Janine (Madeline Brewer) has been June’s (Elisabeth Moss) closest ally and sometimes kryptonite since the beginning of The Handmaid’s Tale. But throughout four seasons, the show hasn’t really revealed her backstory, unlike the other major characters. That, however, changed in last week’s shocking episode “Milk,” when the show finally gave us a glimpse into Janine’s life before she became a handmaid. And much to no one surprise, Janine’s backstory, which involves a crisis pregnancy center, is devastating as her life is now inside Gilead. 

We recently had the opportunity to hop on the zoom call with Brewer to talk about Janine’s arc this season and her complicated dynamic with June.

One of the biggest highlights of the season so far is the dynamic between your character, Janine, and June. We know from the very first season that their paths are always connected to one another. But usually, it’s always about June saving Janine. In this season, however, especially in episodes 4 and 5, we see Janine, for the first time, sorta becomes her own self, a woman who has agency and is unafraid to put June in her place. Can you tell us a little bit about what do you think of Janine and June’s relationship this season?

Where we meet June and Janine in this season, especially after episode three, I think that Janine is beginning to realize a little bit more that June has some complicated motivations. And it’s not just about getting out of Gilead anymore and survive, but it feels more and more about killing people and seeking revenge, which is something that doesn’t really resonate with Janine. So I feel that the dynamic between them is changing from more of a mother-daughter or surrogate parent kind of situation into more of a “You’re my friend and I love you so much, so I will challenge your motivations,” situation, which is very interesting to see.

This season we also see for the first time Janine’s life before she becomes a handmaid in Gilead. She deals with an unplanned pregnancy, but she also finds motherhood to be her calling. With that backstory and all the things she’s experienced inside Gilead, how do you think all of that shaped Janine into the person that she is when we see her this season?

Janine has been through so much, even before Gilead. She had to face a crisis pregnancy center, which is based on real organizations that falsely advertise abortion services, when she first thought that she wanted to do an abortion. So in the first three seasons, and because of all the things she’s gone through before and after Gilead, she felt like an active trauma response instead of a real person. But then now, she’s coming into her own self a little more and feels definitely much stronger in herself and in her role and purpose that she has in her group of handmaids. Also, the further and further that we get away from the structure of Gilead, the more we see all these characters explore a different part of themselves and I think that that is something we see in Janine as well. She’s not confined to the handmaids’ bonnet and with the “head-down” attitude anymore. She is now much more able to experience some more free feelings, which is not something that we get to see often in the show.

You mentioned that Janine has gone through so much, and I think compared to the other characters in the show, she’s had it worst. Yet despite all of that, Janine somehow always smiles and cares for her friends. Even after June treated her meanly in last weeks’ episode, we see Janine still sticking with her. Do you think her smile and empathy are, in some way, a coping mechanism to deal with her trauma?

Yeah, for sure, absolutely. I think it’s a coping mechanism that she established early on in the very first season, cause I think at that time, especially in seasons one and two, that Janine needed to look on the bright side of traumatic stuff she’s subjected to. Because if she wasn’t, she knew she wouldn’t survive. So in some ways, it’s kind of a coping mechanism for her and also a defense mechanism as well, like “I need to protect myself from all the crap that’s happening, cause if I really allowed it to affect me, I’m not going to survive much longer.” So a yeah, I think it’s definitely a coping mechanism.

What’s the most exciting and rewarding part of playing Janine this season?

The most exciting part about playing Janine this season is helping her find her voice and exploring her journey in finding that voice and definitely getting to meet her son, Caleb, from before Gilead, because we see her in her most tender self as a mother, which we actually saw in the first two seasons but didn’t get to explore much.

The Handmaid’s Tale Season Four is currently airing every Wednesday on Hulu.