Joseph Fiennes Says Shooting ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ During the Pandemic Left Him ‘Mildly Depressed and Hugely Emotional’

Marc Malkin
·5-min read

Welcome to this week’s “Just for Variety.”

When “The Handmaid’s Tale” began shooting Season 4 last September in Toronto, Joseph Fiennes said he felt safe from COVID. However, it shook him up mentally. “It was the first time in my life where I felt mildly depressed and hugely emotional at the lack of not being able to physically get to my family and keow I wouldn’t see them for two-and-a-half to three months at a time,” says Fiennes from his home in Spain. The soft-spoken actor plays the stoic and sadistic Commander Fred Waterford on the Hulu series, which surprised viewers by dropping its first three episodes on April 27. “I felt like I was letting them down; there was a sense of guilt of not being there,” Fiennes says.

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Production on the season originally began days before the onset of the pandemic, then was shuttered for months. “I think we had 27,000 or more [COVID] tests since October,” he says. The continued comparisons between “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the Trump administration were not lost on Fiennes after Jan. 6. “I couldn’t help but have a self-dialogue on the nature of and the fragility of democracy and the storming of Congress,” he says. He recalls Waterford turning to his wife during a flashback in Season 2 to tell her that the Capitol and the White House had been stormed. Fiennes shakes his head: “Just a few years later, that same event happened.”

I’ve seen the first few episodes. I won’t give away any spoilers, but it should come as no surprise to anyone that the show continues to be a dark and heavy drama. June Osbourne (Elisabeth Moss) continues to put her life in danger with most of the decisions she makes. “Within the gravity and the pain, what we should remember is there’s an inspirational heroine or anti-heroine, if you like,” Fiennes says. “I keep wanting to remind people just to stick with the spirit of June and the inspiration of the fighter. What I love about this season is we see that all the deep scars and psychological lacerations have teeth and those teeth are coming back to bite. Finally, we get a sense of June’s revenge in some ways.”

Justin Theroux was filming the Apple TV Plus series adaptation of “The Mosquito Coast” when he finally got to meet Harrison Ford. Theroux stars as Allie Fox on the show, the part Ford played in the 1986 movie version of the novel written by Theroux’s uncle, Paul Theroux. “I was in Mexico City, and he happened to come through for work and was staying at the same hotel as me,” Theroux says on this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast. “We had a mutual friend in common, who was like, ‘You’re both in Mexico City; you should get together and have a bite.’ … We had this wonderful long tequila-filled night. We did talk about ‘Mosquito Coast,’ but it wasn’t central. He’s a much more fascinating man than the guy who just played that part.”

Sean Hayes has a very good reason for launching his latest podcast, “HypochondriActor.” “I did this for free medical advice,” the former “Will & Grace” star cracks. The podcast, which debuts May 5, features Hayes and co-host Dr. Priyanka Wali, who also happens to be a stand-up comedian, interviewing guests with incredible medical stories. “I constantly think about everything that’s wrong with my body,” Hayes tells me. “You can literally say any part of my body on the inside or outside, and I’ll probably have a story about it.” “HypochondriActor” is the second podcast he’s co-hosting since launching “Smartless” with Jason Bateman and Will Arnett in July 2020. Hazy Mills, Hayes’ production company with Todd Milliner, has about a dozen podcasts in development.

Elizabeth Gillies is pulling more than double duty on “Dynasty.” Not only does she star as Fallon Carrington on the CW reboot of my favorite 1980s primetime soap, but she exclusively tells me she will make her directing debut with an upcoming episode. “I’ve always wanted to do it,” Gillies says. “I think it was last year I really made it clear my pitch to direct. I did my homework and I shadowed a bunch of directors. I’m thankful they’re letting me do it. I couldn’t be more excited, but I’m afraid I’ll fall in love with it so much that I will only want to focus on that.”

She’s also set to sing a song, “More Than Me,” that she wrote with her real-life musician husband Michael Corcoran (known professionally as Backhouse Mike or Ken Lofkoll) for Fallon to sing at her wedding. They had to nix plans for her to perform with a big band due to COVID restrictions, but Gillies was prepared. “Luckily I play piano, so I was able to accompany myself,” she says. “We do plan on releasing a full version based on how we intended it to be performed so that the fans can enjoy that version as well. It’s very sweet and tender. I think the fans will really love it.” But, she originally thought of not telling her co-stars she wrote the tune. “I wanted to see when I finished it if they would be like, ‘Wow, that song sucks,’” Gillies says, laughing. “But I told them and I think they found it very sweet, too. Most of our cast is musical, so if they were given an opportunity where their character is supposed to be writing this original song and then they just licensed some random song it would be a little strange.”

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