In the dystopian nightmare world of Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, what’s left of "humanity" is pretty awful. Those stuck in Gilead can blame the male leadership for much of the subjugation of everyone, especially women who can still bear children.
But are all men evil? It’s certainly more complicated than that, which is a fascinating aspect of the storytelling in Season 2. Showrunner Bruce Miller and his writers have made it a point to explore how average men contributed to this new world order, and who can be considered allies. One of the latter is Nick Blaine (Max Minghella), the driver for Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and June’s (Elisabeth Moss) secret lover/now baby daddy.
As a double agent working as an Eye for the Gilead regime to spy on Waterford, Nick’s been living a precarious existence, keeping secrets and indulging in his feelings for June. Now he’s also her conduit to the outside world, and perhaps freedom. We talked with Max Minghella about Nick’s dangerous secrets, exploring the failure of men to be true allies, and the impact of the series in our current times.
Spoilers within for the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3.
In Season 1, Nick has a moment with June where he thinks revealing his full name and where he's from to her is this big gift. It's clearly not. You said that you really registered male arrogance in the playing of that moment, so did it inform your portrayal of Nick moving forward?
You know, I think that Nick is somebody who's doing his best and always trying his best. That's something that I love about him — he doesn't always succeed. I think that moment you're referring to is a very obvious example of a very masculine mistake. It’s a sort of naivete and arrogance of the gender that I'm a part of, sometimes. I'd say in Season 2, as things get harder and more dramatic, and he finds himself increasingly between a rock and a hard place, his moral compass doesn't always serve him. That said, I always believe he is trying to find due north, or what is the right thing to do. What is the best way to navigate his incredibly tricky circumstances? And that's true of all of the characters in the show. Bruce [Miller] and the writers are remarkable at creating seemingly unsurmountable circumstances.
Do you think Nick is heroic at all, or is he really playing it safe staying under the radar in a way that the Handmaids can't?
What I love about playing this person is that he always has to wear a mask. There is a constraint here, playing this character, which is a fun one to subvert. He's always, sort of, bursting and having to contain that. I think sometimes you see those scenes split in Season 2, which is really fun, and you always just see his humanity. It's such an expressive season for everybody, and I do love this character. I do find him to be layered and complicated and surprising, and I think that is a very relatable thing to me.
In "Unwomen," June and Nick are able to be with each other intimately, unfettered for the first time. It revealed a lot about how pent up they are, and who they might have been in their old lives.
Yes. The show has a lot of sex in it. Mike Barker, who, I think, has actually directed all of the episodes which contained these sequences, really strives and succeeds in making sure they are about everything but the act, you know what I mean? They are not just exploitative or shallow. There is communication and story being pushed forward. I'm really proud of how those scenes have come out in the season. Hopefully they're sexy and fun, but they also really do add some gravitas to the dynamics of these people. It’s a moment of release and relief for both of these characters in a very tense moment between them, which is very true to how human beings behave.
Elisabeth Moss is a primary scene partner for you. What's it like working with her?
June as a character is tremendously inspiring, and watching the hours that Lizzy Moss has to put in to play this part... it's an exhausting commitment that she gives 110 percent to, and she is wildly professional and kind. She is also a principal producer on this show, so there's a whole lot of that that she has to wear.
June continues to be put through the wringer. Is it hard to find hope in the show with such dire circumstances playing out?
I think that the character is really emblematic of hope and that endless appetite to resist and fight back and not become complacent. In the episode where she finally gets peace and she's in the [Boston] Globe and safe. She watches one episode of Friends and then is right away straight back to work. She's not somebody who's ever gonna kick back, and that's something that's very, very special. So, even though circumstances in the show are difficult and hard and harsh, she is the light beam at the center of the story that gives you hope.
Nick is putting his neck on the line more this season by helping June escape and keeping her hidden. What we don't see is how he's living with this secret. How are you folding that into your performance?
What I always think about when I'm playing this part is when I was in high school, I hated going to school. I would come up with rather elaborate lies with each of my teachers as to where I was, and what I was doing. And then eventually you have 10 different lies going at the same time and it becomes unmanageable. (Laughs) That's what I always think about with Nick, which is that it's this thing that's building. He's putting a Band-Aid on a Band-Aid, on a Band-Aid on a Band-aid, on a Band-Aid, and eventually there's too many Band-Aids, and the Band-Aids all fall off.
There's many low blows which he takes this season. He’s often between a rock and a hard place. There are lots of very painful things for him to deal with in the process, but I don't think any can be comparable to what June has to go through.
Let's talk about the impact of the series. Is it harder for you as an actor to walk away from playing in this world of Gilead, and then go home and see all the real things happening in the news that are not that far from the fiction?
What I would say is that, in the first season, when it came out, we were early enough in this administration that the show obviously connected with people and resonated. But it was as a hypothetical, right? We didn't quite know at that point what this really meant. I think it was definitely an optimism that maybe everything would kinda be the same. They wouldn't really be as bad as we think it is. Maybe we're all being kind of doomsday scenario?
I've only seen the first two episodes of Season 2, 'cause I'm useless and behind, but I found it was visceral in an emotional way that the first season wasn't for me. [The show] is now actually reflecting our world. Seeing the Eyes' agents in Episode 2, I was standing up and walking around. It really got to me. So, not to belittle the first season, as I think the first season's extraordinary, but I think this season, the filmmaking is on another level. I think the writing is on another level. But more than anything, I think it hits home emotionally in a way that I'm so proud of. I'm so proud that the show is on this side of the conversation, you know?
Is there an episode coming up you are most excited for audiences to see?
I love the relationship between Nick and June, that's my favorite thing to play. And there's real love there, I think. It's something that's surviving, like a rose in an apocalyptic scenario. There's a scene in the last episode which I think is very moving and lovely, and those are things I look forward to playing the most.
Season 2 of The Handmaid's Tale is now on Hulu.