Spoilers for season 5 of The story of the maid below.
When season 4 of The story of the maid To a violent ending, the fates of every character hang in the balance. Is June (Elisabeth Moss) responsible for killing her former commander? How will Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) recover after losing the father of her unborn child? And what will happen to Esther, the teenage wife played by Mckenna Grace, who was found harboring former maids and, as punishment, is now forced to be one? Thankfully, audiences don’t have to go as far as season 5 to start getting answers: Two episodes in, we learn Esther has relied on Janine (Madeline Brewer) as she navigates her life of surveillance and mostly strict daughter of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd). But in the end, she feels so betrayed by Janine’s advice, that she decides to rebel the way she knows it – by poisoning Janine and herself.
Ahead of the season 5 premiere this week, ELLE.com chatted with Grace, who also recently starred and co-wrote the Lifetime series The bad seed is backabout filming unsettling scenes (read: anything chocolate-related) and working with the “incredible and terrifying” Dowd.
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Before we move on to season 5, we need to talk about Esther’s big reveal at the end of season 4: She’s a Handmaid! How do you feel about how that season ended for your character?
I mean, being a wife is crazy, but wearing red every day is kind of weird. It’s really, really wild. But now there is only one other angry handmaid in Gilead.
I was impressed with the scene in episode 2 where Commander Putnam feeds you chocolate. Not much happens, but I can barely observe. How did you achieve that feeling? What were you trying to portray in that moment?
I’m really, really worried. I was very nervous and hoped that I was able to convey that real feeling on screen. It was definitely a fun scene to shoot, but it was a real moment for my character. So no matter how stressed and anxious I was, I just really let myself feel it. After we finished, I went outside to sit, even though it was snowing. I’m like, phew, I need to detox from that.
How did you learn to regroup and perfect yourself after working in such a difficult scene?
I’m still figuring it out. I’m working on another project [Peacock’s upcoming series, A Friend of the Family] in which I play a person who is kidnapped by an adult man and convinced that she must have a child with him. It was a really heavy project, and there were a lot of weird, uncomfortable scenes that we had to shoot, and I feel like I learned a lot from that. [On] Maid of, that scene was my first introduction to anything like that. I think I sensed that discomfort, and I tried to actually use it in the shot, because I was so nervous. I can’t shake this uncomfortable little feeling like, ugh, that’s gross. It goes back to what I always say about working Maid of–I was honored that they hired a real 14-year-old to play the role of 14, because if we weren’t comfortable shooting these scenes, we weren’t comfortable showing these scenes, maybe we just should do something about what is happening in real life.
But I found a good opportunity to make sure I was comfortable with whoever was there, to make sure that I had people who supported me and cared about me and that I could tell if I was uncomfortable. roof. That’s really the most important part of shooting such a scene. Just make sure there’s always some form of protection. And it always comes back to music. I listen to music for entry. I listen to music to get out of the scene. I sit, I breathe, calm. I try to enter the entry with a good mood, then as soon as I get out of it, try to exhale and go around, talk to people, have fun and shake it off. Like, “That’s the scene. And now I am me. “
This season, you’re also working more with Ann Dowd, who is, of course, iconic—
She is such an icon!
How does it feel to work with her? What did you learn from her?
I didn’t watch The story of the maid before I got on the show, because I was young, and that’s really not something my parents would suggest to me. But whenever I start last season, I binge-watch the entire show. I’ve become a huge fan, and I’m excited to start and work with everyone, and that hasn’t gone away. I felt like there wasn’t a single bad actor on the show, and so it was an incredible thing to be in and be able to see these guys perform, especially Miss Ann Dowd. She is truly the sweetest person I have ever met. Watching the show before meeting her, I felt like that Oh my God. I hate this woman. I hate this character so much. Then I met her and I was like, oh my god you are the most beautiful person in the whole world and i hate your personality so much. You are an incredible actress. It was unbelievable and scary to do scenes with Aunt Lydia.
So what did you think when you first read the news that you were going to poison yourself and Janine? Do you see that coming?
So I received a message from — I’m pretty sure it was [showrunner] Bruce Miller — I received a text message about the script. I can’t say what the text of the message was, because I can’t spoil it or say too much, but he did say, “Yeah, something really crazy happened, so be careful anyone when are you reading the script.” Then I got a text from Miss Madeline and she said, “Oh my God, you idiot.” I said, “What’s going on?” I submitted the script that day, and I’m reading it, and I’m sure I’m in awe. I can not believe it. What do I do? Why am I screaming right now? Why is my character fidgeting? Oh my God. Am I dead? Do I die two episodes in? Oh my God. Esther!
I had the exact same thought. What logistics does it take to shoot such a scene?
I am really intrigued about this process. We would shoot it, we would eat truffles and talk, and we would have a truffle that I would take a bite of, and then I would start coughing. In the middle of the truffle was a little chocolate, and it was filled with what looked like blood. I’m excited to see what it looks like. And they would bring these little cups full of fake blood, and we put the cup down, put it in our mouths, and then fell over and started coughing, and then there was blood all over the place. It is very sticky. I actually have a lot of pictures of myself covered in blood. I had to go to the bathroom and wipe myself with baby wipes and my face, and my face turned red. My voice was hoarse from coughing the next day.
I also love that it’s like a recall of Esther’s superpower in season 4, which is that she knows how to make poison.
I didn’t even think about that. Oh my God. Yes. Why am I such a poisonous little devil?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Madison is a writer/senior editor at ELLE.com, covering news, politics, and culture. When she’s not on the Internet, you’ll most likely find her napping or eating banana bread.