TWO seasons in, The Handmaid's Tale fans have grown accustomed to the series' unrelentingly dark and brutal dystopia.

Each episode has thrown up new shocks as heroine June (Elisabeth Moss) somehow survives in a post-American 'Gilead', a society that affords women no rights and treats the few still fertile as livestock.

But for actor Joseph Fiennes, who plays June's fearsome captor Commander Fred Waterford in the show, one scene in the script proved too much.

Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) left, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), in a scene from “The Handmaid’s Tale”
Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) left, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), in a scene from “The Handmaid’s Tale”

In a new interview with EW, Fiennes revealed that he put a stop to a planned season two scene that would take place during his character and wife Serena's ill-fated diplomatic visit across the border to Canada. The scene was to take place after the Commander's run-in with June's husband, Luke, who had successfully escaped Gilead.

"I guess in many ways, as abhorrent and nasty and evil as Fred is, I have to defend parts of him," Fiennes explained.

Yvonne Strahovski in a scene from the TV series The Handmaid's Tale. Supplied by SBS TV.
Yvonne Strahovski in a scene from the TV series The Handmaid's Tale. Supplied by SBS TV. George Kraychyk

"In episode 9, we had a moment where Fred was going to rape - after meeting Luke - rape Serena in a hotel room straight after, and it just didn't track for me.

"I had to go out on a limb and refuse to do it because I felt that even though Fred is who he is, he's human.

"And I think that he would be reeling from the interaction with Luke, and that suddenly the reality comes face-to-face with him and he would be digesting that and trying to understand it, and he wouldn't necessarily be switched on by being in Canada in a new hotel and trying to heavily persuade his wife to do something that she wouldn't want to do."

It wasn't easy for the actor to convince his bosses on the show to drop the scene, but Fiennes managed to persuade them with "long emails and defending and pushing, and feeling that Yvonne had tracked Serena so beautifully that her disenfranchisement with the regime and Fred was so beautifully charted it didn't need a heavy scene to kind of suddenly push her over the edge."

Fiennes' co-star Moss has previously spoken about what it's like to film the show's frequent ritualised rape scenes - 'ceremonies' where the commanders attempt to impregnate their Handmaids, as their wives watch on.

Elisabeth Moss, left, and Ann Dowd as the cruel Aunt Lydia. Picture: AP
Elisabeth Moss, left, and Ann Dowd as the cruel Aunt Lydia. Picture: AP

"In the shooting of it, it was really important for us to have it be extremely clinical, mechanical; there's nothing remotely sexual about it. It was really important to show it exactly for what it should be. That no one is enjoying this. That all three parties are in a terrible place," Moss said.

"Everyone's in an awkward position. There's usually, 'Am I hurting you?' That kind of thing. And then you do it again. And there are 65 people watching and so it's not as dramatic as anyone thinks it might be."

The series' recent season two finale had fans divided, with a surprise move from June in the final seconds of the episode that frustrated many. Storyline debates aside, the show looks set to be a hit at this year's Emmy Awards: It received 20 nominations, including an incredible eight nominations across the acting categories.


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