What the cast of The Handmaid's Tale looks like in real life

Hulu's harrowing The Handmaid's Tale has a knack for making the most beautiful, glamorous actresses look almost unrecognizable with their signature wide-lens closeups. According to Vulture, close-ups are typically shot on a longer lens that results in a "more flattering" frame, but that wouldn't do for Gilead. Reed Morano, who directed the first three episodes of the series, carefully crafted the 28-millimeter closeups to mimic the handmaid's confinement, a technique so effective it won her an Emmy.

This raw approach has left fans of the series well-acquainted with star Elisabeth Moss' under-eye circles, which have become the co-stars of her uncomfortable close-ups. However, the actress told Yahoo Style that she relishes in her eye bags on set ("the more you have, the better") and they're actually highlighted with makeup on day's she's feeling particularly rested. Honestly, when you're in the thick of leading a quiet resistance, who has time to wear makeup, right? And then there's the wardrobe. 

Gilead seems completely devoid of Hollywood's tendency to glam up their leading ladies with form-fitting attire regardless of the plot, leaving the actors playing out this creepy dystopian tale looking almost nothing like their warts-and-all portraits in the series. Here's a spoiler-filled look (seriously, turn away if you aren't fully caught up with the show) at what the cast of The Handmaid's Tale looks like in real life. 

Elisabeth Moss (June Osborne / Offred)

The scariest parts of The Handmaid's Tale focus on the patriarchal policies enacted by the extremist religious group that took over America to form Gilead — that and Offred's extreme close-ups. Girl knows her way around some well-placed eye bags for dramatic effect. Though Elisabeth Moss, who won an Emmy for her portrayal of Offred in 2017, doesn't practice the same extremist religion depicted in the series, she is a member of a different controversial religious group in real life.

According to Elle, Moss grew up in the Church of Scientology. Though she remains relatively mum on the subject, she did speak about how the religion differs from the Republic of Gilead. "Religious freedom and tolerance and understanding the truth and equal rights for every race, religion and creed are extremely important to me. The most important things to me probably," she wrote on Instagram (via Elle) in reply to a commenter who compared the two. "And so Gilead and [The Handmaid's Tale] hit me on a very personal level."

Elle reports that she's also been known to quietly duke it out with Leah Remini, a former Scientologist who's been vocal about the organization's damaging practices. In 2017 — the same year Moss won two Emmys Remini took home an Emmy for her A&E series Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. Moss reportedly left the room when Remini accepted her award.

Samira Wiley (Moira)

Most Samira Wiley fans are still reeling from — Spoiler alert! — her character's death in Orange Is the New Black. We're happy Netflix introduced her to us in the first place, but did they really have to take her away so soon? Now, Wiley has fully jumped ship to a rival streaming service (we can't say for sure that Hulu poached her, but it seems that way from the outside). Sadly, OITNB won't live to see another day, but Wiley's Handmaid's Tale character will — barring any unexpected run in with one of Gilead's enforcers.

In 2018, Wiley won an Emmy for her portrayal of Moira, who managed to become one of the few handmaids to escape Gilead alive, but she might not be as tenacious in real life. Adopting the mindset of an enslaved baby factory-turned-prostitute and rising member of the resistance definitely took a toll on Wiley's psyche.

"Being an actor is a crazy thing," she told Vanity Fair. "You're willingly putting yourself in these awful situations and situations of trauma."

Alexis Bledel (Emily / Ofglen)

Most of us never wanted to see Rory Gilmore, the loveable quick-talking Gilmore Girl and arguably terrible journalist, pulling out her teeth after suffering from radiation poisoning in a trench of toxic waste. There's something to be said about the low stakes of Stars Hollow. After all, the biggest mistakes Rory ever made were studying so hard she overslept and cheating on her high school sweetheart, the consequences of which stopped way short of genital mutilation. 

Think that's a crazy juxtaposition? Well, Vanity Fair hailed Bledel as "The Handmaid's Tale's secret weapon" largely because of the stark contrast between her Gilmore Girls persona and Ofglen, though the pair live about two-and-a-half hours apart in real world geography. And while both Rory and the former professor are highly-educated and strong-willed, for the former, it meant getting the chance to pen a story for GQ, which ultimately didn't work out. For the latter, it meant getting the chance to shovel radioactive dirt in the Colonies, which thankfully didn't work out either. (Ofglen wouldn't have even been allowed to read Rory's GQ piece had it actually been written.) 

Of course, in Gilead, Bledel was no longer the doe-eyed teen crying over boy drama in her suburban bedroom. Instead, the show exposed every emotion and wrinkle, ones we're not used to seeing on the typically youthful actress. But for as unsettling as the portrayal was, it was just as fruitful. Bledel took home an Emmy for the part in 2017.

Joseph Fiennes (Commander Fred Waterford)

Joseph Fiennes doesn't look much different from Commander Waterford in real life, but that's where their similarities end. Waterford has no qualms about enslaving and assaulting women in an effort to repopulate Gilead. He even had his own wife's finger amputated because she had the audacity to read in public, but Fiennes drew a line in the sand (or radioactive dirt) where Waterford did not.

Fiennes has to act out all of Waterford's atrocities, but a Season 2, Episode 9 rape scene was his breaking point. The scene occurs during the Waterfords' diplomatic trip to Canada, where the Commander has a heated interaction with Offred's husband. After the exchange, he rapes Serena in their hotel room.

"I guess in many ways, as abhorrent and nasty and evil as Fred is, I have to defend parts of him," he told EW's Kristen Baldwin in an interview. "[The scene] just didn't track for me. I had to go out on a limb and refuse to do it because I felt that even though Fred is who he is, he's human. And I think that he would be reeling from the interaction with Luke … he would be digesting that and trying to understand it."

A few long emails later, and Fiennes got the scene permanently cut.

Yvonne Strahovski (Serena Joy)

Serena Joy is one of The Handmaid's Tale's most captivating characters. At the start, she was a villain — a staunch supporter of Gilead, who gave up her booming career as an author and public speaker to support the regime's values (which ironically, don't even allow her to read). By season two, she begins unravel. The subsequent episodes show Joy slowly realizing she's to blame for her own oppression.  

Along the way to this painful realization, Joy commits increasingly more horrific acts in an attempt to cover up her guilt and frustration. For actress Yvonne Strahovski, this meant pretending to do the unimaginable — helping Commander Waterford rape Offred in an attempt to naturally induce labor. Unsurprisingly, Strahovski does not share Joy's same moral compass. 

"That was one of the most horrific scenes. That's one of the scenes I've been dying to talk about … that was definitely one of the horrible scenes that went down where it felt — It just felt really bad on set, doing it," she told E! News.

That's not to say Joy is wholly terrible. Her Handmaid's Tale character partially redeems herself. At the end of Season 2, she ultimately gives up her baby in hopes that it can have a life free from the culture of oppression she helped create. In real life, Strahovski welcomed a baby of her own in October 2018.

Anne Dowd (Aunt Lydia)

Ann Dowd's Aunt Lydia is one of the most terrifying characters on TV. The Handmaid's matriarch (or as matriarchal as someone could possibly be in Gilead) regularly beats, tortures, and disfigures the handmaids when they fall out of line. Strangely enough, at the root is a deep love for the women she looks after. That's the creepy thing: she really believes her actions are for the greater good, and she's unyieldingly tough in her delivery. Her multi-faceted portrayal garnered an Emmy.

Ann Dowd told ABC that she instantly felt connected to Aunt Lydia when she read the script because the character was a teacher, and she tries "not to judge." (That's a tall order while playing a woman who incites murder, no?) Yet, despite Dowd's personal distance from the character's more unsavory traits, Dowd did admit to channelling Aunt Lydia for an extra boost of toughness. The actress, who has a child on the autism spectrum, admitted she turned on her Aunt Lydia switch when a woman in the supermarket said her son "needs to go to the nuthouse."

"I said, 'I'm going to take your hair. I'm going to wrap it around your neck. And I'm going to pull,'" Dowd told ABC. "She stepped back … I said, 'That's my son. Don't ever do that again. Ever.' And she said, 'Oh. Well, I mean–' And I said, 'No, no. You should be frightened of me. Because I will find you.'"

No one messes with Aunt Lydia.

Madeline Brewer (Janine / Ofwarren)

Janine's decent into madness is one of the most anxiety-inducing story lines in The Handmaid's Tale. We're torn between opening her eyes to the truth and rooting for her delusions, which seem like a saving grace in Gilead's dystopia. The character begins to unravel after challenging Aunt Lydia in the Red Centre and losing her eye as punishment. We later learn she's fallen in love with her commander (her rapist) and starts believing the pair will run away together with their baby. Along the way, Janine is almost stoned to death, threatens suicide and is sent to the Colonies.

In real life, Madeline Brewer is another actress plucked from Orange Is the New Black, where she played a drug addict who overdoses in Season 1. We're happy to report that she's managed to hold onto both of her eyes, but she urges viewers not to write off her Handmaid's character as nuts.

"I didn't want to just chalk her up to being the crazy one. There's so much more to her," she told Harper's Bazaar. "Janine's outlook on the world after she gets her eyeball popped out and she spent almost two years in Gilead — her version of crazy is a very smart and calculated one. She is doing what she has to do to survive, and for some people that is just playing pretend."

Amanda Brugel (Rita)

We don't learn a whole lot about Rita in The Handmaid's Tale until the Season 2 finale — and there's good reason. Marthas, who act as servants to high-ranking families, seem to be the most overlooked class of people in Gilead, and this is essential to the resistance. These invisible caretakers eavesdrop on the Commanders without a second thought. They're privy to everything happening in Gilead, which ultimately helped them create what The Huffington Post called the "Underground Martha Railroad."

Just like her character Rita, Amanda Brugel is a low-key maverick. She may not be fighting off a patriarchal religious cult that enslaves fertile women, but she is making strides for women in Hollywood. The actress squashed the industry's tired perception of age and wound up finding the greatest success of her career in her 40s.

"The fact that my 40th year was my most successful year — as an actor, but I think also as a mother and wife — just really shows how much is changing," she told Hello Magazine. "It doesn't end at 40, it only begins, as far as I'm concerned."

Max Minghella (Nick Blaine)

Max Minghella is leading a double life — both in real life and on-screen. His character Nick may act as a servant who gains the trust and praise of Commander Waterford, but he's also an Eye helping push forward the resistance. In real life, that American accent we're so used to hearing as he whispers things to Offred that could probably get him killed is completely an act. Minghella is British.

According to The New York Times, Minghella's father is the late Anthony Minghella, the "Oscar-winning director and screenwriter" responsible for blockbuster hits like The Talented Mr. Ripley. Max, a Columbia University graduate, doesn't have the same knack for working on the production side of things as his dad. In fact, The Handmaid's Tale is one of his first acting projects since 2015's Into the Forest, when he pressed pause on being a star to step behind the camera. "I took a couple years off acting and was mostly producing for those years," Minghella told Interview Magazine. "I found I wasn't very good at it — it's not a skill set that I possess."

If there is one skill set Minghella does possess, it's looking totally handsome while secretly leading a revolution (he's a pretty great actor, too).

Nina Kiri (Alma / Ofrobert)

Nina Kiri may not look glamorous in her role as Alma, Offred's contact in the resistance, but the Serbian-born actress is gorgeous in real life. Let's be honest: giant red robes aren't really flattering on anyone. The Handmaid's Tale is arguably Kiri's most prominent role, but she's been working for a decade as an actress in Canada. She managed to fall into the world of horror, appearing in films like The Heretics and Let Her Out, despite not particularly liking the genre.

"It was a matter of what was available for me. I was never a huge horror fan, though I appreciate and admire the genre much more now than I did before working on those horror films," she told Film Center Serbia. "For me as a budding actor, they were excellent opportunities to play lead roles, to discover my characters, to develop and build them, and to take chances in the safety of an small indie film crew."

Handmaid's Tale isn't really dealing with demonic entities, but it seems like a logical next step for Kiri. If she can handle the paranormal, Gilead should be a cake walk.