Spoilers ahead for The Handmaid’s Tale.
Though she’s best known for playing Rory Gilmore, on one of the chattiest shows on TV, Alexis Bledel is almost preternaturally suited for the quieter, more elusive Ofglen, Offred’s fellow handmaid and errand partner on The Handmaid’s Tale. Offred wonders if Ofglen is a snitch keeping watch over her, only to learn that she’s actually part of the resistance in Gilead. Moreover, Ofglen is a lesbian with a lover who is a Martha (part of the servant class), and due to her “crimes,” she is imprisoned and given a clitorectomy against her will. In what seems like a final act of resistance, in episode five, Ofglen commandeers a car and kills a guard before she is taken away again, presumably to her death. Vulture spoke with Bledel about her dynamic with Elisabeth Moss, how filming the show felt different after the U.S. presidential election, and the most difficult scene for her to shoot.
Your character Ofglen is very suspicious of Elisabeth’s character, Offred, at the beginning. How did you build that dynamic?
We had an amazing director, Reed Morano, who was just incredible. She really led us through the process of becoming these characters. There is a very clear tone of distrust that’s palpable, especially in the first episode when you meet these two characters onscreen. Offred isn’t sure what to think of Ofglen. These women don’t know each other at all because they’re not really allowed to talk. So when they are allowed to take these walks together and leave the houses where they’re forced to stay, they only really are allowed to talk about certain things. So it’s a great underlining tension to play throughout a scene.
Gilmore Girls, the part you’re best known for, is very dialogue-heavy, and this is, in some ways, the opposite of that. What was it like shifting into a role that was more about working with small gestures?
I loved it. I am less chatty by nature actually. I loved the performance by Samantha Morton in Sweet and Lowdown. I’d only seen it once, and that was a long time ago, but it’s such a stunning performance in that film. She doesn’t speak at all. I knew that it was possible, and then I went about doing my work to express as much as I could in the best way possible. For me, it’s about being precise with my physicality and my eyes, I guess. So it was a great acting exercise and it gave me a chance to work on something that I don’t always get to do.
Thankfully we didn’t speed up the pace on Handmaid’s. We didn’t fall into that at all: fast-talking Handmaids.
I think episode three is really devastating in a lot of ways. For the final scene after you’ve had a clitorectomy, how many takes did you do?
I want to say we did like, five takes or so. We tried it a few different ways. First we played up, or played through, the shock of the moment where it didn’t really, fully hit her. Then we tried it more having an emotional reaction and falling apart a bit. I think Reed really liked the idea of editing the ending that way because it gave her an opportunity to show how fractured an experience it was for Ofglen — her thoughts and emotions would be all over the place, and it would really feel chaotic to her.
Did you and Elisabeth discuss the feminist moment of this show?
We were both certainly very aware of it, and I know we definitely had conversations with Reed. I think that we handled the subject matter with great sensitivity and respect because of its relevance. While we were shooting, we didn’t know what the outcome of the election was going to be, and of course the transition was made right in the middle of shooting, so it certainly felt one way before and differently after. I think that Margaret Atwood has said that it is a cautionary tale. And characters in this story have a chance to act out in a way that may seem sort of cathartic, but luckily it’s within the context of a story, so you hope they’re not actions that people actually have to take in their life.
Did the dynamic shift after the election?
I only had a few scenes to shoot after the election. I certainly felt a great heaviness coming back to finish out my scenes. I might have had just one scene left, but when I see it I can tell what headspace I’m in because it just felt so heavy. I think that the show really depicts women as very strong, capable, and inventive, and there are a lot of really positive things that people can take away from it and hopefully find strength in the story. I certainly did, and Lizzie and I did talk about the strength of the characters — that reserve that they have. There’s so much fortitude underneath all of their vulnerability. They’re very careful, and not bold. They can’t be bold in Gilead. But within, they’re incredibly dynamic and incredibly strong.
In the scene where you steal the car, what was going through your character’s mind?
I think she feels at that moment that she’s already gone through utter devastation, personally, and she’s at a complete loss. I think she basically gets these waves of … fight that kind of charge through her. She just has an indomitable spirit. She’s not going down without a fight. She sees an opportunity, kind of like when she’s being escorted to her trial and she’s waiting for a moment and there’s a guard standing in front of her, but she sees an exit sign and she thinks, Maybe I’ll get past this guard and escape. It’s lightning-fast thinking, and she does it. She tries to arouse this guard in the hopes that he’ll get distracted and she’ll get past him out of desperation. I think when she sees this car door open, she doesn’t give it much thought — it’s an impulse. She just jumps in and decides to make a bit of a statement having to do with her desire for freedom, and she’s hoping to communicate that to the other handmaids.
I was wondering why she didn’t try to drive away, as opposed to driving in a circle.
I think she knows she can’t escape. She has more information than most of the other handmaids because she’s involved in the resistance network. But that’s a good question, I never really asked myself that.
She should’ve killed more people!
[Laughs.] Well to me, it’s sad that she becomes violent, because you hope she’s above it, and she’d continue to resist through those channels. But, I don’t know. She couldn’t have been in her right mind. I think it’s all an impulse.
What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot?
The one in the van where we drove and they opened the doors and hang the character that Ofglen was involved with, the Martha. We were driving in the van to the location, so we were able to go through the scene a couple of times, me and the actress who plays the Martha, with our director. Reed was in the van with Colin, our cinematographer, and the camera was in the van with us. There was certainly an eerie feel to that day. The fact that it’s all in one shot, and you watch it in real time unfolding, makes it seem more real. You’re experiencing it as Ofglen experiences it. It also makes it seem more unreal — “is this really happening?” — which I think is going through her mind as she’s ripped away from her lover and watches her die, all within less than a minute.
That must have also been hard to shoot because it was a single take. How many takes did you end up doing?
We did two. We had a few false starts because one of the doors wouldn’t stay open. The door kept messing up the take, and then we got two where it stayed open and our second was the one they used.
Were there any techniques you used to get into that headspace quickly? I feel like having two shots on this must be difficult.
I tried to maintain my focus on Ofglen’s experience the whole time I was on set. It’s not like mentally I didn’t stay in character at all, outwardly, but I just kept her in my mind and my thoughts throughout the day. I used music in between takes.
What would you listen to?
I keep it to myself. It changed day to day a bit, but I have to keep it to myself because that process was so personal and intricate for me that to talk about it outwardly just maybe feels like not the right thing for me.
Did you think about what Ofglen’s life was like before the coup and what that looked like?
I thought about it a lot and talked about it with Bruce and Reed to get on the same page. I had to imagine where she’s coming from, what her truest thoughts are in each scenario. And layered on top of that, you have who she pretends to be for the sake of survival in Gilead, and then another layer that she’s sort of developed as someone who fights back and is able to engage with people surreptitiously on that level when she chooses to. She’s very in control of her behavior, but underneath it all, I think she’s craving her real life. In some ways, she’s had to adapt, and in some ways she’s very disconnected from it. But I think she must have a lot of hope that she’s going to be able to somehow overthrow her oppressors.
Was it hard to shake the world of Gilead?
Yeah, there’s a lot about a workplace, and I guess a story in our case, as actors, that you don’t have to carry around with you all day. I certainly have done that — carried a lot of the mood and different things about the character around me throughout the day feeling like maybe that would help me — but I don’t think that’s really part of my process at the end of the day. I think it is more about the preparation time and then just being at my best when I’m on set and focused and not being stressed and just being able to be there and be in character when I need to be. It’s not taxing if you’re prepared and focused. It’s just sort of more natural to jump in and out.
The darkness of the story wasn’t necessarily something that felt different from another job. If anything it just made me think, I should really focus and I should really use my energy in ways that are productive to tell this story. I just have so much respect for Margaret Atwood and [showrunner] Bruce Miller, the story on its own, so that gave me confidence that people are going to understand what’s being communicated here. Because I did when I read it, right away. And I loved the book. So that gave me a great confidence to jump into that world.