Last fall, Margaret Atwood teased that she had a small cameo in Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. While I did mental backflips trying to figure out where she fit in to Gilead’s hierarchy—as an Aunt, a Jezebel, or even a professor outside of the Gileadean era—it turns out that the answer was as simple as a slap in the face. Literally.
Tiny spoiler for The Handmaid’s Tale 1×01 “Offred.”
Atwood wasn’t very involved in the 1990 film adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale (and it shows, as the movie came out more erotic thriller than dystopian cautionary tale). By contrast, she’s a consulting producer on the TV series, talking through both adapting the text, and even gets to inhabit the world she created, albeit briefly. About halfway through the pilot, Offred has a flashback to being indoctrinated at the Red Center. When she doesn’t immediately join in with the other Handmaids-in-training in piling on poor Janine, she gets a hearty slap from an Aunt hovering nearby. And that Aunt’s name… is Margaret!
Well, she’s not actually given a first name, simply referred to in the credits as “Aunt.” Executive producer Bruce Miller revealed at a special Tribeca Film Festival screening of the pilot that it was his idea to have Atwood preside over Offred and the other Handmaids. It’s the most logical cameo, though I was a tad disappointed we didn’t get to see her demonstrating the highest privilege and power of Aunts—that is, reading.
Regardless, the slap distinguishes her in the moment—and that was the idea of executive producer Reed Morano, who also directed the pilot. “Actually, the Aunt [she was playing] was going to slap somebody else, and we were like, ‘No, she can slap Offred!’” Morano recalled. “She didn’t want to and then Lizzie [Elisabeth Moss] was like, ‘No, really hit me.’”
Laughing, Moss added, “She didn’t want to but then she got really into it.” So much so that she apparently knocked off Offred’s bonnet, Miller added. But the end result was quick and brutal, just like the Aunts.
Top image via @handmaidsonhulu (Instagram)