EXCLUSIVE: Forget Rory, Alexis Bledel Finds Herself in Ofglen on 'The Handmaid's Tale'

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Photo: Getty Images
There’s a horrifying sequence halfway through episode three of Hulu’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale featuring Alexis Bledel, fresh off Netflix’s revival of Gilmore Girls, in an unexpected supporting role as Ofglen. The actress plays one of the many women who are now servants stripped of any rights or autonomy and subjected to ritualized rape in the form of breeding ceremonies meant to stave off the infertility that’s plaguing a near-future society under the rule of a totalitarian and Christian fundamentalist government.
Ofglen, who audiences learn was previously named Emily, has just faced a tribunal where she and her former partner, one of the class of housekeepers known as Marthas, have been found guilty of “gender treachery.” Outfitted in a red prison jumpsuit, with her mouth muzzled and hands cuffed in front of her, Ofglen is put into the back of a transport van with her partner, who is similarly muzzled and cuffed. In a single take directed from inside the van by Reed Morano, Ofglen and her partner attempt to connect one final time, holding hands, locking tear-filled eyes, before the latter is dragged out of the vehicle into a gravel construction pit. There she’s fitted with a noose attached to a crane and hoisted to her death. All the time, Oflgen watches in terror, letting out a muffled scream after she dies and the van drives away. EMMYS 2017: The Standout Performances on TV
“I kept looking on the schedule for that scene. I wanted to be completely ready,” Bledel tells ET about filming that particular sequence, which she says works better as a one-take scene instead of with multiple cuts. “You see it happen in real time and you feel how abruptly it happens to them. So, the shock of that is very real to the viewer, as it was for us in the scene.” Admittedly, it was a “heavy day” for the actress, whose character probably only has one fun moment -- a brief respite from the lives these women are forced to live -- on the show. While Ofglen’s life is spared because she is fertile, by the end of episode three, she awakens to discover that a clitoridectomy was performed on her. The next time audiences see her is in episode five, when she reappears as Ofsteven, named for her newly assigned commander and home, in an open market before seizing a commander’s wife’s car. “What she goes through in episode three is still very much a part of her recent history. It’s not something she’s fully processed,” Bledel says. “She’s struggling internally and trying not to let it show. So when she sees the car door open, it’s not a premeditated act.” That impulse, she says, leads Ofsteven to drive around the market and, later, run over a guard. “She goes for this joyride,” Bledel says of Ofsteven being behind the wheel, eventually cracking a small smile as everyone, including Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Ofwarren (Madeline Brewer), watches in amazement. “She’s also enjoying creating this spectacle for the handmaids.” That feeling allowed the actress to play with a mix of fear and thrills as she drove recklessly (with the aid of a stunt coordinator) around onscreen. While her character is hauled off, seemingly gone for good (in the novel, her character is believed to have committed suicide much earlier in the story), Bledel is hopeful about that she’ll be back for season two. “I’m very excited to find out what happens to her,” she says.
Photo: Hulu
The Handmaid’s Tale is certainly Hulu’s most ambitious original series yet, on par with Amazon and Netflix’s award-winning programs. Adapted from Atwood’s 1985 dystopian tale, the streaming network beat out FX to bring it to TV with Moss as the lead handmaid. Filmed in November, just as Donald Trump was elected president, the show suddenly became a horrific warning of what could come. Meanwhile, Bledel had retreated from the spotlight to give birth to her first child, a son, with husband and former Mad Men star Vincent Kartheiser in 2015. But she soon returned to TV, reprising her role as Rory in Netflix’s four-episode continuation of Gilmore Girls, which launched in November. Not intentionally looking for any particular role or project to bring her back to the limelight, The Handmaid’s Tale, as Bledel explains, made it possible for her to find a balance between work and family. “I’m not looking to overwhelm my work schedule,” she says.
And by the time she officially joined the Hulu series, public anticipation for it looked ready to rise to the same level as the return of Gilmore Girls. So the news of Bledel joining the series was kept secret until January, after she had wrapped production. It’s a decision she was happy with, because it didn’t distract from what she was doing on set and let fans have their moment with Rory. “I just wanted everything to have proper attention where it was due,” she says. “All of the hard work and beautiful work on Handmaid’s, I wanted that to stand on its own and have people fall in love with it and not be distracted by me joining the cast.” By the time The Handmaid’s Tale premiered at the end of April, the show’s buzz almost made Gilmore Girls seem like a thing of the distant past, especially considering how Bledel -- unrecognizable to many at first -- in particular was so well-received. Vanity Fair explained why she was the show’s “secret weapon” and Vulture wrote that Oflgen was “the role she was born to play,” finding new depths as an actress. “I knew that this was an amazing role, but I certainly couldn’t expect such wonderful reviews. I’m certainly appreciative,” Bledel says in amazement of the reaction to the show, which she joined simply because of what she described as “incredibly complex and rich storytelling.” When she spoke to ET in early May, the show’s fifth episode was just about to be released on the streaming network, and fans were still digging into the first four episodes. “The fact that people have responded to it is so gratifying and satisfying,” she says. “I’m still enjoying the fact that people finally get to see it, you know, because I got to play this great character and tell this amazing story.”