HFPA in Conversation: Ann Dowd on Acting, Teaching - and Aunt Lydia

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros October 24, 2018
Actress Ann Dowd

alberto e. rodriguez/getty images

On the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, Golden Globe nominee Ann Dowd plays brutal Aunt Lydia, who is in charge of overseeing the Handmaids in their sexual reeducation and duties. HFPA journalist Gabriel Lerman met Ann Dowd and asked the veteran actress if Aunt Lyndia reminds her of her upbringing.

“I was always hesitant in talking about Lydia to make the comparison to Catholic sisters because nuns get a bad rap and often they do not deserve it.  Two of my aunts are Catholic sisters.  The Ursuline nuns are well educated, well intentioned I would say.  Their goal is to teach.  There are some really tough ones, no question.  And that was helpful.  What I did take away from that education is a sense of the importance of a work ethic, the awareness that you're no different from anybody else and even if you don't feel like doing something on a certain day, you take a deep breath and you do it to the best of your ability.  Don't lead with your emotions, which is very helpful for Lydia.  Stick to the plan even if it's hard, even if it is painful.  There’s a goal and serving God is first and foremost.  And also deferring to authority, deferring to the church.  The notion that God's plan is different from your plan and so you put yours to the side.  And prayers.  I grew up with prayers and so to say them and learn them for Lydia brings back a lot of very strong memories, the power of prayer and the words.”

She doesn’t judge her character. I've learned over the years to take judgment out of this picture immediately.  What is she doing and why?  It makes sense to me from her perspective.  It's make believe, and by that I mean at the end of the day, no one is injured.  Politics, what goes on in the world, I can't even imagine living under a dictatorship. 

Dowd studied at medical school before following her passion to became an actor. “In the way I grew up, there was no question that you would choose to be an actor.  My father loved theater, loved singing, loved acting himself in church plays.  But there was no way in the world I don't think that he would have said, oh yes, go be an actor.  He died, before he knew I was going to choose that as my work in life.  But I remember saying to my grandmother; I'm going to be an actor, grandma.  This was after premed.  She said, oh no, honey, that is a hobby. And I looked at her and I said, but grandma, those are the gifts I was given. She literally, because of who she is, she said, you're absolutely right.  She had tremendous faith and that just clicked for her.”

Persistence and desire are keys to her career. “When I would have periods of not working, I’d go into the bedroom, I would get out the monologues and I would do these monologues.  It would remind me of why I loved it.  To connect always back to the work even if there was no work. 

Listen to the podcast and get to know why she thinks it is important to be part of the conversation; how good it feels when roles are offered to her; what drives Lydia, and what is  her future; how political situations affects to the show’s popularity; why she got goosebumps when she saw women wearing handmaid dresses; how people react to her; how she feels about fame; why she studied to become a doctor; what taught her to be disciplined and work hard; where she worked when she was pregnant with her first child; why teaching acting is one of her favorite things; what kind of advice she would give to her younger self and how she spends her free time.

Listen to the conversation here or, for immediate access to all of our podcasts, subscribe to HFPA in Conversation on iTunes.