The actresses have said that the head coverings they wear when they go outside are like blinders, completely cutting off their peripheral vision. The actresses can't see each other unless they're looking directly at each other. They have to act largely based on what they can hear.
Margaret Atwood has said that pretty much everything that happens in the novel has happened somewhere in history: The Bible, the Iranian revolution of 1978-79, the backlash against 1980s feminism, etc.
In an April 2018 interview with "Salon"'s Mary Elizabeth Williams, Amanda Brugel (Rita) said that as the self-described "lone Canadian in the cast," the book changed her life long before she won a role in the show. She was assigned Margaret Atwood's novel as a 15-year-old high school student and subsequently wrote some short stories based on it. Later she wrote her university application thesis on the novel and received a full scholarship on that basis. Brugel said that the main focus of that university application essay was Rita, the character she now plays on the show.
There were no black characters in the original source novel, because Gilead (the repressive theocratic regime that had taken over the US government by the time the book starts) had classified all black people as Children of Ham. This is a reference to the belief held by some fundamentalist Christian denominations that black people are descended from Noah's son Ham and are therefore subject to a "curse" leveled at Ham by Noah. In the novel, black people are forcibly resettled in the upper Midwest (Chapter 14). The producers of this show made a conscious choice to deviate from that aspect of the book so that there would be a chance to include black characters (and actors) in the show, including the casting of Samira Wiley as Offred's friend and fellow handmaid Moira. In a January 2017 interview with "TVLine", executive producer Bruce Miller explained that the producers engaged in a "huge discussion with Margaret Atwood, and in some ways it is 'TV vs. book' thing," arguing that in a TV show it would be harder than in a book to explain the persistent absence of black characters. He continued, "What's the difference between making a TV show about racists and making a racist TV show? Why would we be covering [the story of handmaid Offred, played by Elisabeth Moss], rather than telling the story of the people of color who got sent off to Nebraska?" He also justified it by reporting that the "evangelical movement has gotten a lot more integrated [since the book's publication, and] I made the decision that fertility trumped everything." The source novel also included a brief explanation for the absence of Jewish characters in the story: the Gileadean government gave them the options of either converting to Christianity or emigrating to Israel--though the ones who chose emigration were really loaded onto ships that were then dumped into the ocean.
Original author Margaret Atwood was quite involved in the script adaptation of her 1985 novel insofar as the update of the vernacular over the intervening 32 years. According to producer Bruce Miller, she had to ask the scriptwriters to explain the meaning of the term "carpet munchers."
In the original novel by Margaret Atwood, the main character is known only by her patronymic, Offred (or "of Fred," since she "belongs" to a Commander named Fred). Her real name is never revealed, though many readers interpret her name to be June, based on various subtle hints in the text. In a 2017 article for the "New York Times Book Review", author Margaret Atwood says about the interpretation, "That was not my original thought, but it fits, so readers are welcome to it if they wish." In the 1990 film adaptation of the novel, The Handmaid's Tale (1990), the filmmakers chose Kate as her pre-Gileadean name, and state it clearly.
As explained in both the source novel and the show, the secreted motto that Offred finds ("Nolite te bastardes carborundorum") is a mock-Latin phrase that was once a common joke among children who studied Latin; the novel's author Margaret Atwood first heard it as a wisecrack in her childhood Latin classes. A May 2017 article in "Vanity Fair" explained that the phrase, which dates from the late 19th or early 20th century and is supposed to mean "don't let the bastards grind you down," contains only a few words that are actually Latin. Regardless of its dubious grammatical or historical origins, though, its presence in the novel as a source of hope for Offred has (in the three decades since the novel's publication) in turn caused it to become an inspirational and beloved motto for some of the novel's readers. In an interview in "Time Magazine", Atwood remarked on how "weird" it is that "this thing from my childhood is permanently [tattooed] on people's bodies."
The first show produced by Hulu to win a major award, as well as the first show produced by a subscription streaming site to win an Emmy for Outstanding Series-- in this case, the drama category (Sept. 17, 2017 / Microsoft Theater).
In an essay that was published in the "New York Times" in March 2017 and also as the new introduction to a 2017 edition of her novel "The Handmaid's Tale", Margaret Atwood explained that the inspiration for the handmaids' uniforms and especially their face-hiding headdresses "came not only from mid-Victorian costume and from nuns, but from the Old Dutch Cleanser package of the 1940s, which showed a woman with her face hidden, and which frightened me as a child."
In a "New York Times" essay published in March 2017, as well as in the new introduction to a 2017 edition of her novel "The Handmaid's Tale," Margaret Atwood said that when she started writing the book, her title for it was "Offred." This is the name given to the main character by the repressive regime that is enslaving her. In addition to its primary meaning (that she is the property of a commander named Fred), Atwood also explained that she intended for the name to also remind the reader of the word "offered," meaning, "denoting a religious offering or a victim offered for sacrifice."
The show uses the biblical story of Rachel, the wife of Jacob, who gave him her maid to lay with and impregnate; Rachel would then raise the child as her own. In this show the fertile handmaids perform the same function as Rachel's handmaid, and the commanders' infertile wives perform the same function as Rachel did. However, in scripture Rachel became fertile eventually and bore Jacob two biological children, Benjamin and Joseph. This aspect of the story, which is not in the show, actually makes Gilead's handmaid/forced surrogate system seem even more cruel and archaic and emphasizes even more the barbarity and evil of the despotic dogma that is the basis of the theocratic Gilead regime.
The popularity of this series prompted a surge of renewed interest in Atwood's book, which had never been out of print since its publication in 1985. The film adaptation, The Handmaid's Tale (1990), on the other hand, had become almost entirely forgotten and so difficult to find that the demand for it on Amazon and eBay had risen to such an extent that some consumers had reportedly paid upward of $100 for an original copy.
During a November 2017 interview on the Alabama Public Television program "Bookmark with Don Noble," Margaret Atwood explained the significance of one aspect of the show's set decoration: "Written words are the big forbidden sexy no-no thing in this culture [Gilead]. It may interest you to know that in the [television] series, all of the paintings in the Commander's house are from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. And the signatures on them are the only things you can read in that house, apart from what's in [the] library. So I said to the people running the show, 'Did you borrow them from the museum?' And they said, 'No, we got this nice man in China to do them for us at 20 bucks a pop' . . . It shows that these people are like other totalitarians in that they loot things, and the people at the top get to have them."
Most of the source novel was set in and around Cambridge, MA. In October 2016 some of this series' exterior scenes were shot in another Cambridge: Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. Margaret Atwood was born in Ontario.
In a February 20, 2019, piece on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," Lynn Neary reported on a large film shoot for the third season of the show on location at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Producer Kim Todd said that they filmed 200 extras in handmaid uniforms on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but that in the actual scene "We will replicate those [200 women] with our visual effects so that the final shot will have thousands of handmaids stretching down the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument." Executive producer Warren Littlefield pointed out to Neary that in the scene they were shooting, June (Elizabeth Moss) "is kneeling on the exact same spot where Martin Luther King gave his 'I Have A Dream' speech. So, yeah, goosebumps and chills over what that means." Neary also noted that when the scene airs, visual effects will have changed the Washington Monument into a giant cross.
Elisabeth Moss (June Osborne) & Alexis Bledel (Emily) also worked together on Mad Men (2007) as Peggy Olson & Beth Dawes respectively. Each of their characters also had brief affairs with Pete Campbell.
The first series produced by a subscription streaming site to win the Golden Globe for Best Television Series - Drama. Transparent (2014) was the first streaming series to win a Golden Globe for Best Television Series three years prior, in that case the Comedy or Musical category.
According to actress Elisabeth Moss, for some scenes in S3 that were filmed inside DC's Lincoln Memorial, production personnel were limited to five people at any one time and camera equipment was not permitted to touch the ground during filming.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Joseph Fiennes refused to perform a scene in which Fred Waterford rapes Serena season 2, successfully arguing that it was out of character for that moment. Fiennes added that he was aware Commander Waterford is a rapist, but he felt strongly that rape scenes in the show should not be gratuitous. After making his case to the showrunner, the scene was removed from the script.
The name that Serena gives to June's baby, Nichole, is a feminine form of the male name "Nicholas" and as such is Serena's passive-aggressive reminder to her husband that Nick is the baby's biological father.
The repressive theocratic regime that has taken over the U.S. in this show and in its source novel is called "The Republic of Gilead." Gilead is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible, first in Genesis 31:23, both as a geographic location and the source of a figurative or literal balm (curative or healing substance). There is a spiritual called "There Is a Balm in Gilead" that is in the hymnals of many Christian denominations, and in the book "The Handmaid's Tale," Offred remembers the hymn. She even makes a joke to herself about it, thinking, "there is a bomb in Gilead." As a placename, the geographic term "Gilead" is used in the Bible for a mountainous region east of the Jordan River, which was divided among the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. The region corresponds to the northwestern part of the modern Kingdom of Jordan. In the Book of Hosea, the ancient writer accuses one or more settlements in Gilead of immorality: "Gilead is a city of those who work iniquity; it is stained with blood." In the Books of Samuel, Gilead is the place where deposed King David of Israel found refuge, following the rebellion of his son Absalom against him. Absalom blamed his father for failing to punish the man who raped Tamar, Absalom's sister. Gilead is also is the home-place of the prophet Elijah.
In the source novel, no last name is provided to the reader for the character of Nick. In this television adaptation, his name is "Nick Blaine." This means that his name is one letter away from the name of the anti-heroic (and ultimately heroic) main character in the classic movie Casablanca (1942), Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart). Rick initially claims that he is politically neutral and would "stick his neck out for no one," but he eventually sides with the Resistance to help both an anti-fascist cause and a woman he cares about.
In September 2018, the online costume and lingerie vendor Yandy started promoting a costume for the Halloween season that they called the "Brave Red Maiden" costume (to avoid the legal issue involved in not having the rights to the intellectual property involved). Despite the name, it was clearly supposed to be a "sexy" version of the handmaids' uniform. The costume quickly sparked outraged responses, with many objecting that Yandy had taken taken an outfit that symbolized womens' oppression and rape and had both trivialized and sexualized it. Yandy eventually removed the costume from their site, explaining that they had intended it to be an inspirational expression of women's empowerment, but they understood that that was not how others had seen it. Interestingly, in the original source novel, Margaret Atwood includes some satirical commentary about the whole idea of "sexy" versions of costumes. When the Commander takes Offred to the bordello Jezebels, Offred observes that the prostitutes are all clothed in a "mélange [of outfits] ... whatever they could scrounge or salvage") that suggest someone's distant memory of stereotypical porn scenarios--including cheerleaders, devil horns, Playboy bunnies, and aerobics instructors. In the 1990 movie, when Offred sees Moira at Jezebel's, Moria is wearing a "sexy" handmaid's uniform. And in this series, while at Jezebels, Offired briefly sees a number of men having sex with women dressed in versions of the handmaid and wife uniforms.
During a game of Scrabble between the Commander and Offred, one of the solved words is "zygote" (an egg that has been fertilized by sperm) which is ironic, considering the peculiar nature of their relationship.
Offred helps Moira escape from the Red Center in both this series and the 1990 film. In the novel, however, Moira escapes alone and Offred's recollection of this is based on what she heard from third parties, later from Moira herself at Jezebel's.
When Offred and the Commander play Scrabble for the first time, the first two tiles they turn over are the letters "M" and "A,". They are the initials of the author of the show's source novel, "The Handmaid's Tale"--Margaret Atwood.