You’ll likely recognize Madeline Brewer from her devastating portrayal of troubled Tricia Miller on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” or maybe from her portrayal of a ruthless soldier on “Black Mirror.” Whichever one comes to mind first—because trust us, they wouldn’t leave you anytime soon—one thing’s for certain: Brewer’s known how to play up the darkness in her characters. And her newest role, opposite Elisabeth Moss in the harrowing Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is no exception.
Based on a dystopia originally created by Margaret Atwood in her 1985 novel, the show takes place in futuristic world where women are abducted, stripped of their rights and held hostage as concubines. Even ahead of tonight’s premiere, fans of the book have responded excitedly to the show’s announcement. It has already received its fair share of controversy thanks to the political ties drawn by viewers.
Below, we speak with the actress about her latest role, the topical themes it brings to light and the playlist that would best illustrate her newest character.
Can you tell me a little about your character Janine?
[Laughs] Oh god, Janine. She’s so heartbreaking but so much fun to play. In the book, she’s more of a source of jealousy and frustration for Offred, but in the show we’ve found this beautiful relationship between the two. Janine is an example of someone that’s been truly destroyed by this world, and whatever she was before coming to Gilead has been stripped down to its bare minimum. She’s this new, raw version of herself.
What’s your biggest takeaway from the show’s storyline?
In a personal way, the way Janine was written might make you think she’s gone crazy. But no one just goes crazy; something happened to them and they react in a certain way. No matter who you are or where you are or what adversities you’ve had to face, everyone has their struggles. If you keep powering through, you will make it something better.
What are you most excited for in terms of “The Handmaid’s Tale” premiere?
I’m really excited to see the way it moves people—already I’m seeing comments from people on Twitter talking about how much the book meant to them. Especially for young women who read it in high school or in college, I think that this show is so powerful to men and women alike, especially in our current political climate. There are people that will write it off—just like they did with the book—as propaganda and what have you, but it’s so much more than that. It’s not meant to be a commentary on politics right now but it has aspects, naturally.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” and your episode of “Black Mirror” both tell stories based in dystopian futures—futures that some people might argue aren’t so based in fiction—what impact do these roles have on your outlook after-the-fact?
The reason why these shows are so frightening is because they’re not this far-off, distant future. In both shows there are horrific futures that certain people must endure because someone—the government that we’re supposed to trust—has sought out to hurt these people. Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist, but I definitely take a step back now and think, “Am I thinking for myself?” I can’t just watch some channels of the news and think that’s it—you have to look at the other points of view.
Did any of these issues come up while filming “The Handmaid’s Tale?”
The Women’s March happened while we were shooting, and doing that—as beautiful as a time that it was in my life to be able to go to the march with my aunts and my mom and my best female friends and experience that moment—there was also this underlying feeling of needing to keep our eyes open. Because in “[The] Handmaid’s Tale” they thought they had the power; they thought they were moving forward and progressing and yet their lives were stolen right out from under their noses.
Looking to the future, what kind of role would you look forward to playing the most?
I would like to be something with a little action. Or I’d like to do something funny [laughing] because everything I’ve done in my career thus far has been pretty heavy!
You made a Janine-themed playlist for us! What can we expect?
The important thing to me is that people recognize that Janine isn’t laying down and dying. She is a powerful, strong person. You can’t see it on her face, but it’s a part of her soul. So with this playlist have fun exploring another side of Janine, other than what you see on the screen.
Main Image: Martina Tolot