Elisabeth Moss Wanted to Direct. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Was Her Chance.

This interview comprises spoilers by Episode 9 of Season four of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Elisabeth Moss was already the star and an govt producer on “The Handmaid’s Tale.” But this season, she additionally turned a director, helming three episodes that show a aptitude for visible language. (The final of them, Episode 9, debuted Wednesday on Hulu.)

In Episode three, Moss staged a gripping and largely wordless escape, with solely two Handmaids surviving the try. In Episode eight final week, she revealed with delicate, impressionistic glimpses that a character had hanged herself. And on this week’s episode, she alluded to the Last Supper in her presentation of the Aunts, maybe hinting at a coming betrayal.

Although these episodes marked Moss’s official directorial debut, she first stepped behind the digital camera a number of years in the past whereas capturing Alex Ross Perry’s 2015 indie movie “Queen of Earth,” which she additionally produced. Moss and Perry, a frequent collaborator, traded off directing duties for a part of one scene, which was sufficient to pique the actress’s curiosity in increasing her profession.

“I mean, we were just joking around,” Moss mentioned by cellphone just lately. “But it was actually the first time that I was like: ‘Ooh. I like this. This is fun.’”

She didn’t have a grasp plan on the time for a way to maintain doing it, so she began by observing administrators she knew extra intently. While capturing “Top of the Lake: China Girl” (2017), she regarded to the author and director Jane Campion (“The Piano”) as a mentor and a task mannequin for working a set. One of Campion’s secrets and techniques was protecting calm.

“She’s always taught me that it’s a very important part of directing,” Moss mentioned. “If a director starts yelling, if a director seems anxious, stressed, or like they don’t know what they’re doing, everyone on set feels it.”

Moss additionally sought recommendation from administrators she labored with (Wes Anderson on “The French Dispatch,” Taika Waititi on the forthcoming “Next Goal Wins”) or in any other case encountered (Martin Scorsese, when he moderated a panel for her most up-to-date movie, “Shirley”).

“Of course if I’ve got Martin Scorsese on the line, I’m going to ask him for directing advice!” Moss mentioned with fun.

Season four of “The Handmaid’s Tale” lastly offered a possibility. As she ready, she solicited recommendation from frequent “Handmaid’s Tale” administrators like Daina Reid and Mike Barker, who had completed a lot to set up the present’s temper and aesthetic. And she began desirous about how she would possibly direct herself — how to take into consideration her character, June, as a director, not solely because the actress taking part in her.

Calling final week from Chicago, the place she is govt producing, directing and starring in a brand new Apple TV+ collection known as “Shining Girls,” Moss mentioned her new tasks and inventive contributions. These are edited excerpts from the dialog.

How did “The Handmaid’s Tale” allow your directing debut?

It felt like, OK, if I’m going to do that, it needs to be on one thing that I do know very, very properly. I’m hyper-involved in each aspect of that present as an govt producer and as an actor, so it felt like one thing that was natural and would have the most effective probability for achievement. We thought of having me direct in Season three, however it simply ended up being too troublesome. I truly was the one who pulled the plug on it, as a result of I placed on my E.P. hat and was like, “This isn’t working for the show.” I’ve only a few days on “The Handmaid’s Tale” the place I’m not on set as an actor, and for my first episode as a director, we actually needed to ensure that we had sufficient prep time.

By Season four, we have been like, “Well, now is the time.” We have been in a position to shoot my first episode within the first block, after which two days into it, we had the pandemic shutdown, so I used to be in a position to give it some thought for six extra months. When we got here again, I volunteered to direct one other block of two episodes.

Moss with Max Minghella throughout filming of Episode 9, which she directed. Part of making ready herself to direct, she mentioned, was studying to take into consideration her character as a director, not solely because the actress taking part in her.Credit…Sophie Giraud/Hulu

How did the recommendation you solicited assist you determine who you might be as a director?

Something I heard lots about was that directing is finished in prep. By the time you get to set, you must have it nearly shot in your head. You needs to be in a spot the place you’re simply having enjoyable with it, exploring it with the actors and combating the million issues that come up that you just didn’t get to plan for. I’m paraphrasing Martin Scorsese right here, however have a plan. Even should you change the plan — should you get a greater thought for the actors’ blocking, or no matter — you’ve completed the work: What is that this factor about? What is the story I’m telling? What are the characters doing within the scene? Whose viewpoint is the scene from? Even should you get to set and have to change your plan, you’ve laid all that groundwork.

Subscriber unique
Thursday, July eight
7 p.m. E.T. | four p.m. P.T.

Join Times theater reporter Michael Paulson in dialog with Lin-Manuel Miranda, catch a efficiency from Shakespeare within the Park and extra as we discover indicators of hope in a modified metropolis. For a 12 months, the “Offstage” collection has adopted theater by a shutdown. Now we’re taking a look at its rebound.

I feel I by no means realized this till I had directed a couple of episodes: I feel like a director. I take into consideration the edit. I take into consideration the lower. I take into consideration the place we’re going to use which pictures. I’ve at all times been conscious of the extra world image of a scene or a challenge, as opposed to simply coming in and solely specializing in my lane. I’ve discovered it useful to perceive why we’re doing what we’re doing, why the digital camera is the place it’s, what the scene is within the story. When you might be truly the director, you’re able to voice the issues that you’re desirous about. I actually get pleasure from that.

Were there any concepts that you just weren’t certain about at first?

My director of images, Stuart Biddlecombe, and I regarded on the courtroom scene monologue in Episode eight, and we have been like, “This is crazy, but God, it would be great if we could do this as just one shot.” We each checked out one another and we have been like, “Do you think that could work?” We actually didn’t know. There was a 10-person on-camera restrict within the courtroom scene due to Covid-19 protocols, so visible results may be concerned to fill within the crowd. So we designed and shot all this protection; we’re not silly. But once we obtained into the edit, it simply ended up working as one lengthy take. It was way more impactful and emotional.

You crafted two particularly transferring sequences in Episode 9 with the heartbreak of June and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) main to the reunion romance of June and Nick (Max Minghella). Comparatively, the romance is totally stripped from June and Luke, and the romance between June and Nick is extremely heightened, with the digital camera whirling.

Yes! I get chills whenever you say that, as a result of that’s precisely proper. It was the very first thing O-T and I talked about, that that is most likely essentially the most heartbreaking factor that Luke and June have ever skilled, him saying, “Go see your other man.” Terrible! Luke and June are sitting in the lounge reverse one another, and there are solely three pictures in that scene. In abnormal circumstances, that will be thought-about a bit daring. The feeling that it provides you is the proper marriage of cinematography and story. It’s not about: “This looks awesome. Aren’t we cool?” It’s about telling the story in one of the simplest ways.

The romance is my fault. [Laughs.] That’s Stuart’s and my fault, fully. All we needed to do was shoot “Moulin Rouge!” We are such romantic nerds. And such as you noticed in Episode three, the Steadicam shot 360 levels round them once they kiss? You have to rein us in. All we would like to do is shoot essentially the most romantic factor ever.

The scene by which June drives away from that reunion bears a resemblance to Diane Lane on the practice in “Unfaithful.” Was that intentional?

That wasn’t a reference essentially, however it’s a fantastic name. That was Chris Donaldson, my editor. The soar cuts have been his thought. They’re unbelievable. We use that type of factor as sparingly as attainable, however it felt like the one approach to present what we have been making an attempt to present, which is the elation, the enjoyment, the love, but in addition the guilt and the confusion. Try to match all that into 10 seconds or so.

“There are always nine million layers to an Ann Dowd performance!” Moss mentioned. “Every little look, every little move, everything you could tie to what is coming, it just made it so much more interesting.”Credit…Sophie Giraud/Hulu

Did something make you cry on the monitor?

I’d say in Episode three, when Luke has that porch scene the place he’s apprehensive that possibly June doesn’t need to come again? That killed me! Nick in Episode three, when he says goodbye to June. Fred Waterford’s final scene in Episode 9 with Serena (Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski) — this man is ready that he’s by no means been in earlier than, the place he truly feels love, real love, for his youngster that’s coming. That obtained me. Janine (Madeline Brewer) and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) in Episode 9. They turned it up to 11. It was simply extraordinary to watch Madeline and Ann each go in these instructions that they hadn’t gone earlier than. Truly, I like directing stuff that I’m not in as a result of I get to sit and watch these guys, and so they’re simply so phenomenal to watch.

Parts of Dowd’s efficiency this season, however particularly in Episode 9, appear to be laying the groundwork for the upcoming spinoff “The Testaments,” or at the very least linking the 2 exhibits.

The work that I did with Ann Dowd this season, as a director, undoubtedly concerned “The Testaments,” for apparent causes. We at all times saved that high of thoughts. Even although issues weren’t essentially written into the script that have been tremendous express about what Aunt Lydia’s journey is finally going to be, Ann and I have been extremely conscious of it and always regarded for little moments the place we may counsel it. It was one thing underneath the floor of her whole arc this season, and I feel it actually added an unbelievable layer to her efficiency.

There are at all times 9 million layers to an Ann Dowd efficiency! Every little look, each little transfer, every part you can tie to what’s coming, it simply made it a lot extra attention-grabbing. I’d go dwelling at night time after directing her, and simply be like: “I cannot believe that I got to work with Ann Dowd in that way today. I’m the luckiest person in the world.”