The Handmaid’s Tale Star Samira Wiley on Playing Queer Characters


The actor chats with us about Margaret Atwood’s dystopian series and her first Toronto Pride Parade.

After her untimely exit as Poussey from Orange Is the New Black, Samira Wiley returned to the small screen to play Moira in the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Now in its third season, the dystopian series is back with a vengeance, as its characters attempt to overthrow the patriarchal world of Gilead. We caught up with Wiley ahead of the season premiere to talk tough roles, Toronto Pride and learning to surf in Sydney.

June 1, 2019

enRoute How difficult is it to play someone living in such a bleak world?

Samira Wiley It is really, really hard on set. One thing that Margaret Atwood always says is that there’s nothing in her book that hasn’t actually happened in our history as people, which blows my mind. I think that helps me remember the importance of the women’s stories we’re telling. At the end of the day, we’re making a TV show, but we’re giving a voice to stories that haven’t had one until now – that gets me through when it’s hard.

ER In portraying both Moira and Poussey you’ve tackled pressing social issues, like misogyny and racism. What has that been like?

SW I’ve been spoiled in terms of progressive–thinking creators. With Poussey, I don’t think I even understood how much America needed a character like her and a show with flawed characters who looked like real people. Understanding Poussey’s impact helped me transition into portraying Moira. And Moira has influenced me: She’s helped me understand who I want to be as an activist and as a person.

ER What kind of responsibility comes with playing openly queer characters like Moira and Poussey?

SW I think there have been stereotypes of people in our communities sprinkled [in TV shows], often for a laugh. But we’re not just props. Having real, three–dimensional characters onscreen is so important. It’s crucial to say, “No, we’re actual people, and this is what we do, and we’re all different.”

ER You spend a lot of time in Toronto filming The Handmaid’s Tale. Do you have a go–to spot?

SW Rhum Corner – it’s a small place on Dundas Street West with amazing Caribbean food. I stumbled upon it randomly, but now I have a favourite bartender there and everything.

ER What did you think of Toronto Pride?

SW It was crazy! There were naked people hanging off of rafters, and I was like, “This is lit!” During the parade, I was on a float, and some lady just handed me her baby. We were higher up than the crowd, and all I could think was: What if I drop the baby? We rolled down the street for a little while, and then I was like, “Okay, I’m done with the baby now.”

ER You’re always flying somewhere. Who’s your dream seatmate?

SW Barack Obama. Imagine sitting there and talking to him about policy! I’d grab a beer, relax and chat about what his life is like now that he’s not president.

ER Where have you been that you’d love to return to?

SW I really liked Australia. I learned to surf in Sydney, and that was one of the most badass things I’ve done in my life.