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Interview: Sam Jaeger on Joining ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and Fleshing Out His Character

Over the course of its first three seasons, The Handmaid’s Tale has featured a fantastic ensemble, including series regulars Joseph Fiennes and Ann Dowd, who were interviewed by Awards Radar for the show’s fourth season debut. A few new faces have joined throughout its run, but most have not lasted (or lived) long enough to make a real impression. One of the notable exceptions is Sam Jaeger as Mark Tuello, a representative of what still exists of the United States government, fighting Gilead from outside its borders.

Jaeger is a familiar TV face, with key roles in the past few years on shows like Why Women Kill and The Politician. Awards Radar had the chance to speak with Jaeger about how it feels to join an already successful show midway into its run, who his character really is, and what it’s like to work with Yvonne Strahovski, his most frequent screen partner to date. Read the conversation below or watch the interview video at the bottom of this post.

Q: Were you a fan of this show before you joined? Had you seen it?

A: I was. I had seen it. And when the opportunity came up to be a part of it, and it was such a small part in season two, that I realized it’s rare that you get to be a part of a project that is this beloved already. And even in season two, it just right out of the gate had so had so much to say, and said it so well, that I thought I would like to be a part of this in any way I can.

Q: What is it like to join a show that’s already established, and that people have their relationships, especially when you’re in this sort of tangential role where you don’t really get to interact with most of the cast?

A: Well, you know, that’s kind of my bread and butter. I come into projects that are already well oiled, and I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin, so I don’t need to make friends. That sounds sinister or whatever, but I’m pretty comfortable just kind of coming in and meeting people. And I like figuring out the dynamics of a show. And a lot of times, they can be pretty contentious. And there’s none of that on this show. Which is such a breath of fresh air, even hearing from drivers and craft service people and actors and crew, how they all get along. Man, you just want to bottle that up and take it with you. Because it’s the right way to work.

Q: How much do you know about what’s going to happen when you start off a season?

A: Well, not much. More so this season, the more I’m involved, the more I’m interested and privy to information, but at the same time, I like to be delighted by it, I like to be surprised by it. Like the fans. Reading episode ten, this season was kind of fun to still read something that you’re a part of, and read it as a fan. I was just as shocked and excited for where this storyline was going and excited to shoot it and excited to share it with all the people who care so much about this show. So it’s rare to say that after four seasons of the show, normally people are starting to say, yeah, you know, we’re four seasons in and this relationship, we have these people sleep together with those people, and maybe have these people sleep together with those people. We still care as much as we do about making a great show even better. That’s a testament to the people up top – to Bruce and Lizzie.

Q: Do you think the show has an increased relevance now because of what’s going on in the country and in the world?

Yes, I do. There are aspects of it. I think it’s really struck a chord with people. Because it isn’t exactly our world, but we can glean from it. We want to watch stories like as a parable to remind us how to live our lives and what is okay and what’s moral. And so I think people can still enjoy it, that it is not to relevant in every aspect. But there’s a lot of things at stake. I know we have a responsibility as storytellers to show as many sides of this as we can without belittling people. What I love about the show is that there’s nuance to everything, that it’s not, here’s the good guys and here’s the bad guys. We are capable of both, each individual. And I think this show, especially in season four, shows that better than any season before, especially with June’s character.

Q: Well, let’s talk about Mark for a minute I first met him, he seems sort of like a secret agent. And as we get to know more, it seems like he probably is more of a low-level bureaucrat, you know, who has to deal with the mundane aspects of international diplomatic relations. How do you see him?

A: Yeah, I think very much that that that way. He’s trying to navigate these very dynamic personalities this year. And it’s becoming harder and harder. I think he underestimated just how many ways each of these people – Serena, Fred, and even June – are going to try to navigate these waters, and manipulate him for their own aim. And he’s caught in the middle, because he is, like you said, a diplomat. So he’s trying to do right, but he also has an agenda. And it’s not until the very end of the season that we get to see some of that, that veneer that he’s able to put on, start to wear off a little bit, which I think it’ll be really rewarding for people to see, because he’s pretty stoic. It’s always interesting, it’s one of the most, I don’t want to say dry, characters, but on the surface, seemingly dry, straightforward characters that I’ve played. But if you just play that he has no background, that comes across as pretty boring. But when in reality, we just get to see glimpses of him trying to, in the back of his mind, figure out what’s best for the cause in dealing with this very troubling individual in front of him.

Q: You’ve played a lot of other characters who have deep family roots, some of them positive, like on Parenthood, and some I would call much less positive, like The Politician or Why Women Kill when your characters are hardly model men in society. They’re probably not as bad as the men in Gilead. But they’re there somewhere up there.

A: They’re pretty bad. Yeah.

Q: So is there a background to Mark? Is that something that we’ll see at some point or something that you have created, even if it doesn’t come across on screen?

A: Yeah, I think I think we see more, by the end of season four, we really understand Mark better than then we have before. We get to see where his allegiances are, and we get to see his humanity for the, I think for the first time. And like I said, he has to make some decisions that are not easy that he has to navigate and harm individuals for the greater good. And that’s really, it’s fun. It’s fun to do. It’s fun to play, and fun to see as an audience member, where that that storyline goes at the end of the season.

Q: I think what we’ve seen the most of him is his relationship with Serena, which even though he’s not so emotive, I think it is bordering on inappropriate since that he seems to have a real soft spot for her. And I’m curious how that plays out and what your acting dynamic with Yvonne is like?

A: I mean, I love Yvonne. She is just such a bright, positive energy and cares so much about our show. It’s easy to work with her. She’s optimistic, and yet she’s still so dynamic. She still has a lot of the same strength that Serena has. But it’s thankfully a strength that is used for good. Yeah, I think I enjoyed doing the scenes together because it’s kind of like the Victorian-era drama in that there are two characters in this show that none of their relationship is ever spoken. And even at the end of season four, there’s no real emotive moments between them. But we understand the dynamic very well, and how complex it is. And boy, yeah, she’s a fascinating character. And I think it’s not until this season that he realizes just how complex and how dark her past is.

Q: We’ve done a great job of teasing a lot of character development and things that we obviously won’t see for a while, but it’s great to know that getting to know more of Mark is something to look forward to in season four.

A: Well, I’m glad. Thanks.

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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