• Ann Dowd plans Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid's Tale. (SBS)Source: SBS
We've got some incredible insights into Gilead's chief Handmaid wrangler.
Fiona Williams

19 Jul 2018 - 3:35 PM  UPDATED 8 Jul 2019 - 10:40 AM

The Handmaid’s Tale’s Aunt Lydia,  Emmy winner Ann Dowd, was in Australia and sat down for an exclusive chat with SBS’ Handmaid’s Tale companion podcast, Eyes On Gilead. Those of us desperate for a backstory won’t be disappointed by her insights into how she understand the psychology of the villainous Handmaid wrangler.  

“I think of the question, ‘Who hurt her?’,” Dowd says. “Someone did -- and probably more than once.”

The Handmaid’s Tale fans were left reeling in the season two finale, when Gilead’s chief enforcer, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), was left fighting for her life in the wake of a surprise knife attack by the mighty mouse that roared, Emily (Alexis Bledel). Dowd shares fascinating details about how they filmed that scene, and about what makes the iconic character tick.

Series show runner Bruce Miller (also a recent guest on Eyes On Gilead), and the team of writers on the hit show have thus far only offered a tiny glimpse into the past of the complex Aunt Lydia, when she offered a brief revelation about her feelings of guilt about the death of a nephew. The disclosure was made in an unguarded moment with Offred/June (Elisabeth Moss) in episode nine of season two (‘Smart Power’), and it was hastily explained away as “not my fault”. Hmmm. We thought. ‘I’m sorry, Aunt Lydia’, but we are going to need more on that.

You can listen to Ann’s entire interview in the full episode below, (Ann comes in at 20:43)

Edited highlights of our conversation include:

Emily’s attack on Lydia

[Lydia voice]: “After all I’ve done for her! Vicious, Vicious! She had a little pent up anger there, I think!”

Will Lydia survive and be back for season three?

“I really can’t say. I haven’t got the letter. I don’t know!”

Assuming she does, how might the attack change her?

“What a good question, I was thinking that, too. If I live, will I turn..? Or will I just track that girl down?”

Lydia’s movitations

“I don’t think it’s about power for Lydia. Can’t you just see her in an all-girl's school? Perhaps she was in a public school and she was being mocked all the time, ‘Oh, there goes the hag’. For whatever reason, she lives so close to the narrow road. She looked around saw the promiscuity, the language, the birth rate dropping, God’s gift of nature and the beauty, and the world’s gone crazy. I imagine in those early meetings of Gilead, you know,  ‘Meet at such and such church in the basement, where it all happens, saying, ‘Count me in. I know how to teach, I know how to organise. I know what’s important. I know what’s right’.”

Filming the attack scene in the season 2 finale

“Sweet Alexis [Bledel, ‘Emily’], she would sort of push, and I’d say, ‘Babe.’ She’d say, ‘Oh, did I hurt you?’ and I’d say, ‘Give it a good shove. Everybody’s okay here!’’ “

On Leaving Lydia at work

“Sometimes when I come home, I go into my son’s room, the littlest one, and go, ‘[Lydia voice]: What is that i see there, on the floor?’ and they look at me like, ‘Uh, don’t even’.”

On Aunt Lydia being compared to White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders

“I was actually watching and went, ‘Are YOU kidding me?!’

“Lydia has the comfort of believing that whatever she does is in service of God and Huckabee has no such luxury. I feel two things: I think, ‘Huckabee, what are you doing, hon? You’re a very bright person, you’re a mother, use your gifts in a much more positive [manner].’ On the other hand I don’t believe in hurting others. I don’t want to make fun of her, personally. I will vote, but I don’t like the idea of shaming someone. Even though I think what she is doing it absurd and she could be doing much better work elsewhere.”

There’s so much more covered in the interview with the hilarious, forthright Ms Dowd, so do listen in full. We cover other topics such as whether Lydia might feel guilt about plucking out Janine’s eyeball in season one, what can we read into Lydia’s apparent soft spot for June / ‘Offred’, what it was like when Margaret Atwood played an Aunt - and Ann's gratitude to the show's writers and crew for giving her such a complex character. 



Box set: Watch the entire Season 2 of 'The Handmaid's Tale' at SBS On Demand:

The Handmaid’s Tale premieres in Australia on Thursday 6 June 2019, exclusively on SBS.

SBS will air the double-episode season premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale at 8.30pm Thursday 6 June, with episodes 1-3 available at  SBS On Demand. A second double episode will air on Thursday 13 June, with weekly episodes to follow.

All episodes will be available to stream weekly at SBS On Demand.

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