It’s been a little over a month since Yvonne Strahovski received news of her first-ever Emmy nomination, for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, for her role as conflicted house matron Serena Joy on Hulu’s award-winning series The Handmaid’s Tale, but the Australian native is still trying to parse out what her newfound status as a nominee really means.
“I mean, it’s like any job, right?” she asks ET by phone. “You get recognized, you get awarded Employee of the Year or something, and it’s another step in your career. For me, I’ve been working in the industry for 11 years, and it’s such a rewarding moment for me, a very important step. It’s a really nice notch on the belt.”
Strahovski, who was previously best known for her time on Chuck and Dexter, is understandably overwhelmed by the nomination, which is made even more poignant by the fact that she’s in the same category with two of her co-stars, Alexis Bledel and Ann Dowd, who took home the award last year for her role as Aunt Lydia. Not only that, but the show this year received a total of eight acting nominations, seven of those for its female stars, including Elisabeth Moss, Cherry Jones, Samira Wiley and Kelly Jenrette. “I mean, there was a lot of texting going on that morning,” Strahovski says of the day they all got the call.
“I don’t know if that’s a very common thing to happen from one show, but it seems really special that we’re all in there, and [it’s] amazing because I take a lot of my inspiration from the people that I’m working with,” she continues. “The series we’re all on is a strong one, and people connect to it. It speaks to people on so many levels and it’s inspiring to see.”
The series, which wrapped up its stunning second season in July, expanded the world of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name, going deeper inside the world of Gilead and its central characters, including Serena, who revealed the oft-sullen wife to be a complex character whose conflicting motives and unrealized vulnerabilities often complicate her ability to find a place within the society she helped to create. At one point, Serena has been presented with the option to defect from Gilead; she ultimately declines. And after she’s finally able to experience motherhood, her child is ripped away from her when June (Moss) attempts to escape.
“Practically, it seems too brash to jump into something like that [defecting], but knowing Serena and how manipulative she is, it’s always good for her to have information in her back pocket, because you never know,” Strahovski says, suggesting that the character may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome in her choice to go “back to your abuser and the territory that you know.”
But it also goes deeper than that for Serena, who helped build Gilead “for the children, and that's something that she’s still waiting to receive from her handmaid,” Strahovski says. “I don’t think she was done with that aspect of her life, either, because she had invested so much into it. So I think there's a lot of different conflicting things at play, and I think it’s about marinating in all of that. The messiness of it.”
By the finale, Serena is awash with emotions, flustered and extremely vulnerable “and in a state that we’ve never really seen her in before,” Strahovski says. “I think the fun part is actually [playing] the vulnerable part. I think the harder part is more her brutality, and when I personally must separate myself and my judgments from her, because I have to understand her the most out of anyone.”
For the much-anticipated third season, Strahovski says she’s looking forward to digging even more into Serena’s past (“What were her parents like? What were her siblings like, if she had any?”), and having her continue to break down in “surprising” ways. “We don’t really know anything about her family or her child, and the clues that would be revealed from things like that, of how she was shaped as a person because of her family,” Strahovski says. “That’s really a point of curiosity for me.”
The third season will also pose a new challenge for Strahovski: motherhood. The actress found out she was pregnant partway through the filming of the second season, with just five episodes left to shoot. Filming while pregnant was no easy task, and felt especially significant given the premise of the series.
“It was just super weird, to be going through such a specific storyline that is really directly all about motherhood, and the theme of the show is all about women and infertility,” she says with a laugh. “And then to suddenly be pregnant; it was a lot of me trying to create a safety bubble around my baby, to energetically protect it from the horrors and the miseries of someone like Serena Joy.”
Despite that, Strahovski says Serena has been “one of the greatest characters so far that I’ve had the honor to play.” But now, moving forward, the actress’s enthusiasm about playing her is met with some trepidation. “I’m very excited about season three but I’m a little nervous because I will have my little one with me, so it’s gonna be a whole new game of navigating that with a baby and Gilead, at that. So we’ll see.”
The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, co-hosted by Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost and Michael Che, will air live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Monday, Sept. 17, starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC. Check out the full list of nominees and ET’s ongoing Emmy coverage here.