It is rare for a TV show to be carried, mostly, by a group of highly acclaimed and relatively well-known performers, which makes The Handmaid’s Tale cast a one-in-a-million kind of ensemble. Led by Golden Globe and Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss, the cast has effectively elevated the material first imagined by Margaret Atwood in her 1985 dystopian social commentary to astounding heights on the Hulu original hit that the author has approved as a top-notch adaptation, especially one made into a TV series.
Now, in honor of the premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 on Wednesday, April 28, 2021, which you should have already noted in your personal list of 2021 TV premiere dates to remember, we take a look at the actors who have helped make this show the emotionally-investing, thought-provoking, and potentially world-changing success. The following is a retrospective on what these brilliant performers were up to before the show made them bigger than ever, starting with the fearless series lead.
Elisabeth Moss (June Osborne)
You could say Elisabeth Moss’ Golden Globe-nominated breakout role as Peggy Olson in the Mad Men cast was a fitting prelude to the patriarchal society she would be forced to navigate in Gilead. Earlier in her long career (which began when she was 8), Moss had a recurring role on the bizarre CBS crime drama Picket Fences, played schizophrenic burn victim Polly in Girl, Interrupted, and starred opposite her future The Handmaid’s Tale co-star Bradley Whitford from the West Wing cast as the youngest First Daughter, Zoey Bartlet. The 38-year-old LA native has become a bit of a Scream Queen, too, as a memorable supporting character in Us and the lead of 2020’s The Invisible Man remake, in addition to the horrifying circumstances she has endured as June Osborne.
Joseph Fiennes (Fred Waterford)
The man responsible for much of that cruelty is Commander Fred Waterford, played by Joseph Fiennes, who, like his brother - Harry Potter’s Voldemort actor Ralph Fiennes - is a theatre-trained thespian, which translated well when playing the title role of the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love in 1998. The 50-year-old Englishman’s first time as a TV staple was on ABC’s short-lived, but well-received, sci-fi mystery Flashforward, before joining the cast of American Horror Story: Asylum, and infamously playing Michael Jackson in a controversial unaired episode of the anthology series Urban Myths. Other literary adaptations in Fiennes filmgraphy outside of the The Handmaid’s Tale include 2004’s The Merchant of Venice, a 2006 film based on Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Running with Scissors, and more recently voicing Sheriff Nottingham in the YouTube original animated miniseries Sherwood in 2019.
Yvonne Strahovski (Serena Joy Waterford)
Receiving a Golden Globe and Emmy nomination for playing the Commander’s wife Serena Joy Waterford on The Handmaid’s Tale is the Australian-born Yvonne Strahovski, who became an instant sensation in the States when she played CIA agent Sarah Walker on Chuck for NBC. Following that action-comedy hit, she joined the Dexter cast as a fellow serial killer with whom Michael C. Hall’s title character becomes romantically involved. The actress and model is also known for lending her voice to the Mass Effect video game series, appearing in Shane Black’s 2018 sequel The Predator, and her acclaimed performance in the Netflix original miniseries Stateside in 2020.
O-T Fagbenle (Luke Bankole)
Playing Luke Bankole, June Osborne’s husband and father to their daughter, Hannah, is O-T Fagbenle, who wears a lot of hats in the entertainment industry when he is not on the set of The Handmaid’s Tale. You may recognize his face from HBO’s short-lived romantic dramedy, Looking, or his voice as “Calico” Jack Rackham in the Assassin’s Creed video games, but may not realize that he is the creator, producer, composer, and director on some episodes of his own satirical comedy series Maxxx, in which he also plays the title role. His abbreviated Nigerian name will surely become even better known when he appears in the Black Widow cast (possibly as Marvel villain Taskmaster) and as Barack Obama in the historical miniseries anthology The First Lady for Showtime.
Ann Dowd (Aunt Lydia Clements)
Also playing a United States president in an upcoming TV movie called The President is Missing is Ann Dowd - yet another The Handmaid’s Tale cast member who has received a Golden Globe nomination, in her case, for playing Aunt Lydia Clements, a character who has a few things in common with the oppressive cult leader she played on the bizarre, dystopian HBO series The Leftovers for three seasons. The 65-year-old actress has a stellar 30-plus-year career that includes one of the best Tom Hanks movies, Philadelphia, but she really began to become more prominent in more recent years, starring in recurring roles on series like Masters of Sex, Oscar-nominated hidden gems like Captain Fantastic, or Ari Aster’s masterful horror movie debut Hereditary in 2018. Dowd also recently appeared in the Netflix’s adaptation of Rebecca and joined the cast of the dark comedy series Search Party in 2021.
Amanda Brugel (Rita)
Yet another The Handmaid’s Tale star we could call a Scream Queen is Amanda Brugel, who made her feature film debut in Jason X, which sees the Friday the 13th movies villain go to space, in 2001. The Canada native would later go on to land some particularly small roles in otherwise big movies, such as a police officer in Room from 2015 and a National Security Councilwoman in 2016’s Suicide Squad before she was cast as former Martha turned Gilead escapee Rita. Brugel has also starred on additional TV shows during her Handmaid’s Tale run, including the Canadian sitcom Kim’s Convenience and the series adaptation of Snowpiercer on TNT.
Madeline Brewer (Janine Lindo)
Another The Handmaid’s Tale star I would even more confidently give the Scream Queen title to is Madeline Brewer, known for three Netflix original horror titles, including the lycanthropic cult series Hemlock Grove, one of the best Black Mirror episodes (“Men Against Fire”), and 2015’s Cam, in which she plays an internet model who discovers she has a doppelgänger. She can also thank the streaming platform for giving the New Jersey-born actress her first break as part of the the Orange is the New Black cast, but she is not the only Handmaid’s Tale cast member who is also an alum of the hit prison-set dramedy.
Samira Wiley (Moira Strand)
Before winning an Emmy for playing Moira Strand on The Handmaid’s Tale, Samira Wiley won three Screen Actors Guild Awards in the Outstanding Comedy Series Ensemble category for Orange is the New Black, on which she played Litchfield inmate Poussey Washington. Earlier, the openly gay Juilliard graduate made her film debut in the 2011 Jonah Hill comedy The Sitter before playing a therapist to The Boys’ Aya Cash on the FX rom-com You’re the Worst, a cop on YouTube’s meta sitcom Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes On Television, and a small pat in Kathryn Bigelow’s powerful crime biopic Detroit in 2017.
Max Minghella (Nick Blaine)
Max Minghella actually has an interesting connection to his The Handmaid’s Tale co-star O-T Fagbenle, who made his film debut in 2006’s Breaking and Entering, which was directed by late Oscar-winning filmmaker Anthony Minghella, who was Max’s father. Minghella also debuted in one of his dad’s most famous movies, The Talented Mr. Ripley, before eventually becoming a more prominent talent in acclaimed films like The Social Network in 2010 and The Ides of March the following year, as well as the horror thriller Horns in 2013 and Mindy Kaling’s hit comedy The Mindy Project, of which he appeared in eight episodes. Minghella, who made his directorial debut in 2018 with the Elle Fanning-led drama Teen Spirit, also stars in Spiral: From the Book of Saw opposite Chris Rock.
Alexis Bledel (Emily Malek)
Alexis Bledel crossed paths with Elisabeth Moss during her three-episode stint on Mad Men before she was cast in the Emmy-winning role of Emily Malek on The Handmaid’s Tale. The 39-year-old became an instant household name as Rory in the Gilmore Girls cast before starring in other book-to-screen adaptations like Disney’s meditation on immortality Tuck Everlasting, Frank Miller’s inventive noir masterpiece Sin City, and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies, of which a third installment has been announced.
Bradley Whitford (Joseph Lawrence)
I have no doubt that three-time Emmy-winner Bradley Whitford has crossed paths with most of his Handmaid’s Tale co-stars several times prior over the course of his 30-plus year career, which of course includes being a series regular on the West Wing cast, followed by Aaron Sorkin’s short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, the short-lived cop dramedy The Good Guys, and plenty more notable TV credits. The now 61-year-old is probably the best known Scream King of the Handmaid’s Tale cast having starred in the brilliant horror satire The Cabin in the Woods, Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning debut Get Out, and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, if you want to count that. In 2020, he starred in the Covid-19 inspired drama Songbird and will play Stephen Sondheim in tick, tick…Boom! - one of the upcoming 2021 Netflix movies to look forward to.
Sam Jaeger (Mark Tuello)
To prove my earlier point about the prolific nature of Bradley Whitford, Sam Jaeger did guest star on The West Wing early in his career before playing the real Nick Fisher in Lucky Number Slevin, joining the Parenthood cast as Joel Graham, and starring on ABC’s historical LGBTQ+ miniseries When We Rise to name a few. This year, he is becoming a series regular on The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 and will appear in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, an upcoming Jessica Chastain movie, as the titular televangelist’s second husband, Roe Messner.
It looks like The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 is bound to be a memorable new chapter to the story by the cast alone. However, is there a series regular you are especially excited to see return to the Hulu exclusive hit drama?