Joseph Fiennes: A more human face of the regime

– I feel he is sincerely conflicted, but power corrupts easily. It has transformed the Commander into a patriarchal predator,” Joseph Fiennes says of his role. What is the live-action antagonist from the TV series “A Cache Story” like?

Were you familiar with the book A Cache Story beforehand and did you think the series would be such a success?

– I knew I’d be in a very talented company with the brilliant storytelling presented in the book, but I wasn’t prepared for such an amazing response.
I knew about Margaret Atwood’s body of work and the book, but I hadn’t read it until Bruce Miller contacted me. After reading it, I thought it might be difficult to make an adaptation for television screens because the book has a first-person narrative, but it would be interesting to see how a TV series could connect viewers with Offred (June) the way the book does.

– There are many wonderful pieces in the book that are actually internal thoughts. It’s a juggling of thoughts, some of which take up two or even three pages, and it’s all so eminently balanced that I thought: “Well, how would you do this in film or television, with editing and cutting, how would you go about it?” That’s the genius of Bruce and his fellow screenwriters and Lizzie Moss. They’ve managed to connect the audience with this first-person voice-over, through voiceover, cinematography and of course Lizzie’s extraordinary acting.

Did you ever think that this series would become something that is seen as a commentary on reality and the world? Did you ever feel that this series had that power?

– I think A Cache Story has always had that power since it was written over 30 years ago. This amazing piece of feminist literature had its own fan base then, but television gave it a huge reach. We were fortunate in overlapping, as it were, with the current political climate, which has a lot of parallels with the series, and because of that, the overtones of the series became powerful.

You must do some scary things in the series. How do you get into the mind of the Commander?

– Some of the things we have to do during the reenactment, especially the ceremony scene, genuinely affect me. It’s disgusting and brutal . but it’s in the book, and what’s in the book is the key to the mind of the Commander. I feel he is sincerely conflicted, but power corrupts easily. It has transformed the Commander into a patriarchal predator.

Do you think the Commander feels remorse for the decisions he makes as a man with power in Gilead?

– Yes, in a way. his role – which he takes a very fundamentalist approach to – is to fix a morally decaying world. it’s about correcting course. in doing so he is fully aware that there may be painful casualties.
I think it’s interesting that the Commander, however fleetingly, is very aware of the moral implications of the decisions he makes for the good of Gilead. He understands the dilemma and he understands that it’s not going to be without casualties among outsiders. And that makes him wonderfully human, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it because the moral decay that needs to be addressed is more important to him.

– And that’s what I love about him. Ze is dark and scary and complicated, but in reality in his world and his mind everything is directed towards the good of humanity. Also, he finds himself in a position and place that you can’t back out of!

A Cache Story is a series with a lot of strong women – involved in both creating it and producing it. In general, women have more and more roles and functions in film and television. As a man, how do you feel about that?

– I love it. I have two sisters who are directors, one directs documentaries and the other directs films. My mother was a writer and painter, so I’ve been surrounded by dynamic women and the female voice in the arts since I was a kid. I have my wife, two children, the three most important women (and people) in my life. So I think it’s most appropriate and important that we finally talk about this imbalance. I still have a long way to go, though. I’ve worked with many female directors and screenwriters. but it’s still not enough . I’ve often been cast in the second lead role while the first was played by a woman. I feel that in my short journey, in my career, I have always had a balance in this regard. But it’s certainly still a long way to go.

Your character has a different age in the series than in the book. Do you think that gives her an extra dimension?

– Yes, definitely. Season two focuses on birth, and in Gilead so much depends on fertility. The commandant would get a promotion if they had a child, and would wallow in social glory.
For Gilead, fertile women are the foundation and key to survival. The idea that two major figures in the community, who are also the architects of Gilead, in their prime may not be able to have offspring is very impressive. The fertile age and simultaneous inability to conceive add complexity to the characters.

I am always surprised by the moments when the Commander shows affection, love to Serena. What do you think about that?

– I like that you’re surprised, and that Fred still shows love and affection to Serena, and even though that love has waned, there are still moments of reflection and tenderness towards her. This creates a more complex relationship. He invariably shows affection after acts of brutality or when he needs her help. In the second season, their relationship becomes stronger again.

Do you think Serena gives up power for affection? Or do you think the Commander takes her power away because he’s not as original, he’s not as visionary, and she’s the one who actually has all these visions?

– Gilead (and what it is) took away her power and her voice, and Fred was standing by when it happened. I think it’s fair to say that Fred feels a little insecure about the fact that Serena is the real visionary, but it’s the visionary that he fell in love with. I think it has more to do with the fact that she has a voice at a time when he’s been given a new position. He is now the Commander. In addition, I think Gilead gives Fred great power, breeds in him a sense of almost patriarchal invincibility that he is not prepared to cede to Serena in any way.

It’s very easy to identify with the female characters in A Cache Story because we want the best for them. The Commander is antagonistic – is there any relationship the viewer can build with your character?

– As in the book, the antagonist Fred is outlined rather vaguely, as the key theme is the journey and inner life of Offred (June). The same is true of Fred in the series – it’s hard to form any sort of bond with him without exploring his history or inner world. He’s also the face of the regime, the face of what needs to be resisted and fought against, so building too many bonds with him won’t help the protagonists’ journey.

– But my job is to find that bond with the viewer by making him more human. Making him fallible and aware of that fallibility, aware of the human consequences of the decisions he makes for the good of Gilead. I hope that makes him more human. And it’s in that dimension that you can feel some kind of bond building.

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