Actor Sydney Sweeney had never watched The Handmaid’s Tale until she landed an audition for the hit show.
Initially, she figured she would just watch the first episode to get a feeling for the dystopian series. Fast forward a few hours and she had binged season one in one sitting—and then, after telling her mom about it, she watched it a second time within that same week. Stars, they’re just like us, amiright?
“The story line is so out-there, but still so relatable that it’s scary. That’s why I said, “Mom, you got to see this”—because somehow this is relating to our world right now,” says Sweeney, adding that the show prompted a mother-daughter conversation about what it means to be a woman in the world at this moment in time.
And after getting cast in The Handmaid’s Tale, Sweeney is now part of a show that is prompting those discussions among viewers.
Sweeney was cast to play Eden, a character who is not in the original book and who makes her first appearance in episode five of season two as Nick’s 15-year-old bride. In addition to watching the first season and reading the book, Sweeney prepared for this role by building a book about Eden’s backstory. In it, she imagined that Eden came from a a religious family in a small town, and because there wouldn’t be many other kids in her life, she grew close to her family’s farm animals. In fact, Eden was raised in Gilead and doesn’t know about any other life, which Sweeney says makes her distinctly different than other wives, like Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski).
“From my perspective, Serena struggles with not being able to be that woman that she used to be, where Eden would never know that,” explains Sweeney. “Eden would never know of, “Oh I can say this back to somebody,” or “Oh I can take control of this,” or “Oh this is what love is,” because in Eden’s world, love isn’t what it used to be.”
Despite landing the role in October—right when the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke—and filming while the Time’s Up movement was picking up steam and red carpets were turning into protest marches, Sweeney says that she didn’t find it hard to get into the mindset of Eden.
“It’s very easy for me to drop the outside world when I step into Eden’s shoes, or any character’s shoes,” she says. But while Sweeney doesn’t consider herself a political person, she says that since joining the show, she’s reading “way more” than she had before.
“I think that I am still trying to learn everything,” says Sweeney, an American whose previous credits include Netflix’s Everything Sucks!. “I mean, I’m 20-years-old, I’m in college now and growing up I was from a small town myself so I wasn’t educated that much in the whole entire outside world and now diving into it, I want to be able to know everything that there is to know before I make my decisions and before I voice my opinion because I don’t want to make an uneducated guess.”
That’s a major contrast from her character on the show. Given the restrictions on women in Gilead, Sweeney says that Eden likely wouldn’t be able to read (She imagines that even the Bible would have been read to her by the men in her life). And while Eden wasn’t in the original books, fleshing out these types of details has helped Sweeney bring Eden to life—details like what her name could foreshadow.
“I believe it’s it’s like the garden of Eden,” says Sweeney. “Just this very innocent, pure, dangerous little girl.”
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