Amanda Brugel is the only Canadian in the main cast of Hulu’s breakout hit, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Based on the 1985 novel by renown Canadian author Margaret Atwood, the series was filmed in and around Toronto, and has already been renewed for a second season.
Toronto-based Amanda Brugel plays the sarcastic and resigned Rita, ‘the help’ in the Republic of Gilead. In some ways parallel to her supporting role on screen, it’s been a struggle for the Toronto-based actress to gain credibility south of the border.
Daily Hive spoke to Brugel about her personal Handmaid’s journey, Canada as a plausible utopia, and the never-ending fight against normal.
Tell us about about becoming the only Canadian in the main cast.
They have two casting directors – [one American, one Canadian]. Large productions typically do that – larger, juicer roles go immediately to the Americans.
It came down to myself and an American – as it usually does. I had to keep going back in, fighting and fighting for the role. Eventually, as luck would have it, I won.
Is that common during the casting process?
It’s common for everyone [in the industry]. You’re constantly having to prove your worth, and particularly with TV actors, I find you get typecast into a certain type of role.
Also, I was Canadian. Not because of my nationality, but because I didn’t really hold a name in the American box office. I’ve been involved in a lot of high profile projects here, but in the States, no one knows who I am.
In Canada, there’s no real star system.
Has playing the character of Rita changed your perception of her?
Reading the [novel], I always held a bit of disdain for her, I thought she was a bit moody, uptight, and sarcastic. But playing her, I had to ask questions as to why she was like this.
Through reading the book several times again in preparation, I found secrets that are hidden within the text, that give an indication about why the way she is.
You’ve admitted to being a lifelong ‘stalker’ of Margaret Atwood – you even did your university thesis on The Handmaid’s Tale. What other women have been influential in your life?
Anne Murray, the Canadian folk singer. My mom listened to her a lot. As a little girl, she was one of the first people that inspired me to be an artist.
My mom definitely fostered [my creativity], but she wasn’t the inspiration behind it. My mom is quite an eccentric woman. She made Santa Clauses for a living.
I grew up in a house that was literally Christmas in May, all the way until December. When you grow up like with the idea of magic all around, it certainly influences your imagination and your sense of play.
Anything normal to me is unacceptable.
In the story, Canada is made out to be a place of refuge, a safe haven from the atrocities of Gilead. Looking at our country presently – is it a utopia?
Yes, if you compare it to our brothers to the south. I think we’re the only utopia within walking distance. We still manage to put the people first, for the most part. Canada is not perfect, but in the grand scheme of things, [it’s] one of the most perfect places in the world.
We experience the fears of different women in The Handmaid’s Tale, adapting to the new ‘normal’ of their time. What keeps you up at night?
Pretty much what’s going on in the States right now. The idea that slowly, slowly, slowly, governments can lie to you outright.
I don’t think we’re that far off [from the society of The Handmaid’s Tale] – maybe one terrorist attack away from people willing to have martial law take over. Willing to give up some of their rights to they can feel a little safer.
If something radical were to happen in the States, it would take maybe a week before we started to see changes in Canada. Not necessarily governed by them, but everything affects us – we consume their news, entertainment, and many other parts of their culture.
The way we get news now, it seems like we’re drowning in this doomsday environment. I have two young children, so it does worry me quite a bit.
You can currently catch the unflappable Amanda Brugel as Rita on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, showing on Bravo in Canada. Brugel is also currently starring in an Showcase series called Eyewitness.