Maddie Brewer
The Pitman native moves from one complicated TV role to another
By Kelly Lin Gallagher

Photo: Martina Tolot

The latest role actress Maddie Brewer has taken on is described as “one-eyed, bat**** crazy Janine” on Hulu’s breakout hit “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Fans of the show have described the series as chilling, disturbing and haunting. Even Brewer says the show is hard to watch.

But for the Pitman native, the role has special meaning.

“It was my grandmom’s absolute favorite book,” she says, mentioning that the 1985 Margaret Atwell novel was also one of her mother’s favorites. “When I told my mom I had an audition for ‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ it was in the middle of a day-in-an-actor’s-life conversation.”

She remembers discussing several auditions and events she had pending, one being for the “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

“Mom said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, what?’” recalls Brewer, who started filming the series late last year.

“She was so excited.”

“Handmaid’s Tale” has been a phenomenal success for Hulu, garnering the most views for a series launch in the streaming service’s history since the show’s April 28 debut. Plus, executives say the show is driving subscription growth, with people joining every week and beginning their subscription with episode one of the series.

Brewer’s character Janine is forced to hand over her baby in “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Photo: Hulu)

The story takes place in a dystopian world in the near-future, where a totalitarian and Christian fundamentalist government rules Gilead – formerly the United States. Society is split into social classes where women are forbidden to work, own property, control money or even read.

Because infertility threatens to cease the continuation of mankind, women who are still fertile – called handmaids – are assigned to wealthy, powerful families. The girls are forced to perform ritualized intercourse with their male masters for the sole purpose of reproduction.

Brewer performs alongside fellow actors Elisabeth Moss of “Mad Men,” Joseph Fiennes of “American Horror Story,” Ann Dowd of “Quarry” and Samira Wiley of “Orange is the New Black.”

“It was a great learning experience for me,” Brewer says. “Every person involved was firing on all cylinders. Being around people who have such incredible careers, I knew it was going to be a good piece of work.”

One of Brewer’s shining moments on the show so far was the birth of Janine’s baby. While each handmaid’s purpose is to bear a child for the family they are assigned to, Brewer’s character Janine is the first handmaid to give birth.

However, Brewer has never given birth to a child in real life. So how did she know how to emulate a natural delivery?

“I put out a Facebook post asking any of my friends who have babies to tell me what it was like,” she says. “Plus, I had a wealth of knowledge on set.”

A certified midwife who helped deliver “over 1,000 real babies” was available during filming, and Brewer says she was an incredible resource. But in addition to convincingly acting out the experience of childbirth, Brewer also had to understand the feelings of having the infant taken away as soon as the baby entered the world.

“To get a lot of the emotional aspects of that moment when you have the child and what that felt like, I asked my mom what it was like when she held my brother for the first time,” Brewer says. “I tried to imagine what she told me that felt like, and then what it would feel like to not be able to have that experience; how soul-crushingly horrible that would be.”

Brewer has always had a strong support system, from her days in community theater and college at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City to her television debut as the tattooed and cornrowed Tricia Miller on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” in 2013.

“Growing up in a small town like Pitman and having the family that I do, we’re really tight-knit,” Brewer says. “I love that. I know that in my family and in the town of Pitman, I have an incredible support system. No matter what I do, they’ll be proud.”

Brewer says it was that support system and her exposure to the arts from a young age that led her to where she is today.

“I have been in community theater every single summer for my entire life since I was 7 years old. I was in the community children’s choir for what seems like a century. My entire adolescence was spent around music and around theater and around artistic people who helped shape me into who I am now,” Brewer says. “I didn’t do well in school, but you better believe by the time I got to college and I was singing and dancing and acting all day, I got straight As.”

And she hasn’t taken a single step of her journey for granted.

“Every time I get a job I think, ‘Oh, that was the last one. Someone made a mistake and now here I am, and pretty soon they’ll find out I’m not really that good at this,’” she says. She feels that way, she adds, because she knows there are countless talented people striving for the same goals she has been for so many years.

“It’s crazy that there are so many people trying to do this job and have this profession and make a living from it,” she says. “And to be one of the people who’s doing it feels like…I’m so lucky.”

She says the past couple years of her career have been “crazy.”

“I don’t even know how I got ‘Orange,’” Brewer says about her role in the hit Netflix series. “They saw something in me, and I’m really grateful for it.”

Since her stint on the hit, Brewer has appeared on other Netflix series “Hemlock Grove” and “Black Mirror,” “The Deleted” on Fullscreen, NBC’s “Grimm,” CBS’ “Stalker,” numerous commercials, and several indie films including “Hedgehog” with Ann Dowd.

“I’m 25 now. I got ‘Orange’ when I was 20 years old,” Brewer says. “I had no idea what I was doing then, and I have learned so much along the way.”

“Each job helps me get more in touch with myself and helps me understand more of the world out there and people as a whole,” Brewer adds.

“Now, I have a body of work I’m very proud of. I’ve been so busy but overwhelmed with gratitude, because there were definitely times a year ago when I was not busy at all. So I’m really enjoying it.”


August 2017
Related Articles

One Comment

  1. Bruce says:

    Go Maddie, you do make us proud!


Get SJ Mag in Your Inbox

Subscribe for the latest on South Jersey dining, weekend entertainment, the Shore and much more - sent directly to your inbox.

* indicates required
Email Format
WATCH NOW: Millennials looking for Mentors