Ann Dowd on The Handmaid’s Tale: it’s a form of activism

After a late-career renaissance with characters in The Handmaids Tale and The Leftovers, the actor explains why her work is defiant and how she got muse from an unlikely generator: American football manager Bill Belichick

As Aunt Lydia in The Handmaids Tale, the Hulu adjustment of Margaret Atwoods 1985 dystopian fiction, Ann Dowd is both startling and tender, a disciplinarian have the responsibility policing the fertile handmaids who abide children for the tyrannical theocrats of Gilead. As Patti Levin on The Leftovers, she barely uttered a word in season one, playing the steely, chain-smoking lead of a doomsday religion thats sworn to silence. But if anyone can oblige the most of a largely inaudible attribute, its Dowd, who, with Pattis massive season two arc, became a sun, that rare breed of performer who gets in the mental excavations with stoic, gritty personas to reveal a veiled humanity.

Its been a very happy amaze, she tells me of her long-awaited breakout. All I ever wanted was a successful vocation as an actress.

How Dowd pulls it off draws feel only when we speak; her executions are so nuanced and immersive that their idea can seem incoherent, a scrumptious banquet with a secret recipe. But she found inspiration for Lydia and Patti in strange, unexpected places: a Yeats poem, New England Patriots manager Bill Belichick, a former Catholic schoolteacher named Mother Claude. An performer of lesser ability might hyperbolize, turn Lydia and Patti into parodies of cultish villainy and ideological zeal, but not Dowd.

First of all, if youre playing a attribute, its a relationship, she tells me of her ordeal playing Aunt Lydia. And you better not move in with ruling because youre not going to get anywhere. Youre going to have a one-sided evil person, and then it becomes a repugnance movie where you can say, Thank God thats not real.

Dowd, 61, regularly slips into the first person when talking about her references, which is immensely attractiveness and a bit spooky, especially when it seems like Aunt Lydias talking instantly to me. Shes a human being. She cherishes those girls, shes devoted to their wellbeing, and its up to me to make sure they have a meaningful life, Dowd tells. So lets stay sharp, girls. What were doing here is going to save your life.

Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaids Tale Photograph: George Kraychyk/ Hulu

Dowd envisions her character in The Handmaids Tale, which has re-emerged in “the member states national” consciousness as a frightening parable of Trumpism run amok, as a sort of opposition: the better she plays it, the more impact itll have.

The day after Trump was elected I happened to be home in New York. I went to bed for the working day, she says. I was texting Liz[ co-star Elisabeth Moss ], because I knew she was on give. I didnt known better she was working. And she said to me, because shes so smart and sharp: This is a figure of activism, exactly what we doing up there. We must put our energy straight into this show.

Dowd and Moss would text each other an aphorism from the novel: nolite te bastardes carborundorum , or dont let the bastards grind you down. “Shes seen” that same resolve in her aunts, both nuns, who informed her remarkable shift as Sister Aloysius in the play-act Doubt, and also in Belichick, whose impervious manner resembled that of Patti Levin.

I was always plotted by Belichick, the fact that he didnt give a shit what anyone estimate, answers Dowd, who grew up in their own families of pigskin maniacs. Not a lot of chatter, exactly get the job done. About three chapters in I conceived, Who am I remind ourselves? Theres someone in me here. And it dawned on me: its Bill Belichick.

Dowd behaved in plays throughout her day at the College of the Holy Cross but was a pre-med major, formerly trained at a Massachusetts Catholic school, where shed been spawned to experience theater as a leisurely pursuit. It never resulted to me that something that gave you such elation is also able your lifes job, she reads. Thats not how I was conjured. Not that one has to lose, but thats a hobby.

A lightbulb went off her senior year. My behaving teacher, Don Hilko, said to me, You could do this, you know. Thats the word. Ill never forget the wording.

After graduating from DePaul Universitys Goodman School of Drama and running steadily in Chicagos regional theatre stage, Dowd moved to Manhattan, where small roles gradually manufactured themselves available between what she refers to as periods of quiet. She goes on: I think of Sonya in[ Chekhovs] Uncle Vanya: You must endure. I merely put out of my brain any thought of failing. Its not policy options. Im not going down that road.

Dowd talks about Patti Levin and The Leftovers with awe and admiration, as if both came into their own lives as acts of divine vocational intervention. I tell her Ive been a bit disoriented since the presents series finale, a testament to how emotionally burdensome and pandering its three seasons were.

The first time I speak Leftovers I didnt get onto at all, she suggests. The shows fantastical proposition, in which 2% of the worlds person fades in a Rapture-like event, was too much like science fiction for her. I was dismissive. What do you represent, Departure? What the hell is that? Then I took another look at it and, as you are familiar with, once youre in, soldier, are you in.

Justin Theroux and Ann Dowd as Patti Levin in The Leftovers Photograph: HBO

Dowd watched the final two episodes back-to-back with her co-star Justin Theroux. We sat together in his apartment in New York and it was like period stopped, she replies. Abruptly, it was two in the morning and I said to Justin, Where am I? It took me epoches to let go of it. Because you dont play it, you live it, you know? It simply haunted me.

Dowd had rehearsed letting return. Her persona, Patti, expresses for the first time in a lecture she gives toward the end of season one. Its a thrilling vistum she shares with Theroux in which Patti gives a stimulating monologue, a kind of praise for the pre-Departure world-wide, before splicing open her neck with a shard of glass.

When I found out she was going to die in the occurrence I was heartbroken, trying to rally given the fact that I was no longer going to be in The Leftovers, that this character I became so attributed to “re no longer” going to be in my world. I was reading Yeats, who is my favorite poet. And there is a poem that I often go to where he wishes his beloved be at peace.

Dowds husband, the actor Larry Arancio, told her the poem, Michael Robartes Wishes His Beloved at Peace, was referencing the end of the world. I almost fell of my chair. I swear to God, I didnt know thats what it was about, she remembers, beginning to recite the lyric in her wonderfully declarative timbre. I wrote it to Damon[ showrunner Lindelof] to tell him how I was experiencing about leaving and he spoke, She needs to say that. So it ended up being in the lecture.

As it turned out, Dowds character would revert for the following two seasons. I symbolize, my God, she tells me, almost overwhelmed by her remembers. The mode The Leftovers wields, the serendipity of that.

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