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Interview: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’s Amanda Brugel Talks ‘Becky’

June 4, 2020Ben MK

For many people, horror movies provide something of a catharthis. And for Amanda Brugel, the experience of acting in one was no different. In Becky, the Kim' Convenience, The Handmaid's Tale and Snowpiercer actress plays a woman terrorized by a group of Neo-Nazis (led by Kevin James, in his first dramatic role). Yet, despite the film's genre trappings, it proves to have some timely things to say about the current world situation.

I caught up with Amanda Brugel to chat about Becky, her recent Canadian Screen Awards win for Kim's Convenience, and what to expect from her The Handmaid's Tale and Snowpiercer characters, as well as to get her thoughts on the current pandemic and the epidemic of systematic racism that has sparked ire in the U.S. and around the world.

First of all, how have you been surviving the quarantine, and how have you been adjusting to the new normal?

Brugel: At the beginning, it was horrific, I'm not going to lie. I was scared — I was scared for my family. We have never, as a collective, experienced anything like this. And then being stuck inside with two young boys in Canada where the weather isn't great [and] we're just isolated in our own space, that was difficult to navigate. I'm used to traveling for work, they're used to going to school, and just adjusting our routines [and] our expectations of one another was very difficult. But then it took a turn cuz I realized we had to come up with different games and learn how to spend family time differently together. So actually, in the last little while, especially since the weather's [improved], it's been quite lovely.

Speaking of surviving, that's definitely top of mind for your character, Kayla, in Becky. What was it that drew you to this film?

Brugel: A couple things. I've never done a genre film like this — or at least I've never done one like this in about twenty years. And so I wanted to switch it up and do something different. My father had passed away about three weeks before I was offered the role, and I knew that I had a chance to run and scream and kick and just spend a lot of time getting my anger out in the woods. So that was really, really compelling. [laughs] Also, I loved the idea that at the end of the day the two female characters were the ones that came out on top. Genre films are changing, but still the narrative is [usually that] the guy saves the day. I love the idea that this thirteen-year-old and this woman are the ones who were able to beat the bad guys.

Do you enjoy genre films in general?

Brugel: No, I do not. [laughs] I have a blast doing them because it's so fun. It's so much fun to suspend your disbelief and just play scared, but watching it — no. I left Braveheart when I watched it in the theater — I get scared during episodes of CSI. I can't do it. But I watched Becky and I was highly entertained just because I knew all the little things that went into the stunts and that went into the gore and into the prosthetics. I still cringed quite a bit, so I'm not going to be watching genre — or horror — films anytime soon.

Even though Becky falls squarely into the horror-thriller category, there is some surprising subtext regarding the dangers of giving in to the same kind of hatred one may be trying to fight back against. Do you see those parallels as well?

Brugel: At the time, when we filmed it, these types of conversations just didn't happen. It's always percolating under the surface — there's always been extreme racial divides, it's just that we never spoke of them until now. So when we started, I didn't really see that. But speaking about the film as of late, I think it's a really important and a really cool message for viewers — particularly younger viewers — to see. How you can overcome something and you can be strong and use your voice as a kid. But it's interesting because the idea of race in the film isn't really addressed. It's sort of alluded to.

Speaking of which, what are your thoughts on the events that are going on, especially in the U.S., right now? How do you think we can actually move forward on the issue of systemic racism?

Brugel: I have so many thoughts that vacillate between absolute anger and sadness. I'm cautiously optimistic, only because I think the only way to move forward is just to start to acknowledge that nothing has been done — that there hasn't been any change. I think that there's been a lot of people for hundreds of years screaming that there's something wrong, but it's not a conversation that I have with non-people of color. It's just not something that is ever spoken about or talked about.

And I think the thing that I'm seeing now is that people are starting to listen — they want to be educated, they want to hear, people want to acknowledge their privilege. I also think that people of color are wanting to have more allies and look at this as a fundamental human rights issue and not a black or white or brown or yellow issue. So I think the only way to more forward is to openly talk about the things that are uncomfortable and ugly and hurtful. Because if you don't acknowledge them, then we're not ever going to be able to figure out how to fix it.

Getting back to Becky, you star alongside Kevin James and Joel McHale. What was it like working with them and was there a scene that was most memorable for you to work on?

Brugel: It was wonderful working with them. They were both such funny guys, but the best part about it is they're both so humble and they both work so hard. It was definitely a new side of themselves that they were showing, and they weren't as practiced in dramatic acting, so they were both so humble and open and vulnerable and really, really were looking for feedback. And they were so generous with their compliments, it was a really healthy, collaborative working environment.

My favorite scene was the scene where I have to punch Kevin James in the face. We shot it at the very end of the night. We had already been shooting for probably fourteen hours, and Kevin and I just really went for it. When you have a scene like that with another actor and you're able to trust that you're not going to hurt one another, it's just the best. It's the best for an actor because it's the closest to real that you can get.

Of course, you just won a Canadian Screen Award for your role as Pastor Nina on Kim's Convenience. What has that meant to you and why do you think the show resonates so much with viewers?

Brugel: The award meant everything to me. I've been lucky enough to be involved with some very cool things that have had a global impact. And while all of the different shows mean something to me in a very special way, Kim's Convenience is my summer camp. It's so lovely. The entire cast are some of my closest friends. It's such a fun environment to work in. There's not a day that goes by that I don't laugh so hard I cry. Most of my scenes they have to cut away from me because I don't ever make it through without laughing. Even if we have to do 10 takes, they know now to not film me cuz I can't get through it. [laughs]

But I think that it's resonated with so many people because at the end of the day it shows that we're all exactly the same when it comes to family units and family dynamics. It reminds me of a long time ago, during The Cosby Show, when I heard an interview with Phylicia Rashad. And she's talking about how people who weren't of African American descent would walk up to her and say, "You remind me of my mom" or "Oh my gosh, your family is like my grandma." It creates these immediate parallels and disarms people where they don't see race first, they see family dynamics first. And we're able to see how at the end of the day we're all exactly the same.

You also play Eugenia in Netflix's new series, Snowpiercer, which is based on the film of the same name. From what we've seen of her so far, she's a bit mysterious. Can you tell me more about your character and what we can expect from her for the remainder of this first season?

Brugel: Eugenia is a first-class passenger and the ex-wife of a basketball player. So she's just had a life of privilege and luxury. She's also quite a highly sexualized character, which is different from what I usually play. And she just doesn't want any of the rules on the train to change. She doesn't want any of her privilege or her lifestyle to be sacrificed for the greater good of all the people on the train. So she's a bit of a brat — a lot of a brat.

But it starts to unfold when we see really what she's about — and in season two, which we've already shot, the lengths that she will go to maintain her status [and] her lifestyle. She's definitely a spicy element and one of the more memorable passengers on the train.

And of course, you’re also in The Handmaid's Tale. What can we expect from your character, Rita, on that show in the upcoming season?

Brugel: This season, there's a lot more of her. And a lot more of her speaking. Rita is quite the stoic, silent type, so there's a lot more of her as she finds her freedom in Canada and she starts to [shed] the oppression of the last 10 years. She starts to find her voice and she uses it. So it's really exciting. And I'm just excited to wear normal clothes.

Having played so many diverse roles, what are their unifying traits? What do you look for in a role?

Brugel: I don't like doing the same thing. I really like to stretch myself and push myself. And particularly, I tend to go after more supporting roles because they're more fun. You can have more space and there's just more color to them. In lead roles — some of them, at least — you have to play it pretty serious and stay in the lines. So I like being the character on the side that causes a bit of trouble.

But the through line for all of the women I play is strength. They have to be strong. Even if they're not introduced as strong, there has to be a resilience and a fortitude within them that the audience can recognize. And I do it for two reasons. For women of color, [because] we don't have a heck of a lot of examples of strong characters that are reflected back at us. And also for myself, [because] it's just more interesting to play someone who likes to kick a bit of ass. I don't have any desire to lean in or portray a weak woman of color. I don't think that that does anyone any good.

Last but not least, what are you working on next and, on a more personal level, what are you looking forward to the most as the world gradually begins to reopen?

Brugel: Next, I hope that I get to return to Kim's Convenience and The Handmaid's Tale. We were just about to start Kim's Convenience and two weeks into the shooting of season four of The Handmaid's Tale. So I hope I can do that. There's also something called Canada Reads, where there are five panelists and we [each] defend a book that we think is the book Canada should be reading right now. I've heard that's going to go back into production in a month and a half, so it'll just be great to sit around with some peers and discuss books and discuss something else besides the pandemic.

But the thing I'm most looking forward to is a plane — Oh, I wanna go somewhere. I want to get on a plane and I want to get off the plane. Airports, that's all. I don't even need to get on a plane. I just want to go to the airport and order a $25 glass of wine and just look out the window.

Becky is available on all digital platforms June 5th.

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