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Madeline Brewer on How ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Inspired Her to Tell Her Own Abortion Story — and Hopes for the Final Season

[This story contains spoilers from the season five finale of The Handmaid’s Tale.]

It’s been practically per week since The Handmaid’s Tale launched its finale. And Madeline Brewer, who has performed fiery handmaid Janine on the Hulu dystopian collection for all 5 seasons, is in London making ready for a nightly efficiency within the West End revival of Cabaret.

“Right now I’m doing theater in the West End, which I’ve wanted to do my whole life, and this character has an abortion as well,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter, drawing a line from the long-lasting Sally Bowles, who she’s going to play on stage by way of the top of January, to Janine, who simply wrapped her season 5 story on a cliffhanger. “I was preparing this audition during the overturn of Roe. I was playing Janine, preparing this audition, and now every single night I play a woman who goes through the feelings of getting pregnant, wanting to keep it, deciding not to keep it, because of the life that she wants for herself.”

Janine’s expertise of getting an abortion was informed on the fourth season of the Bruce Miller-created TV saga, which stars Elisabeth Moss because the main handmaid (now, a Gilead refugee). That flashback episode, titled “Milk” and written by Jacey Heldrich, confirmed Janine earlier than Gilead’s takeover as a single mother looking for out an abortion after an unplanned being pregnant. But her Google search led her to an anti-abortion disaster being pregnant middle, which served to govern ladies into conserving undesirable pregnancies as a result of dropping fertility price on this planet of The Handmaid’s Tale. After being fed propaganda and misinformation, Janine ultimately seeks out a secure abortion — all of this earlier than Gilead would invade and power ladies, together with Janine, to turn out to be reproductive slaves.

The “Milk” episode aired in May 2021, a little bit over a yr earlier than the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson determination would overturn Roe v. Wade. The fallout from the choice highlighted the position disaster being pregnant facilities play within the U.S. anti-abortion motion. Janine’s flashback episode additionally had a profound impression on Brewer.

“When I filmed Janine’s scenes where she was getting an abortion and being manipulated by these crisis pregnancy centers, Roe v. Wade was still intact. But having that storyline was actually a really incredible grieving process for me for my own abortion that I spoke about online in June after the overturn of Roe,” says Brewer. “People talk about how much they love Janine and how much Janine has inspired them, and it felt important to me to talk about my own experience.”

Shortly after the choice, Brewer revealed in a quick put up on Instagram that she had an abortion when she was 20. “Today my life is mine,” she wrote, partially. “I can’t wait to be a mother someday on my own terms.” Just a few months later, she defined why she spoke out in a visitor essay for Self, writing, “When I decided to write that Instagram post in June, I was one in a cacophony of voices sharing fear and anger at the overturn of Roe and any information on how to access abortion pills. I wanted anyone who saw it to know that I understand how important it is to have abortion as an option because I’ve needed it myself.”

She additionally defined that when she was youthful, she by no means noticed abortion being represented onscreen the way in which The Handmaid’s Tale confirmed Janine making her alternative. 

“There’s no one way to tell why someone would get an abortion because there’s no one way a woman or a person decides to have an abortion,” she now explains to THR. “I do feel like sometimes we talk about it like it’s one thing: ‘Oh, that was the abortion storyline.’ But there are thousands upon thousands of reasons why even one individual would decide it’s not right for them. And for me, it was the very singular fact that I was not ready.”

Below, in a chat with THR, Brewer opens up about her determination and the ability she hopes it has on individuals watching The Handmaid’s Tale‘s post-Roe and digs into the season 5 finale cliffhanger and the place she thinks Janine is headed after being thrown into that van.

When we spoke earlier within the season, you gave me a finale Easter egg once you stated “the only way you survive Gilead is with a June, or some sort of June” (the insurgent chief character performed by Elisabeth Moss). In the finale, Janine certainly turns into “a June” when she refuses to return to handmaid life. How lengthy had you been ready to see Janine stand up?  

I used to be actually stunned that they took Janine on that journey. I used to be, clearly, actually grateful as a result of June Osborne is without doubt one of the nice heroines in all of tv. So to have the ability to channel a little bit little bit of that power was wonderful for me as a fan and as an actor, who loves a very wealthy, fascinating character. Janine has modified so, a lot that it does really feel prefer it was the one place they may take her. I don’t think about we’ll ever see season one/season two Janine ever once more. She’s modified an excessive amount of. She’s been by way of an excessive amount of.

Elisabeth Moss, who directed the finale, stated the 2 of you labored on the physicality of Janine, like now not averting her gaze and standing up taller and extra assured. What was that wish to play out her bodily transformation?

That was actually fascinating, as a result of I’ve gotten so used to Janine’s physicality. It’s like muscle reminiscence now to deliver the shoulders up, put the pinnacle down and have that nervousness, that power the place she desires to simply crawl inside herself. I knew that if she was altering this a lot, it could present in her bodily type and that she would channel a totally completely different power. I wished to honor that she’s actually taking all of it in and never hiding anymore. Lizzie and I spoke loads about that physicality. And how, particularly within the finale, Janine makes use of the previous Janine, her former self, to make her life a little bit bit simpler. Like, proper earlier than the marriage photographs are taken with Commander Lawrence (Bradley Whitford) and Naomi (Ever Carradine) and Janine, the place Naomi is telling Janine that is going to be a trial handmaid run and that her daughter isn’t even there, and he or she’s together with her grandparents; as quickly as Naomi and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) go away the room, it form of all falls down. And Janine releases this character that she’s been taking part in to make her life simpler.

The season ends with Janine being muzzled and thrown right into a van to an unsure location. Where is Janine considering she goes in that second?

I feel Janine thinks she’s going to be hanged. That she’s going to the wall. That’s what I’d assume.

And but, she’s so calm. She tells Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) she’s OK, and he or she consoles one other crying lady within the van. We’ve spoken earlier than about Janine looking for her objective. Where does she discover her power right here?

I feel she’s made up her thoughts. Janine would moderately die than be subjected to the [ritual raping] ceremony once more. She is aware of that Charlotte [renamed “Angela”], her daughter, is cherished. She is aware of she doesn’t actually have an incredible shot of ever getting out of there. She’s tried for therefore lengthy to make this stuff work to be together with her baby, and to benefit from her life. But what has occurred between her and Esther (Mckenna Grace) has actually damaged her, and I simply don’t assume she looks like she has any purpose to be there anymore. She was OK sticking round if she didn’t must do the ceremony, but when they’re going to make her do the ceremony, she’s not sticking round for it.

Of course, what the viewers is aware of that Janine doesn’t is that Commander Lawrence doesn’t do the ceremony. He’s an terrible human being in his personal means, however not in the identical means that Warren [Janine’s previous commander] was. But that’s one thing that Janine doesn’t know. Janine thinks she’s going again right into a home the place she’s going to be raped each month after which have to present one other baby to this horrendous lady. She’s chosen for herself that’s not what she desires to do, in order that’s why I feel she’s calm within the van. She’s like: I knew this might occur; I selected this for myself.

Janine (Madeline Brewer)

Courtesy of Sophie Giraud/Hulu

[Handmaid’s Tale showrunner] Bruce Miller gave me a extra hopeful impression.

Well, Bruce is aware of issues that I don’t know!

Before I share what he stated, does that imply you had been taking part in that scene like Janine is marching towards her finish?

What else am I imagined to assume after they don’t inform me? But I do assume, as a result of Bruce Miller is an efficient and sincere human being who’s sort and in addition a buddy of mine, is that if he had been going to be killing my character, the character I’ve been taking part in for 5 seasons now, he would have informed me. He would have let me in on the key, I feel. So the truth that that hasn’t occurred, I don’t assume Janine is definitely going to be killed. What I actually assume, actually, is that there’s a Martha [underground rebel] community, due to that Martha who got here as much as Janine within the finale and informed her about June. And I feel they’ve gotten her out.

So, you assume that is an escape van?!

I do. What did Bruce say?

He known as June “June Appleseed” within the sense that, she’s at her lowest second, however take a look at all of the seeds she has planted which are on the market rising: “Janine acts very rationally but very powerfully because of June; she hears something about June and that impacts her from such a distance.” What I took from it’s that the insurgent seeds are rising.

Right, like we’re carrying on the legacy that she gave to us.

And Moss known as Janine harmful: “The protégé is all grown up now! She is dangerous.”

Well, I feel that as nicely. But not in the identical means that June is harmful. June is a little bit unhinged. June is harmful as a result of she has a blood-lust now, as a result of she’s been so terrorized. I feel Janine has been radicalized for one thing completely different. She’s been radicalized as a result of they’ve taken the lives and endangered the lives of her pals. That’s the place Janine, I feel, attracts the road. Janine’s pals are what received her by and helped her to outlive. And she’s mainly been residing the final a number of months considering, “June is out and my friends Alma (Nina Kiri) and Briana (Bahia Watson) aren’t suffering anymore, and I’ll be here and I’m not doing the ceremony and I can live this way.”

If Janine is in a Martha van and will get a shot at freedom, this would be the final season, when the present returns, and something can occur. Have you given any thought to the way you need her story to finish?

I don’t actually see a world wherein Janine will get to Canada and goes on and tries to dwell a traditional life. I don’t need Janine to be a martyr of any sort as a result of I’ve a sense that’s going to turn out to be our June Appleseed, as a lot as I hate that. Janine is without doubt one of the warriors in a trigger and her bravery goes to get her killed, but it surely’s going to encourage different ladies. That’s what I feel. I feel that’s what’s going to occur with the entire handmaids we’ve fallen in love with over the collection and have been so in awe of their power. We love them as a result of they’re highly effective and they’re on the entrance traces. But typically occasions, being the courageous one means you’re the legacy that different individuals observe.

The Handmaid’s Tale: Esther (Mckenna Grace), Janine (Madeline Brewer) and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), shown.

Left to proper: Esther (Mckenna Grace), Janine (Madeline Brewer) and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd)

Courtesy of Sophie Giraud/Hulu

The largest shift for Janine to find her power this season comes after she finds out about Esther (Mckenna Grace) being raped and impregnated by a commander exterior of the ceremony. With Janine’s storyline so centered round bodily autonomy, what has it been wish to act on this collection because the present hits nearer and nearer to residence?

We had been on set the day that Donald Trump was inaugurated. It was distracting, to say the least. It was harrowing and a solemn day on set. Because that was round one of many days within the first season the place Janine is being raped on a mattress and being assaulted in opposition to her will. And after I was sitting in a handmaid circle speaking about how Janine has been sexually assaulted a number of occasions, and Aunt Lydia has everybody inform her that it’s her fault, it was so mirroring what was occurring with any lady who got here ahead to accuse Donald Trump. And it was precisely what was occurring with Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford. These form of issues are surrounding us, after which we go on set and do that present.

I wrote one thing for Self journal about [speaking out about my abortion]. I wished individuals to know the way widespread it’s and in addition how a lot we’re shamed into conserving quiet about it. So many individuals had been speaking in regards to the medical causes somebody would possibly want an abortion and I utterly agree. But I additionally wished to talk to the truth that I had an abortion as a result of I didn’t need a baby. Because I used to be not prepared for a kid. Ten years later, I’m nonetheless not prepared. I nonetheless wouldn’t have the ability to give a baby the life and the love and the eye that they might deserve. And I wished to talk to that.

Janine decided for her personal baby and her personal life, and I decided utterly for my very own life, and to be on set [filming that], I feel that was a part of [why I spoke out]. I feel maybe if I hadn’t been engaged on The Handmaid’s Tale on the time, if I wasn’t in Toronto and residing inside Janine’s thoughts, I don’t know that I’d have talked about it on-line. But after I’m engaged on this present, I’m deeply related to Janine. She is a lady that I love greater than anyone, and he or she gave me the power to speak about one thing that I’ve been whispering about for 9 years.

When you first shared your story on social media you gave the impression to be, like lots of people, nonetheless processing what was occurring. How has it been since talking out?

Since then, probably the most gratifying half has been for individuals to know that my world with Janine comes from a really actual place. I do know her and he or she is aware of me, and it’s simply very actual and sincere. I’m not taking part in one thing on TV that I haven’t skilled and that did really feel very precious to me. And it was cathartic to me to expertise this onscreen as a grown lady, by way of the vessel of Janine, taking part in out the feelings that I didn’t know the right way to categorical after I was 20 years previous.

I had no thought they might give me this storyline. When I learn the script I used to be like, “Oh my God, do they know?” And I’ve stated a bunch of occasions I’m utterly honored they gave me one thing so delicate. While I don’t assume it must be that delicate, I’ve by no means actually seen it accomplished the way in which it must be accomplished or the way in which, selfishly as a viewer, that I’d need to see or not it’s accomplished. I used to be utterly honored that they put it in my fingers.

With the sixth and last season on the horizon, the place are you in your course of of claiming goodbye to Janine?

I’m not ever going to say goodbye to her however I’ve not even begun, I’ll be sincere. Even the considered it makes me need to cry. I began taking part in Janine after I was 24, and I’ll be accomplished taking part in Janine after I’m 31. That’s no small chunk of time; that’s additionally an extremely transformative interval of my life — an extremely troublesome and peculiar and rewarding and interesting period of my existence, and I’ve skilled it alongside this stunning lady. I’ll for day by day, for the remainder of my life, be the lady that I’m in some half, ultimately as a consequence of Janine.

When you consider Janine and the present’s bigger legacy, what do you hope is the lasting impression?

There have been some iconic ladies, iconic feminist heroes on TV, simply completely unimaginable characters, Miss Moss being one other one in all them on Mad Men. And the ladies who encourage us and who make us really feel seen — one thing that I noticed at the same time as a viewer of The Handmaid’s Tale that I haven’t seen on tv earlier than is the lives of those ladies. So typically on TV we see ladies preventing over low stakes. The arguments these ladies have on The Handmaid’s Tale are life and loss of life, and but there may be nonetheless a lot love between them. If nothing else, I hope individuals who have seen The Handmaid’s Tale stroll away considering, “Wow, that was a fucking great show. It was beautiful. It was brilliantly written and acted; it’s one of the best that there is.” That’s how I really feel about it as a viewer and as a participant.

But what I really need is for individuals to take these ladies with them. I need them to recollect them after they’re not feeling as impressed or as robust. I need them to recollect Janine’s sunshine and I need them to recollect how a lot she cherished her pals, and the way sort she would at all times be or attempt to be. I need them to recollect June’s fucking balls. I need them to keep in mind that to be and highly effective particular person, you don’t at all times have to be sort. And that to be and highly effective particular person, you don’t at all times have to be unkind.

Janine higher be in that Martha van, as a result of she’s not accomplished but.

She’s not able to go.

­­­­Interview edited for size and readability.



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