As dream gigs go, they don’t come much better than directing The Handmaid’s Tale.
For Aussie Daina Reid it was also her first overseas series, secured via her US agent. Reid, who has directed Romper Stomper, Sunshine, INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, helms episodes 11 and 12 of the 13-part season.
“It was incredible. I still pinch myself,” she tells TV Tonight.
“I didn’t tell anybody about it because I thought ‘It can’t be real. I don’t want to jinx it.’
“I feel as though I came to it as a viewer. A fan. And then suddenly I was in the ‘world,’ which was a real treat. But you catch yourself sometimes, walking down the street and all the handmaids walk past you.
‘What was wonderful was working with people at the absolute top of their game.
But it didn’t feel that dissimilar to working here.”
The offer to work on the series came as a result of her work on ABC’s The Secret River, with filming taking place in chilly Toronto.
“If you look at the way The Secret River is shot and the way that Handmaid’s is shot, there are similarities in the way we approached it. It was a very personal journey,” she explains.
“We all strive to achieve so much here with a lot of limitations with budget that I guess Australian directors get a lot of practice, bringing in things in the face of adversity. So I think it fit really well.
“It was minus 20 on my first day of shooting”
“But it was minus 20 on my first day of shooting, outside, in the snow! So being an Australian was to my detriment! You suddenly realise ‘This jacket is rubbish!’
“I’d never experienced cold like it, and I’ve been to Iceland and I thought that was cold. But it’s extremely mild, it only gets to about minus 8 there!”
Reid read scripts for the full second season followed by discussions with showrunner Bruce Miller and meetings with various heads of departments, including Aussie Zoe White, one of two Directors of Photography on the show.
“We would go out to a location together and I would say ‘This is what I’m thinking’ and for difficult sequences we storyboarded it over a couple of weekends with a storyboard artist. But that’s what I would do in Australia too.
“You have to embrace the rules of that world.”
“One of the great meetings I had was with the Costume Designer. You don’t realise how much detail is in that work, because of the rules of Gilead in terms of what they wear or what they have and don’t have. As soon as you bring change to something it affects everything,” Reid continues.
“One meeting I had with the Production Designer was about little things, like stuff that you have in drawers. Because women do not see any writing in Gilead, everything is in symbols.
“So you have to embrace the rules of that world. A cupboard full of food and tins has no writing on it. It all has to be symbols. So you slowly immerse yourself in that reality. And it’s a fairly bleak reality, but incredible.”
She also had a 3 hour session with actress Elisabeth Moss.
“That never happens. It’s a gift. I thought it was normal but then I realised it was not, so I was very lucky,” she recalls.
“She was amazing, and because she is an Executive Producer on the show she has a lot of power in terms of the journey we take her on.”
“She was teasing me, because she was speaking to me in an Australian accent.”
Moss had never filmed with Reid before but she had worked on Australian productions through Top of the Lake. It was an experience she cheekily drew upon during their conversations.
“She would start talking to me and I would realise she was teasing me, because she was speaking to me in an Australian accent,” Reid laughs.
“I couldn’t hear it of course when she was doing it, but then it would dawn on me.
“Her Australian accent is pretty good!”
There are also other Aussies at work on Handmaid’s Tale, with Kate Dennis having directed on Season 1 and Yvonne Strahovksi playing Serena Joy Waterford, wife of Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes).
“Yvonne is an incredible actor, so unlike Serena Joy. She is so intuitive and brings a vulnerability to a very difficult character. She brings such an elegance to it.
“If you read the book she could be older, and much more ‘evil witch’ but Yvonne brings such ambiguity and ambivalence. Sometimes you feel sorry for her!
“I can’t say enough nice things about that cast.”
“Joseph Fiennes is the most lovely person and a wonderful actor, with a brilliant mind. They were all a joy to work with. Max Minghella (Nick Blaine), Ann Dowd (Aunt Lydia), I can’t say enough nice things about that cast. They are all the best at what they do and bring such nuance to the work.”
Also now at the top of her own game, Reid is in demand, heading to the UK for a secret TV project. No doubt her agent will be fielding even more offers once episodes 11 & 12 screen. While she doesn’t plan to track social media responses to the broadcast, she is looking forward to watching them playout in real time, in all their dystopian bleakness.
“I don’t want to spoil it for anybody but the season is very exciting and it works as a whole.”
The Handmaid’s Tale returns with a double episode at 8:30pm tonight on SBS (5pm AEST SBS On Demand).