On the popular Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, actress Ann Dowd plays the ruthless Aunt Lydia — a woman in charge of subjecting other women to the vicious sexual and reproductive laws of society. Though Dowd has been acting regularly since the early 1990s, The Handmaid’s Tale is perhaps her most high-profile role. In an interview with the Observer, Dowd spoke about how she became an actress and why she isn’t so quick to judge Aunt Lydia’s ways.
Surprisingly, Dowd did not initially pursue acting in school although that is where her heart was. It took a painful personal experience to push her to go for it. She explains, “I did four years of pre-med. I was not raised with an education that said ‘follow your heart.’ My parents thought of acting as a wonderful hobby, but they thought that my serious life would be something else. When you lose a parent early—my father died when I was 18, and many lose parents sooner—it is an eye-opening experience that makes you look at things differently. And I had a few influences that said, ‘You can do this if you want to.’ It was very subtle, but over time I had a strong feeling: I understand this and love this, and this is what I want to do.”
Though many view Aunt Lydia as the personification of everything wrong with the world of The Handmaid’s Tale, Dowd reveals that she tries to see the layers to her character. She says, “Like any relationship, if you judge the other person, the relationship stops in terms of growth and understanding. It all depends how you view the characters. It’s a love story of sorts, in my opinion: ‘Let me tell you about me, and you tell me about you.'”