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Why ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Star Elisabeth Moss Shot June’s ‘Cathartic’ Testimony in One Long Take

”I didn’t want to give the audience a chance to look away,“ Hulu star tells TheWrap

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Episode 408 of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” titled “Testimony.”)

Elisabeth Moss pulled double duty for Wednesday’s episode of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” sitting in the director’s chair for the hour, which saw her character June give her well-overdue testimony against her former captors, Fred and Serena Joy Waterford (Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski). And being behind the camera meant Moss had two perspectives to think about while delivering that monologue detailing the atrocities the Waterfords inflicted upon her during the first three seasons of the Hulu drama.

First, there was the actor side, which pushed her to ask for the entire speech to be written out by the “Handmaid’s Tale” team, led on this episode by writer Kira Snyder.

“Originally in the script, we didn’t have the whole testimony written because, my God, that’s so long,” Moss told TheWrap. “You know, how are we going to recap the whole show? So in the original script, the whole testimony wasn’t written — it was maybe half of what you see in Episode 8, with some fading in and fading out throughout the speech. So we sort of cut throughout it. And when I got the script, I asked, ‘Can we write the whole thing? Can you just do me a favor and write the whole speech?’ Because I thought, you know what, let’s try and if it doesn’t work, we won’t use all of it and we’ll figure out another way to do it. But I thought, we may have earned this moment and regardless, as an actor, I needed the whole speech anyway, you know? So they wrote the whole thing.”

Next, Moss put her director’s hat on and decided that not only was she going to do the entire speech, but she was going to shoot it straight through.

“Then we had this crazy idea to do it in one take. We also didn’t know if that was going to work, but we just took a chance and did it,” the Hulu star said. “And it felt cathartic for me as an actor. It feels cathartic for the audience. The reason why we did it in one take was I didn’t want to give the audience a chance to look away, in the same way that June is forcing that courtroom, the ICC, Fred and Serena, to face everything they have done to her and her friends and family over the last few years. I wanted the audience to not be able to look away and have to hear the whole thing. So it was a difficult thing to shoot.”

Moss said it took two days to shoot the entire courtroom sequence, and she saved her own speech for the second day so that she could focus on directing her co-stars on day one.

“I wanted the chance to just get everybody else — let’s do everyone else so I can just go, ‘OK, that’s done. I’ve got what I need. Now let’s just do the speech.’ It also gave me a chance to memorize it,” Moss said, laughing.

“Even though I had it here, what I discovered was if it wasn’t memorized, the whole thing was going to be like this,” the Emmy winner said, looking down. “So I had to memorize it. It was a challenging thing. But I’m really proud of it. I think it really worked.”

A new episode of Season 4 of “The Handmaid’s Tale” launches next Wednesday on Hulu.