“The Handmaid’s Tale lines up so perfectly parallel with my own beliefs,” explained the actress, who has been a member of the Church of Scientology since childhood.
Elisabeth Moss may have first shot to fame in Mad Men, but she became a household name when she took on the role of Offred/June in the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name.
The critically-acclaimed show, as fans will already know, takes place in Gilead, a near-future version of North America in which the Constitution has been overthrown. As a result of this, women’s rights and identities have been stripped away, with fertile women being rounded up, red tagged, and forced into a life of sexual servitude and surrogacy.
However, Moss has received criticism from some quarters, who have dubbed her a “hypocrite” for joining the cast of the show. Why? Because she has been a member of the Church of Scientology – a religion around which rumours of a rigid culture of fear and suppression have long swirled – since childhood.
The religion has been accused of homophobia thanks to the writings of its founder, L Ron Hubbard, and it has been claimed that Church leaders attempt to brainwash and control the lives of some worshippers.
The Church is also notorious for retaliating against people who speak out publicly against Scientology – whether they are former members of the Church or journalists who have investigated the religion. Hubbard, who died in 1986, introduced a formal policy called “attack the attacker”, resulting in multiple lawsuits against those who criticise Scientology in the press. Many critics of the religion also say that they have been subjected to threats and harassment in their private lives.
In an eloquent new interview, though, Moss has done her best to clarify her own religious beliefs, and explained how they inspired her to take on her role in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, she said: “It’s a complicated thing because the things that I believe in, I can only speak to my personal experience and my personal beliefs. 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. I don’t ever want to take that away from anybody, because that actually is very important to me.”
Moss continued, “I should hope that people educate themselves for themselves and form their own opinion, as I have. 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. 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 went on to underline her own right to freedom of speech, noting: “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. 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.
The actress added: “It’s a lot to get into and unpack that I can’t do. But that is not my bag. I am obviously a huge feminist and huge supporter of the LGBTQ community and believe so strongly 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 show. 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.”
Moss, who rarely speaks about her beliefs publicly, previously shot down the suggestion that Scientology resembles the repressive state of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale.
The actress posted a photo on Instagram in which she thanked fans for attending an event promoting the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale. In the comments, Instagram user @moelybanks asked whether starring in the hit dystopian drama had made Moss “think twice about Scientology”.
“Both Gilead and Scientology both believe that all outside sources (aka news) are wrong or evil… it’s just very interesting,” they wrote.
In response, Moss said that “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.”
Moss added that it was because of these beliefs that “Gilead and THT hit me on a very personal level. Thanks for the interesting question!”
It appears to be this anti-media sentiment that @moelybanks was referring to in their Instagram question to Moss. However, it is not particularly surprising that Moss was unwilling to go into much detail in her response, given that the actor has previously refused to answer questions about her faith.
“It is weird for me to be put in the position where I am like, ‘No, I can’t. I don’t really want to talk about this,’” Moss told the Guardian in 2015. She said that while she understood “the curiosity… you have a right to your privacy.”
Read Stylist’s exclusive interview with Elisabeth Moss here.