's actually a lot of male watchers of the show who are fans of the entire show that also get to see a character that's a bit like them.prevnext
The Complications of Bringing Luke & June To Life
At the beginning of the show for the first few episodes, Luke and June are really this moral high ground. And then, we find out there was more to their backstory than we originally had thought. It's a little more darker than anyone expected. So, what was it like bringing all of those facets to life?
It's the most satisfying thing as an actor to get to play three-dimensional characters. So often, poor writing has the flawless heroes or the unreasonably evil bad guys. And actually, everyone in life has redeeming qualities and everyone has secrets and things they're ashamed of and weaknesses ... With Luke and indeed with the love between Luke and June, yeah, we could tell some generic version of their love story which everyone can go, 'AWW' and they're harking back to that perfect love match but that's not actually how love works. It's messy and it's upsetting because they're human beings and it's not perfect and people make mistakes. So that, to me, is the greatest type of writing and it is exactly what the writing team did. They created characters which are, in certain situations, imperfect.
And, just to say, in a way to kind of highlight the problem with Gilead, is that it takes people's natural weaknesses and imperfections and makes death sentences out of them. It makes these hard-fought black and white rules but real life is more shades of gray. That's why with a relationship between Luke and June comes direct opposition with Gileads, because Gilead can't tolerate divorced people getting in relationships.
One of the powerful things in the show is that everyone, to an extent, is that three dimensional character you're talking about. We see that each week with Serena's character, especially.
Yeah, I mean it's been so extraordinary to see such talented writers. Such extraordinary writing matched with such amazing acting. I think Yvonne [Strahovski] does such a wonderful job of taking someone we have every reason to hate and then something all of a sudden makes you feel sorry for her. I'm blown away by her.prevnext
Episode 7 - 'The Other Side'
This was a very different tone from the rest of the show, it was almost like you were watching a completely different program. It was a post-apocalyptic survival tale instead of this dystopian drama. What was it like on set there in those empty streets and those action sequences?
Well, I'm a huge fan of the post-apocalyptic genre and the dystopian genre. I don't know how to say it enough. I guess it's so immature of me, but I love zombies, I love diseases that wipe out the world. I suppose that's just my type of thing. It was like a match made in heaven when I got to kind of have a huge budget to play out my fantasies
There was a lot of powerful emotion throughout that, but just take us inside Luke's head for a minute, in that final scene where you find out that your wife is still alive.
I think one of the main things which I came to realize is that Luke was walking around the last 3 years, and has been walking around with an incredible amount of guilt. And not because he's not the action hero who can bust back into the red sector with a machine gun on his back, but because of the tools he has in petitioning, asking and doing research which sometimes is not brutal. He is full of guilt and shame for not being the kind of man, you know, he might want to be. Finding out in that moment that there's hope, that his wife still believes in him, that his kid is still alive; it's a moment of redemption, it's a moment of hope. That to me is the essence of the episode.prevnext
The Handmaid's Tale Through the Eyes of a Man
This is such a powerful story of love and of equal rights and of what's right and what's wrong. And, as men, we have a very different perspective of that because we're the villains in that story at times. So, what has this meant to you, to be able to bring this to life and to be able to tell this story because of its importance?
The best opportunities for an artist are to create work which has meaning and relevance, and ... it's hard for men sometimes to know how to contribute to feminism (feminism being the equality of men and women). The question is how as a man can you: A) get out of the way of the progress of women? B) speak up and speak out when injustice against women is being done, no matter how slight; those slightly derogatory, slightly misogynistic comments or jokes, when can we get the opportunity to stand up and say "Hey, that's not okay with me."
And also, what kind of message can we teach to the next generation of men either through our actions or literally sitting down with your little cousin, or brother, or son and having conversations which can bring us a level of consciousness around issues like gender equality, gender pay, and even issues on a sexual level like consent where we can hope that we can better contribute to the next generation being a little bit more enlightened than us.
The Handmaid's Tale debuts a new episode each week, only on Hulu. The newest installment, 'Jezebels' is currently available.
[Photo Credit: Hulu]prev