Spoilers for season 4 episode 6 of The Handmaid’s Tale, “Vows” below.
When Moira (Samira Wiley) first laid eyes on June (Elisabeth Moss) in this season of The Handmaid’s Tale, you could almost hear fans let out a long, collective scream. For much of season 4, we’ve watched Moira contend with her own guilt, grappling with the fact that she found a way to safety when June couldn’t. So when the two stumble into each other on the streets of Chicago, fate (or a heartstring-pulling writers’ room) seemed to be giving both characters a final chance at freedom.
“It’s been really satisfying,” Wiley told ELLE.com about Moira and June’s reunion. “To have an episode where I’m in [the action] so much and having these meaty scenes with Lizzie…as an artist, it was so fulfilling to have that kind of material written for me.”
Ahead, Wiley discusses what it was like acting with Moss, how Moira rationalizes getting June to Canada, and the realities of shooting on a boat in Lake Ontario in the middle of winter. (Spoiler: It’s not great.)
For episode 6, truly only one word comes to mind: finally. What did you think when you first read the script?
I actually had a conversation with the showrunner Bruce Miller before we started the season to go over what my arc was going to be. When he dropped that piece of news, I was like, “What?!” Such a shock. I feel like this is our reward for waiting this long. But selfishly, the thing I was really looking forward to was being back onscreen with Lizzie Moss. With her, my acting is elevated to another level. She’s so talented, and she makes me better. I haven’t been onscreen with her in these kinds of scenes since season 1. I’ve been yearning for it, and when I saw some of the stuff from the episode, I felt really satisfied.
The way June reacts, you almost wonder, could anyone but Moira have gotten her out?
I don’t even know if I thought about it that way, but when I think about the flashback scenes, which are so intentionally put where they are, I think that validates exactly what you’re saying. There’s a relationship there that goes back so many years, and I feel like I know her in a way no one else does. It’s also not someone like Luke, who doesn’t know what Gilead is. I was there. I know what that is. I know what that experience is. I know what the trauma is.
Moira has to make some extremely difficult choices in this episode. How did you wrestle with her decisions?
When I go into those episodes, I really can’t have anything in my head except for Moira’s mind. I think there are rationalizations that have to happen for Moira in order to make that okay. For her, she’s not just saving June. She will be saving so many other people because June is such an asset. What she will be able to give the Canadian government is too valuable and worth so much more than if it was one other person who wasn’t June. I think that made it easier for Moira, but I mean, it’s pretty selfish. I feel like for Moira, [it’s] a good selfish, is what she has to tell herself. I don’t think there’s any way she could leave there without her, even if she had to knock her over the head to make her unconscious and drag her.
What kind of conversations did you and Elisabeth Moss have in preparation for these scenes?
Even away from this episode, Lizzie really stepped into a different role this season. She directed three of the episodes. So the conversations I had with her were about the arc of Moira and the arc of the entire story we were telling. There were so many more intentional conversations about what this relationship was. Who is Moira? Who is June? Who have they become now? What we realized in those conversations is that June is a different person, and Moira is a different person. They’re just different people [who’ve gone] in completely different directions. Seeing each other in that moment and realizing throughout that episode, but also in subsequent episodes, that we’re not on the same page anymore is really painful and something we get to see play out throughout the season.
Was there a particular scene from this episode that stands out to you?
The one where June is trying to steal the lifeboat. We were on this boat in the middle of Lake Ontario for a week filming this episode. We worked from about 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night, at least 30 minutes away from shore. It was December and it was windy and the boat was tiny, and there was acting that needed to be done. [Laughs] It was just a whole lot to deal with. I think it probably informed the scene; I wasn’t the only one in those conditions, Moira was in those conditions as well. We tried to use what was happening to our advantage and to elevate the scene. But I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.
The cast is also famous for having fun on set. When you’re in those conditions, are you all trying to raise each other’s spirits?
There were so many saltine crackers going around because apparently that solves seasickness. Lizzie bought me these thermals, because I get so cold. I remember being in a water scene on Orange [Is the New Black] one time, and they couldn’t use some of the footage because I was shivering so much. So we made light of that. But I don’t know, being on that boat and it rocking and us trying to keep our balance… [Laughs] I think it’s funny much more after the fact.
In this episode, we also see more of Moira and Oona. Because of the history of LGBTQ characters on television, it feels significant that no one on the show ever mentions this is a queer couple. What has it been like for you to portray that relationship?
It’s something I’ve been wanting for so long, for Moira to have a girlfriend, so it’s very satisfying. It’s so amazing and fulfilling to have a queer relationship on television that’s not highlighted like, “Oh look, they’re queer people!” We’re just queer people. It mirrors my life. It definitely shows the progress we’ve made as a society and also in media. I’m just so honored to be a part of portraying that.
Speaking of your life, congratulations! You just had a baby. Has being a mother changed your view of the show?
I keep saying thank god for the twins who play [Nichole] this season. They taught me so much. But you can spend however long you want with some other person’s baby, but you can always give them back. Being with a baby 24/7 is completely different. I have experienced every single emotion a human can experience. She’s amazing. She’s terrifying when she can’t stop crying. And being able to do it with my wife is so amazing.
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What is your dream ending for Moira? How do you want to see this all play out?
I think Moira is really yearning for her friend and who her friend was and what their relationship was. She’s not ready to let that go. She’s built something so beautiful with Luke and with Nichole, and she’s ready for June to fit right back into that. She wants a normal life, a life where she can put Gilead behind her and find joy and have an easy relationship with her girlfriend. Everything has been so hard for her, and for everyone who has gone through Gilead. She’s just yearning for something to be easy. That’s what I want for Moira, and I think that’s what Moira wants for herself.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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