'The Handmaid's Tale' Cast Curate a Politically-Charged Playlist

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Sabrina Hamilton
   

Listen to picks by Ann Dowd, Samira Wiley, Madeline Brewer and Yvonne Strahovski.

The Handmaid’s Tale quickly became an important piece of pop culture when it premiered on Hulu in late April. Not only did the show inspire a timely Saturday Night Live spoof, but women across the country have taken to dressing like the show’s characters in to observe legislative debates and votes on women's healthcare. With all this attention, it’s no surprise then that the dystopian drama racked up an impressive 13 Emmy nominations, a record for Hulu. In fact, four of the show's stars were nominated for their roles: Elisabeth Moss for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Ann Dowd and Samira Wiley for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and Alexis Bledel for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.

Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name, the show’s themes echo the current political climate: “None of the atrocities in The Handmaid’s Tale are pure fiction,” said Madeline Brewer, who plays Janine on the show. “Everything Margaret wrote was something that has happened somewhere in the world to human beings.”

Ahead of the Emmys (which air Sept. 17), we talked to four women from the show -- Wiley, Dowd, Brewer and Yvonne Strahovski -- about songs that represent their characters and favorite female musicians to create a politically-charged playlist. Check out their selections and then give the playlist a spin below.

Samira Wiley (Moira)

What is a song that represents your Handmaid's Tale character?

“No Problem” by Lil Scrappy. This song represents Moira to her core. It's all about how she'll literally fuck someone up if they come to her with bullshit. Samira is sorry for the cursing! Moira is not.

What is a song that empowers you in this political climate?

“Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. I love this song because the answer to life’s question is made completely simple. I feel the message is be the change that you would like to see in the world. And that for me feels attainable.

Who is a female musician you admire and what song of hers do you find most empowering?

“Brave” by Sara Bareilles. Love Sara Bareilles! So many of her songs are empowering and inspirational, but I do think this song, in particular, in the political climate that we are living in, is especially relevant. 

What about Handmaid's Tale resonates with you in this political climate?

Working on The Handmaid’s Tale and experiencing the courage that these characters have from episode to episode really shows me the courage that I can have in my own life. To be able to have learned that from a TV show is amazing. It shows that art can elicit real change.

Ann Dowd (Aunt Lydia)

What is a song that represents your Handmaid's Tale character?

“I Put A Spell on You” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. The lyrics speak for themselves. Aunt Lydia's desire is to put these girls under a very specific spell that draws them to the Bible and keeps them there. These girls belong to her.

What is a song that empowers you in this political climate?

“You Don't Own Me” by Dusty Springfield. The message: take your hands off me and what I believe in. I will make those decisions for myself. Keep your close-minded, narrow vision of the world to yourself.

Who is a female musician you admire and what song of hers do you find most empowering?

“Sinnerman” by Nina Simone. There are a significant number of people in Washington who might benefit from sitting down and listening to this song. Nina Simone has an intimate understanding of repression and sorrow. She has tremendous courage and empathy. Nobody runs her. And that woman can sing a song.

What about Handmaid's Tale resonates with you in this political climate?

The Handmaid’s Tale is a cautionary tale and it tells me to stay awake and alert, don't let the small things that you don't believe in go by, take action. Take responsibility for what matters to you, don't wait for others to do it. Also: be very brave.

Madeline Brewer (Janine)

What is a song that represents your Handmaid’s Tale character?

“All I Have to Do is Dream” by The Everly Brothers. This song created so much of Janine for me. It’s a clue into her entire character. She isn’t “crazy.” She’s refusing to accept the reality forced upon her. She’s resisting it. She dreams instead of her life before, of her children, of the life she would have had, of the person she would have become. The idea that when you want something, when you’re missing someone or something, all you have to do is dream. Dream they’re in your arms, dream you’re far away, dream until the pain of missing it or them is more bearable. Janine’s own form of daily resistance is resisting the horrors that Gilead would have her face. The punishments she has had to endure, the pain, and the fear. She dreams her way out of them and into a reality where she can survive.

What is a song that empowers you in this political climate?

“You’ve Got A Friend” by James Taylor. This song means to me, very simply; always be a friend. Always be kind especially in times when it seems like everyone is giving up on each other. Love harder.

Who is a female musician you admire and what song of hers do you find most empowering?

“Superwoman” by Alicia Keys. I’ve always had a place in my heart for this song. It was anthemic for me in my early teens when trying to discover the power i had within myself. The women of Gilead have so little power. Even the women how have been these architects to their own powerlessness assert what little power they do have over those without any at all (i.e. Handmaids). I’ve found that, for myself and for Janine, understanding the power you have within yourself will help you to stay strong and stay true to yourself even when the powers-that-be seek to extinguish your flame. Also Alicia Keys has always been a great representation of a strong, empowered, intelligent, talented, generally badass woman. 

What about Handmaid's Tale resonates with you in this political climate?

I can’t say anything about it that hasn’t already been said. None of the atrocities in The Handmaid’s Tale are pure fiction. Everything Margaret wrote was something that has happened somewhere in the world to human beings. The whole story resonates with me, especially as a woman and who appreciates her right to her own body, but also as a human who cares deeply for the equity of all people.

Yvonne Strahovski (Serena Joy)

What is a song that represents your Handmaid’s Tale character?

"Fruits of my Labor” by Lucinda Williams. Besides the irony of the title itself, the song has a very melancholic tune to it which reminds me of how Serena might reminisce about how things used to be between her and the Commander. It also speaks about the changes she has made in her life up to this point and how within that there has been a loss of the relationship she used to have. The whole thing feels sad to me and really speaks to me with regards to Serena because I have always seen her as someone with a deep core sadness, rather than a brutality. I see a large portion of her brutality being the result of her core sadness because of the love lost in her relationship. I think this is one of the biggest foundational driving forces behind her actions, however hideous they are. 

What is a song that empowers you in this political climate?

“No Time To Sleep” by Tina Dico. I love the main line in this song, which happens to also be the title. “This ain’t no time to sleep” certainly rings true to me. And yeah, it isn’t a time to sleep. But even still, the song acknowledges those moments where you give up. Where things seem too dire and too overwhelming to proceed forward, or even the ignorance behind not looking to the past for future lessons. 

I reconnected with this song when in Toronto shooting the Handmaid’s Tale and I tried to find the original meaning behind the song and why Tina Dico wrote it but I can not for the life of me find it online. Which might just speak to my sucky internet and technology research techniques. But either way, whatever it was written about circa 2008, it definitely reached me today because of today’s political climate. It reaches my inner despair when I want to hang my head and slump my shoulders. But reminds me -- "This really ain’t/ No time to sleep."

Who is a female musician you admire and what song of hers do you find most empowering?

Tracy Chapman. She has always been writing about social and political topics. And her music is beyond timeless, classic and mesmerizing. She is a brave, honest artist and her music is something I always go back to time and time again. Hard to pick a particular song. 

What about Handmaid's Tale resonates with you in this political climate?

Let’s start with the inequality it portrays. The removal of women’s rights. The removal of dignity. The unbalanced hierarchal system based on one extremist narrow-minded belief. The abuse of power. The prioritising of power over the well being and greater good of humanity itself. All things that sadly ring true in today’s society and the headlines we are seeing.