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Samira Wiley Gushes About Her Emmy Nod for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

Hulu’s "The Handmaid’s Tale" racked up 13 Emmy nominations after its first season. The show, based on Margaret Atwood’s book “The Handmaid’s Tale,” is set in a dystopian society called Gilead, where handmaids are tasked with producing children for Commanders and their wives.

There has been a lot of buzz around the show, causing people to reflect on the state of our society in the current political climate. On Friday, NBC News caught up with Samira Wiley, who plays Moira, in the series, to celebrate her Emmy nomination for “Best Supporting Actress,” and to hear her thoughts on diversity, identity and the impact of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Image: Samira Wiley
Moira, played by Samira Wiley, is Offred's (Elisabeth Moss) best friend from college, her fellow handmaid-in-training at the Red Center, and a connection to life before Gilead. Jill Greenberg / Hulu

What did you do to celebrate your Emmy nomination Thursday night?

Well last night I had a wrap party for another project I was involved in, so there was already a party planned for this one thing and I was able to sort of double celebrate.

"The Handmaids Tale" is nominated in 13 Emmy Awards, when you first started the show did you know it would be so well received?

I mean like there’s always a feeling on set, I feel like I had it with "Orange" [Orange Is The New Black] as well, that you feel like you’re doing something that means something, you feel like it’s special, but there is no way that I could have predicted how people were going to consume it.

Speaking of "Orange," your former co-star Uzo Aduba is nominated in the same category as you, have you heard from her at all?

Yea, we definitely texted yesterday about it.

Amongst all the shows that are nominated for an Emmy Award, is there a show that you watch that you’re excited to see nominated?

I’m a big fan of “Stranger Things,” but honestly it is hard to really think about anything except for “The Handmaid’s Tale” because of all of the work that we put into it.

Are you surprised that so many people have started watching?

I think the show is of such great quality, people hear from word of mouth how great the show is, it has also permeated the culture in such a way, you have people walking around in handmaids costumes and it’s really just everywhere. So I’m not surprised that everyone is trying to watch it because it is television of our time.

You talked about the cultural impact of "Handmaid’s Tale," and I know that a lot of people have been comparing the experience of the handmaids in the show to Black women’s experiences during slavery. Do you see that reflected in the story?

Wow. Definitely. Any time in history when people have been oppressed, this points to all of that, to make sure that people in this time are remaining vigilant, so that we don’t repeat our history. I think that is a great example of something in history that this can invoke in people.

The entertainment industry has been criticized for its lack of diversity, what are your thoughts, has that affect you as an actress?

It’s interesting. My time as an actor, having my career be so young still, I’ve been in this fairy tale land where I feel like it hasn’t really affected me or my career and I feel naïve in that way. My first project was “Orange Is The New Black.”

I was surrounded by nothing but women, women of color, women of all shapes and sizes and now working on “The Handmaid’s Tale” I’m also in this place of being surrounded by an amazing cast of women.

This book was written over 30 years ago but in this telling of it we have Black people in it – I’m playing Moira, we have O.T. Fagbenle who plays Luke. So I’ve somehow been caught up in this ideal for the rest of how Hollywood can go, having a career like mine is where we want to move forward to so people don’t have too many experiences of discrimination.

Tell me about your role as Moira in "The Handmaid’s Tale," especially being a Black actress who’s taking on a role that when it was originally written didn’t have a Black woman in mind?

Yes, one thing that is so great about the show is we do have the author of the book, Margaret Atwood, and she is a consulting producer on the project, and it’s so encouraging to hear from her mouth why she feels this is so important to have these characters represent more than just the white experience and she is completely on board with the creative choices that Bruce Miller, our show runner, and the rest of the creative team has made.

I actually hadn’t read the book before I signed on to the project, I read it afterwards, so to me, I’ve always seen Moira as what I can bring to her. She is a Black gay woman now, which I am also, and I feel like I can bring so much to her just by having that experience and walking through the world like this every day.

So I’ve always thought of her as that, just because I came to it after being cast as a Black woman and being able to see the story in that way.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

I’m elated, I’m so happy, I’m so surprised, I’m so honored and I’m happy to be talking to you right now about it because this is amazing!

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