Elisabeth Moss Opens Up About Scientology And Her Role On ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
The actress recently discussed her relationship with Scientology.
Though a longtime member of the Church of Scientology, Elisabeth Moss has rarely opened up about her participation in it — until now. In a recent interview with the Daily Beast, the actress discussed her relationship with Scientology and responded to criticism that its teachings conflict with the fiercely feminist roles she’s known for, including that of June Osbourne, aka Offred, in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Here’s a look at what Moss had to say about Scientology and the timeliness of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” as well as more details on the upcoming season of the hit show.
Moss Has Practiced Scientology For Years
Moss first decided to embrace Scientology after her family introduced her to it. She spoke about it in a 2012 interview with the Telegraph, stating, “It’s not the same thing as going to church on Sunday. It’s self-applied. It involves reading — you have to make a choice.”
Of what drew her to the religion, she explained, “Some people say that yoga really helps them to feel centered. And some people feel that being vegan is something that makes them more of themselves. Or Kaballah. Or there’s Buddhism or whatever. I mean, I think that for me it’s one thing that has helped me at times, and it’s kind of as simple as that.”
A Sci-Fi Writer Founded Scientology In 1953
Writer L. Ron Hubbard created Scientology in 1953, centering the practice on the beliefs he outlined his book, “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.” Before becoming known as the founder of Scientology, Hubbard was a prolific science fiction and fantasy writer, penning works like “To the Stars,” “Fear” and “Typewriter in the Sky.” He died in 1986 at the age of 74, shortly after suffering a stroke.
What Is Scientology?
The practice of Scientology consists of a series of extremely complicated processes and texts, but here’s a very brief overview. Scientology describes itself as a religion that operates around the belief that humans minds are clouded by traumas and the reactions triggered by them, which prevents us from truly experiencing reality.
To counteract that, members of the Church of Scientology must activate their analytical mind rather than their reactive mind through a process known as auditing. As CNN describes, “Members of the religion submit to a process called auditing to find the sources of this trauma, reliving those experiences in an attempt to neutralize them and reassert the primacy of the analytic mind, working toward a spiritual state called ‘clear.’”
Scientology Has Drawn Widespread Criticism
The Church of Scientology is controversial, to say the least. Dozens of groups and individuals, including scientists, practicing members of the medical community and even former members of the church, have publicly opposed the organization’s practices. Many have also questioned whether Scientology should count as a legitimate religion.
Moss Considers Herself a Feminist
In addition to being a practicing member of the Church of Scientology, Moss has openly identified herself as a feminist for years. The actress, known for playing strong and quietly radical characters, has previously discussed the importance of taking ownership of one’s feminism.
“The great thing that’s happening now is there’s such a resurgence in girls, in youth culture. Of women kind of recognizing what feminism is again. Of taking ownership of feminism again. Of not being ashamed of it,” she told InStyle back in 2015. “There’s sort of this new wave of feminism that I’ve seen happen over the last decade. And I think it’s fantastic.”
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Has Won Praise For Its Commentary On Women’s Rights
Since its 2017 debut, “The Handmaid’s Tale” has earned widespread praise for its chillingly resonant portrayal of the deprival of women’s rights and the quiet ways in which women must fight for survival and power in a radically conservative society run by men. The show also poses a warning about failing to recognize the gendered and categorical stripping of civil liberties until it’s too late. As countless headlines have pointed out, the series — based on Marget Atwood’s politically charged book of the same name — became even more eerily relevant in the wake of the 2016 election to some observers.
Moss Has Been Labeled The ‘Queen of Peak TV’
Moss has starred in three groundbreaking shows — “The West Wing,” “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” — in now-iconic roles. Her shrewd choices have garnered her the title of “Queen of Peak TV,” which Moss says she takes as “a huge compliment.”
“I look back on actors of yesteryear, and we live in a world now that’s so different — with social media, how you have to do press for a movie because the market is so flooded — and I think that an actor should not be identified as themself; I think that an actor should be able to melt into any role,” she told The Daily Beast.
She also explained that its important for her to have variety in roles, saying, “So me having autonomy is very valuable to me, because I want people to be able to see me as the character I’m playing, and I don’t want them to see me as myself. I’ve approached everything from such a character standpoint that it’s so boring to me to do the same thing.”
She’s Been Criticized For How Scientology Conflicts With Feminism
Moss has seemingly cornered the market on playing fiercely complex women with a rebellious streak. Given her history of feminist roles, some have criticized her participation in Scientology, which seems at odds with the themes Moss has built a career on.
In response to this critique, Moss says people are entitled to their own opinions.“One of the things I believe in is freedom of speech. I believe we as humans should be able to critique things. I believe in freedom of the press. I believe in people being able to speak their own opinions,” she told The Daily Beast. “I don’t ever want to take that away from anybody, because that actually is very important to me. At the same time, I should hope that people educate themselves for themselves and form their own opinion, as I have. “
Moss Says The Messages In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Align With Her Own Beliefs
The extreme world of “The Handmaid’s Tale” helps to highlight and reiterate the importance of core American values, such as the freedom of speech. In this way, Moss says the show is an accurate reflection of her own beliefs.
As she explained, “The things that I believe in personally, for me, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ and the ability to do something that is artistically fulfilling but is also personally fulfilling, I’ve never had that,” she told the Daily Beast. “‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ lines up so perfectly parallel with my own beliefs in freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the things that this country was actually built on.”
Moss Typically Keeps Her Religious Practice Private
Moss says fielding questions about controversial topics like politics and religion makes for a “strange situation,” even though “The Handmaid’s Tale” centers around both subjects.
“I choose to express myself in my work and my art. I don’t choose to express myself about it in interviews,” she said. “I don’t choose to talk about not just religion, but my personal life — who I’m dating and that kind of thing. So for me, it’s so hard to unpack in a sound bite or an interview, but I will say that the things that I truly believe in are the things that I’ve mentioned, and I think that they’re very important.”
Moss Says People Have a Right to Believe What They Want
Despite the criticism, Moss stands by her involvement with the Church of Scientology and says that censoring anyone’s beliefs would be like entering Gilead, the totalitarian society overtaken by a fundamentalist sect in “Handmaid’s.”
“I think people should be allowed to talk about what they want to talk about and believe what they want to believe and you can’t take that away — and when you start to take that away, when you start to say “you can’t think that,” “you can’t believe that,” “you can’t say that,” then you get into trouble. Then you get into Gilead,” she said.
She also added, “So whatever happens, I’m never going to take away your right to talk about something or believe something, and you can’t take away mine.”
There’s One Part Of Scientology She Doesn’t Agree With
Though she might stand by her right to practice Scientology, there is at least one aspect that Moss says doesn’t mirror her own belief system: the Church’s historically anti-LGBT stance.
“It’s like, it’s a lot to get into and unpack that I can’t do. But that is not my bag,” she said. “I am obviously a huge feminist and huge supporter of the LGBTQ community and believe so strongly — I can’t even tell you — in people being able to do what they want to do, to love who they want to love, to be the person that they want to be — whoever that is.”
“To me, it’s a huge reason why I love doing [‘The Handmaid’s Tale’],” she elaborated. “That’s all I can say. I can’t speak to what other people believe, I can’t speak to what other people’s experiences have been. That’s where I stand and the only place I can speak from is my own.”
She Feels A Responsibility To Tell ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
As women’s rights, particularly those related to healthcare, continues to be a point of contention in politics, “The Handmaid’s Tale” seems more relevant than ever. Of starring in such a timely and thematically significant show, Moss says, “It’s an honor. We went to D.C. and shot at the Lincoln Memorial, and I find it incredibly moving what Lincoln stood for, what’s written on the walls, what those monuments stand for. The principles that this country was built on are important and we’re losing them — and perhaps we’ve already lost them. You feel a sense of responsibility and you feel honored telling this story at this time.”
Moss Says Her Character Represents Something Bigger
Being the face of a show like “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a big responsibility, but Moss says it’s gratifying to play a symbolic character like June.
“I believe that June stands for any person — man, woman, whatever you want to identify as, whoever you want to love, whoever you want to believe — who’s had their human rights taken away, who’s been abused, or who’s felt like they didn’t have a choice, or felt like they couldn’t live the life they wanted to live,” she said. “You can take the personal and make it political very quickly, and that’s my job: to put a face to the people who don’t have that, and to give a voice to the people who don’t have a voice.”
This Isn’t the First Time Scientology Has Stirred Up Controversy For Moss
Moss has faced questions about Scientology, and specifically how the practice lines up the theme of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” before. In 2017, an Instagram user asked the actress whether the Hulu series made her “think twice about Scientology,” given “both Gilead and Scientology both believe that all outside sources (aka news) are wrong or evil.”
Moss responded, “That’s actually not true at all about Scientology. Religious freedom and tolerance and understanding the truth and equal rights for every race, religion and creed are extremely important to me. The most important things to me probably. And so Gilead and THT hit me on a very personal level. Thanks for the interesting question!”
Moss Has Drawn A Backlash For Past Comments On Feminism In The Show
This also isn’t the first time that Moss has commented on feminism in “The Handmaid’s Tale.” In 2017, Moss came under fire after she seemed reluctant to label the show as a feminist story.
“For me, it’s not a feminist story,” Moss said during a panel at the Tribeca Film Festival. “It’s a human story because women’s rights are human rights. I never expected to play Offred as a feminist.”
She Later Defended Her Comments
Moss clarified her statements to the New York Times a couple of months later, say, “What I should have said is that it is not only a feminist story, but it is also a human story. Obviously, it is first and foremost a feminist story. I play a woman who has had her child and her family taken away from her, and all of her rights as a woman stripped and who is essentially a prisoner.”
She added, “But I was trying to say that it is also a human story in the sense that there are other groups — other races, colors, and creeds — who are punished and maligned and are not given the right to be heard as well.”
The Theme of Resistance Will Be Alive And Well In Season 3
For anyone wondering, the theme of women-led rebellion isn’t going anywhere in season three. If anything, the show seems to be doubling down on the idea of resistance, as exemplified by Hulu’s description of the upcoming season.
The official description reads: “Season Three of The Handmaid’s Tale is driven by June’s resistance to the dystopian regime of Gilead and her struggle to strike back against overwhelming odds. Startling reunions, betrayals, and a journey to the terrifying heart of Gilead force all characters to take a stand, guided by one defiant prayer: ‘Blessed be the fight.’”
Motherhood Will Continue To Be A Major Theme
June’s daughters serve as her primary motivation in her fight to survive and escape Gilead. This theme of motherhood, particularly as tied to rebellion, will continue to be an important factor in season three.
“The whole show, all of Gilead is based around motherhood. That idea of motherhood and female roles, and sovereignty over their bodies, it’s going to be a theme all the way through. But continuing forward, [Offred] has quite a look on her face at the end of season two, and she’s ready to fight. I don’t know that I’d get between June and Hannah at that point. I would be afraid,” showrunner and creator Bruce Miller told The Hollywood Reporter last summer.
Season 3 Will Focus On June’s Fight For Her Daughter
After entrusting her newborn daughter, Nicole, to Emily at the end of season two, June chooses to stay in Gilead, rather than escaping with the pair, in an effort to rescue her first child, Hannah. Season three will follow June on her journey to save her eldest daughter.
“I think that she’s ready to fight. She’s ready to rise up, and ready to take some chances and use all the skills she’s learned over the last three years that she’s developed in Gilead: the survival skills, the manipulation skills, just the strategic skills that she’s learned,” Miller said. “She’s going to bring them all to bear on hurting Gilead and also helping her daughter, helping Hannah.”
June Will Have A Little More Freedom In Season 3
Miller also revealed that June will be able to exert a little more control within the rigid society of Gilead in season three.
“She’s going to maneuver herself into a position where she’s less brutalized and has more control and more freedom to possibly find her daughter, or to strike out against Gilead,” he explained, per The Hollywood Reporter. “Our scale in season three is really the scale of resistance, and the scale of uprising. She’s finding new areas of weakness inside Gilead.”
Expect To See More Locations Outside of Gilead
Season two expanded the scope of the world of Gilead by introducing the Colonies. Season three will continue to showcase different areas of the world, including its version of Washington, D.C.
“In Gilead, we went to the Colonies, and in the book there’s a bunch of different kinds of Colonies. There’s a huge swath of anything outside of the Boston area that we haven’t seen, including Washington, D.C., which is the seat of power in Gilead,” Miller said, adding he hopes to explore questions like, “What does D.C. look like now? How much of it harkens back to its American past, and how much of it is very firmly in the Gilead present?”
Season 3 Will Have A More Triumphant Feel
Season two was full of brutal scenes, leading some critics to claim that the show had become “torture porn.” But while life in Gilead isn’t about to become easy, there may be some hope in season three.
Miller has suggested that there will be a more triumphant tone in season three, saying, “I think season three, there’s a level of triumph and [a notion of] ‘blessed be the fight,’ that is part of that. Certainly, we’re going to hit ups and downs, just like we did this season, but that there’s kind of a level of rebellious spirit in June that will make her more hard-charging, and the victories will be a little bit more visceral.”
The Show Could Have Many Seasons Ahead
As of now, it remains unclear how many more seasons the show has ahead of it. In early 2018, ahead of season two, Miller said he had sketched out about 10 seasons that go beyond the current world and could detail the eventual fall of Gilead.
However, he later seemed to change his tune, clarifying that the show will only go on as long as there’s a good story to tell. “I don’t like TV shows that dribble off or overstay their welcome,” he said last summer. “When we get to the end of ‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ I want it to be a beautiful piece of fiction, like the book, that you put a little bow around and you can put it on your shelf next to the book, and that it feels like a story well told from beginning to end.”
Margaret Atwood Wrote A Sequel That Will Come Out This Year
The story of “The Handmaid’s Tale” is growing in more ways than one. Aside from having the third season of the critically acclaimed Hulu series to look forward to, a sequel novel, penned by Atwood, will also arrive this year. “The Testaments” will take place 15 years after the events of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” although it reportedly won’t coincide with the plot of the TV adaptation. The book will hit shelves on Sept. 10.