Last week, our Editor in Chief spent the day on set of The Handmaid’s Tale. Below, she recounts the day and her exclusive interviews with Executive Producer Warren Littlefield and Costume Designer Ane Crabtree on the social impact of Season 1 and what we can expect from the future of the worldwide phenomenon.
Unless you’ve avoided the Internet in the past year, it’s near impossible to ignore the influence of The Handmaid’s Tale. Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel by the same name, The Handmaid’s Tale follows a modern-day dystopian society called Gilead, where fertile women are forced into servitude as “Handmaids” for the elite with the sole purpose of bearing children. The 10-part season was released in April 2017 and amassed a widespread cult following, earning the show 13 Emmy Awards nominations, eight of which they won, including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for Bruce Miller, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for Ann Dowd, and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama for Elisabeth Moss.
On a snowy day in Toronto, I entered the studio of Ane Crabtree. Her dog George greeted me at the door to an expansive room filled with women knitting, sewing, and cutting what will be the infamous costumes for The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2. Crabtree has solidified herself as a force in the entertainment industry, having designed the costumes for shows like Pan Am, Masters of Sex, and Westworld. But unlike her prior projects, The Handmaid’s Tale presented a new challenge where she was tasked with creating a futuristic, yet realistic, world of her own.
“Everything was designed with the idea that a man has created and designed this entire world of Gilead. I wanted to get into that barbarism to think that women are just wombs for babies and the rest are just workers and servants,” said Crabtree as she walked me through every corner of her working studio – her own millinery team who were knitting hats for babies in the next season, to rows of custom dyed fabric.
The walls of her studio were covered with visual inspiration, fabric swatches, and sketches for every scene and character of the series. Growing up in the time of rock and roll, Crabtree pointed out images of iconic women of the 70’s that played significant roles in her design process.
“On any given job you’re really not supposed to throw yourself in this mix. But my own reaction to politics, how I grew up, they all creep in and it needs to be a part of the story. Because of my own upbringing in a time of punk and women of rock, that’s going to enter in. These women are survivors and women who are going to fight back.”
She took me over to a rack of deep red gowns custom-made for the series’ star, Elisabeth Moss, where she showed me the detailed hook-and-eyes on the front of the Handmaid’s dresses placed as a constant reminder of their oppressed role in society. It’s these details that have awarded Crabtree global critical acclaim, receiving emails from fans around the world that praise her design.
“People have a very visceral, personal response to the clothes, politically, emotionally, psychologically. I was trying to design something that was universal.”
The Handmaid’s costumes have garnered widespread noterietay for more than just their on-screen presence in the first season. Executive Producer Warren Littlefield attributes the show’s success to its powerful message, not just as a political statement, but because it stands for more than just ordinary entertainment.
“We feel like we’re a part of a movement. The costumes have been worn all over the country. The most recent photo I got was from Costa Rica where women were going off to vote and they were in the Handmaid’s outfits.”
With the next season underway, Crabtree has set her sights on breaking down expectations, “I’m really trying to show that these characters are not one-sided. From Season 1 you were able to see and say ‘Oh that’s an Eye, that’s a Commander. I know what’s going to happen’.”
Littlefield says Season 2’s ambitions are greater, going beyond Atwood’s original story and into the gruesome unknown Colonies. Keeping the focus through Offred’s (also known in her pre-Gilead life as June) point of view, the highly anticipated new season will unveil their characters’ past to better understand their current personas within the fabric of present day Gilead. Season 2 will also introduce new characters, with Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones, and Marissa Tomei all joining the cast.
But even with its dark and often times disturbing narrative, the cast and crew behind the hit show say that they’re always creating for something hopeful, on and off screen.
“I’ve done this for 28 years and it feels like women are gaining more momentum now more than ever. I love that for future generations and even for women who may not even know where they’re going, young or old, who haven’t decided. The sky is the limit. I’m a person of color, I’m a woman, I’m an immigrant’s kid, and I’m seeing changes in my lifetime. Only good can come from that because you’re influencing a whole generation just by being yourself and by showing up to the job,” says Crabtree.
“We hope to be a force,” says Littlefield. “We always felt that there’s a fine line for us dramatically as producers to be hopeful or hopeless. And the feeling is that if Offred doesn’t give up, then you can’t give up.”
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2 arrives on April 25th. Catch up on Season 1, now available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital today.