Having the chance to speak to this season’s breakout star of The Handmaid’s Tale, Ashleigh LaThrop, from the Chicago set of the upcoming Gillian Flynn series Utopia, was a total blast. We’re not quite sure the direction that her Handmaid’s character will be taking this season, but so far Ofmatthew has been a pretty formidable antagonist to June (played by the brilliant Elisabeth Moss). LaThrop was quick to avoid spoilers but was kind enough to provide crucial insight into her creative process around the hit Hulu series.
The following is a condensed and edited version of a fantastic phone interview with the lovely Ashleigh LaThrop.
Brief Take: What has it been like to be a part of this incredible ensemble?
Ashleigh LaThrop: They are so welcoming. The handmaids are all kind of in the same age range, everyone’s sort of young, so I found it a very fun group of people to hang out with. I found a lot of best friends on the show who I would hang out with in Toronto or in L.A., so it’s like a little mini-family. Amanda [Brugel], especially, is somebody whom I hadn’t met at all until January, because we didn’t have any scenes together for the first little bit. So I met her at an awards show, and it was funny, seeing her across the room and being like: [In a high pitched voice] “I know you! You’re on the same show as me!”. She was immediately was like [in a fairly accurate impression of Amanda Brugel] “You’re my family!” [laughs] So I feel like that’s sort of the environment that everyone on that show creates, and I think Bruce [Miller] and Lizzie are really responsible for creating that welcoming atmosphere. The show is so dark, so it’s great to have the light of good friends on that show.
BT: Taylor Swift dance parties lighten it up a little bit as well.
AL: And Taylor Swift! We actually didn’t dance to Taylor Swift but that was added later on, we were dancing to [pauses] I don’t know what. We were dancing to Ann Dowd, basically, cussing us out. [laughs loudly] But there were a lot of dance parties, both the ones that were recorded and the ones that were not.
BT: What do you think of your character, Ofmathew?
AL: Ofmathew is a very interesting character because in the little breakdown that I got when I auditioned, she’s described as one of the most devoted characters and one of the most devoted handmaids in Gilead. Which is always interesting when someone so oppressed would be so devoted. So one of the first things I did was create a backstory to try to understand where her devotion would come from. Is it devotion because she believes in the regime, or because she is terrified and being devoted is the best way to stay alive? I sort of started with that, her upbringing, and Gilead is so religious, what caused her to be so loyal to this system?
BT: We can see the role that religion is taking as the villain of season 3.
AL: Mmm hmm. The Washington stuff is really, really fundamental I think to understanding how the system works because you can see it on a small scale and you see on a large scale how the country has twisted and developed into this…I guess bastardization of Christianity and making it fit into their own terms is I think really, really horrifying.
BT: What’s it like working with Elisabeth Moss? You have an incredible rapport on screen.
AL: Lizzie is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. My casting in the show was kind of a whirlwind situation because I auditioned on a Tuesday and had to fly to Toronto on a Friday, basically, so I didn’t have time to process that I was going to do this show. So I didn’t have time to be afraid. I think that if I had time to be afraid, more time, I think that I would have been terrified of Lizzie because she is so very good on this show and she’s such a powerhouse. But I didn’t, so meeting her I wasn’t afraid, which I’m glad, but there isn’t any reason to be, she’s lovely and so kind. Acting opposite her was amazing because she’s just this ball of vulnerability. [laughs] I frequently found in watching her, even in scenes that I wasn’t in, she breaks my heart and she enrages me at the same time just to watch her. So it was amazing getting to work with her and play opposite her, especially since we are at odds for a lot of the season. Getting to push her buttons and trigger her was really fun.
BT: You’re from Chicago and she’s a noted Cubs fan and then also created a Cubs Handmaid’s bonnet. Did that ever come up?
AL: It did! We were talking a little bit about our Chicago background, she does visit Chicago frequently and I am a Sox fan because I grew up in the South side of Chicago, so there was a little bit of a fun rivalry there. White Sox fans are the real fans, but the Cubs won the World Series a few years ago, so I guess they’re a good team. [laughs]
BT: What do you think of that grocery store on the show, with its really unique design? And how do you like shooting in Toronto?
AL: It’s so pristine in that grocery store; it’s so white and the lights are very fluorescent and blinding, and then there are all the groceries that just have pictures because women aren’t allowed to read in Gilead.
Filming in Toronto was great. I was there from October to April, so I was mainly there in the winter and the cold. But I’m from Chicago and I live in L.A. now, so it was kind of fun because I haven’t really had a winter in quite a while and I feel like the two cities are actually very, very similar. The people are very generous and very kind, and it’s a beautiful city. It was really, really fun getting to be there.
BT: How nice has it been to finally be able to talk about this series and what sort of reactions have you have been getting?
AL: It was really, really exciting. I love The Handmaid’s Tale. I love the book, I read it multiple times when I was younger, before they even made this TV show. When the TV show was announced, I was desperate to be in it. So getting to tell people was really exciting. I’m really enjoying listening to people’s reactions to my character because people don’t like her, and to be fair from what we’ve seen, she’s not a very likeable person. Particularly when she’s at odds with [laughs] the main character on the show. [laughs] So I’m really enjoying listening to it. And what’s really interesting is a lot of people seem to dislike her because they think that she is so passive and they would be enraged that someone would want to fight, but that’s the thing about Ofmatthew, which is that I think that she has a reaction that a lot of people would have if their whole world is suddenly turned upside down and they’re oppressed. Everyone wants to talk about how they would be a revolutionary and how they would be fighting the system, but if you look at even in our own country, what’s going on right now with a lot of the ways that the law is changing and a lot of the ways our country is in a state of turmoil. I mean even if you look at the fetal heartbeat law, there’s a lot of talk about how it’s upsetting, but there’s not as much action as I would think. So I like listening to people be like “Oh, that’s not how I would react”, but Ofmathew is reacting in this way and a lot of people might. Seeing it and seeing how upsetting it is, I think it’s sort of challenging people to examine themselves and then maybe examine what they can do about their own lives and the ways that they’re maybe being a bit passive.
BT: You’re in a lot of book adaptations.
AL: [laughs loudly] I am, yeah. [laughs] I hadn’t thought about that, but, yes, you are correct, I am doing a lot of book adaptations and also doing adaptations of other shows as well, which is really fun.
BT: Four years ago, you were in the play Balm in Gilead, did you ever think that you would end up in Gilead?
AL: Oh no, not remotely, no. When I was in Balm in Gilead, it was the last play that I did before I moved to L.A. and didn’t even know that I was going to do television. I moved to L.A. because I wanted to be warm. [laughs]
BT: And then stuck in Toronto for the winter.
AL: [laughs] And then stuck in Toronto for the winter! And spent some time in Vancouver as well.
BT: Did being on The Kominsky Method get you thinking about the method that you use?
AL: It did! What’s so funny about that show is that it is a show about an acting teacher and a bunch of actors and so it feels a little bit surreal to do that show because there are several things that Michael Douglas does, advice on the actor, that I’m like: “I remember doing this, this is definitely something that I have done before”, never with Michael Douglas teaching me it [laughs], but it was really fun to get to do that stuff as well.
BT: Where would you like to go from here and for the industry as well?
AL: Oh goodness, in the industry, [laughs] we don’t have time for that question. In terms of the future, I would like to do projects that are meaningful and projects that are impactful on society as a whole, because I feel like a lot of the things that I’ve gotten to do, especially Handmaid’s, are that, they are necessary. I would like to continue to do things that I feel are necessary.
BT: Do you think that art is responsible to change the culture?
AL: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely, I do. I think that art makes life more palatable because when you see something represented in film or television, I think it’s easier to process and I think it’s easier to process people’s feelings. I think it also has the ability to change minds and change hearts as well. I think that when you see something, as opposed to hearing about it or when you read about it, it’s much easier to accept and much easier to relate to than a bunch of numbers or words on a page. If you see someone’s story, I think that it makes it that much more immediate. I do think that art has the ability to change the culture or at least change the consciousness.
BT: Is it surreal to think the world of Handmaid’s Tale isn’t that far off?
AL: [laughs] It’s terrifying to think that we’re not far from some of the realities in which I’ve been playing.
The Handmaid’s Tale streams on Hulu, with new episodes released every Wednesday. The show airs on Sundays at 9pm ET on Bravo in Canada. Learn more about the award-winning show in our interviews with 9 other cast members here