'The Handmaid's Tale': O-T Fagbenle Reveals How Elisabeth Moss Helped Him Film a Pivotal Scene (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
Nearly halfway through season three, The Handmaid’s Tale continues to surprise viewers with unexpected interactions, shocking twists and OMG moments. Episode five, “Unknown Caller,” of Hulu’s Emmy-winning drama based on Margaret Atwood’s celebrated novel proved to be no different, shifting the action between Canada and Gilead.
In the episode, June (Elisabeth Moss) and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) grapple with the revelation that June’s husband, Luke (O-T Fagbenle), is caring for Nichole now that she’s a refugee in Canada. (The baby was given to him by Emily [Alexis Bledel], who brought her across the border.) Knowing his whereabouts and still overcoming her depression over the loss of her child, Serena insists that June help arrange a meeting with Luke so see can see Nichole again. In Toronto, during Luke and Serena’s meeting, a secret message from June is passed along to her husband.
In order to facilitate the meeting, Serena has June call Luke, knowing he’ll do what she asks of him. It’s a heartbreaking moment, especially for the character, who hasn’t spoken to his wife in over four years. The first time he’s hearing her voice, and she’s asking this unexpected favor of him. “It was a huge moment for the character,” Fagbenle tells ET Live’s Lauren Zima. “It’s really moving.”
When it came to filming the scene, Fagbenle reveals that Moss, who is also an executive producer on the series, was there to help him deliver the best performance possible. In front of the camera, the actor is seen alone in an alley. Off-camera, Moss was there to recite June’s recording live to him. “Oftentimes when you’re doing a [shot] like that, you just have whoever is free on set reading lines and they’re kind of very bland and hard to respond to,” he reveals. “Elisabeth, she is such a generous actress that she was actually on the other end of the phone every single take we did.”
For the actor, who spent a lot of time with his co-star in season one, that proved to be the tipping point. “With us doing the show for three years, her voice is so connected to me,” he says. “The moment she starts speaking on the phone it’s hard not to be affected by that.”
Later in the episode, Luke is rocked to his core when he receives a message June recorded on a cassette tape found in the basement of Commander Lawrence’s (Bradley Whitford) home. What’s heard is June’s confession about her relationship with Nick (Max Minghella) and the paternity of Nichole. “It’s not easy to tell you this because I am ashamed,” June is saying as Luke becomes overwhelmed with emotion. “But I’m doing what I need to, to survive. You should, too. No, you have to. You have to for Hannah.”
“It takes a certain type of love to let someone go in a way,” Fagbenle says. While June is pushing Luke to move on, the actor says “that’s not really a choice. He’s committed to trying to get his family back together.”
The phone call (and recording) offered a brief reunion, so to speak, for June and Luke, but it wasn’t the only interaction that had audiences buzzing. Episode five also included Luke and Serena coming face to face for the first time all series -- a moment that was exciting for creator Bruce Miller, who previously told ET it was fun to put the two actors, Strahovski and Fagbenle, who have never worked together on the show in the same room.
While the discussion is over Nichole’s well-being, Miller said, “it’s a very interesting dynamic -- a woman talking to a man about another person -- and you get a sense of perspective and how June has influenced their lives.”
For both actors, it proved to be an exciting moment as well. “First of all, we never get to do scenes together,” Fagbenle says. “She’s just brilliant… It’s such a treat as an actor to work with someone that good.” The actor continues by adding that he hopes they “get some more scenes together in the next season as well because she’s such a treat to work with.”