One of The Handmaid’s Tale’s greatest strengths was how it expanded the book’s first-person narrative into a more detailed world, complete with backstories for some of the lesser-known characters. Unfortunately, one of the most interesting villains of the season hasn’t gotten the same treatment, but the woman who won an Emmy for playing her has already come up with her possible backstory.
Actress Ann Dowd recently shared some details about the story she came up with for Aunt Lydia, the lead educator at the Red Center Offred is forced to go to after being captured by Gileadean forces. Even though the character and performance were notable enough to warrant Dowd an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, very little has actually been revealed about her. It was one of my bigger issues with the first season, and something I hope is rectified in the next one.
Since Aunt Lydia wasn’t given a backstory in the first season, Dowd told Variety that she went to showrunner Bruce Miller and asked if he had any ideas of what it could be. His answer: “I think she was a teacher,” something Dowd said made a lot of sense, adding that she may have taught at an all-girls’ academy. She then described the tragic story she’s since made up for Dowd, about a young woman who was mistreated when she was younger, became hardened against those who represented her mistakes, and found Gilead as the perfect outlet for her anger and newfound piety.
Maybe she got pregnant at 14 and her parents shunned her and took that baby, and she said to God, “If you just give me one more chance I’ll never be bad again. I’ll do everything you ask of me.” Why do people go to hardcore divinity? There has to be a reason. I’m generalising here, but if Lydia is a teacher, and they’re making fun of her with her long skirts or whatever it is and disrespecting her constantly, and everywhere she looks there are girls in low cut shirts. They’re going straight to Hell; they have got no relationship to God. And in our world, the level of pollution is so extreme with birthrates falling. So I think she went all-in.
Dowd added that she’d love for Aunt Lydia’s story to be expanded in the next season. As to whether she’d be disappointed if it turned out to be different than how she imagined, she said she trusts Miller and the writers to make the best story possible for The Handmaid’s Tale. However, she does believe she and Miller “are pretty much on the same page”.