Ashleigh LaThrop on That Shocking Ofmatthew Twist in The Handmaid’s Tale Episode 8
Episode 8 of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 3 ends on a jarring shock, as June’s pious and mysterious walking partner Ofmatthew (Ashleigh LaThrop) suffers a violent psychological breakdown. While shopping at the grocery store, she attacks a Guardian, steals his gun, and threatens customers. The standoff ends with her shot dead.
Ofmatthew has been such an enigma throughout this season that we only learn her real name—Natalie—seconds before she’s killed. In last week’s episode, her interactions with June deteriorated from prickly verbal sparring to outright physical violence following the revelation that Ofmatthew was responsible for the hanging of Frances, the Martha taking care of Hannah. Alienated from her fellow Handmaids, rebuked by Aunt Lydia, and facing the certainty that her unborn child will be taken from her, Ofmatthew reaches a breaking point. It’s a scenario we’ve seen before in varying forms with Emily and Janine, but in Ofmatthew’s case, it ends in tragedy.
“Everything that she believes has fallen,” LaThrop says of her character’s final descent. “I think that Ofmatthew is a survivor, and I think that she does believe, to a certain extent, that she is right. To suddenly realize that everything you believe is wrong, and to be confronted with the horror of Gilead for really the first time, is what makes her break.”
Below, LaThrop breaks down exactly what’s happening in Ofmatthew’s mind at Loaves & Fishes, her warped friendship with June, and the “terrifying” parallels between Gilead’s fictional tyranny and the real-life abortion legislation passing nationwide in the U.S.
Harper’s BAZAAR: Ofmatthew is a very mysterious character for most of the season. How much did you know about her going in?
Ashleigh LaThrop: I auditioned with the very first scene that you see me in, when June and I are walking and I’m talking about how I’m super glad we’re about to take back Chicago. The only other thing I had was the scene where she says she’s pregnant. But Bruce [Miller, the showrunner] was there for my audition, and he was like “You know, it’s gonna be really great for you, this character is really fun, she’s really antagonistic and people are gonna hate her, and you kill someone! So it’s gonna be great!” I was like, ‘Wait, what was that?’ He never addressed it again! I thought okay, I obviously can’t play that I killed someone since I have no information about that, so I’m just gonna go for the holiness!
HB: Even in those early scenes where she seems very pious, there’s an intensity to your performance that suggests there’s more going on. What were you playing in those scenes?
AL: Ofmatthew is described as one of the most zealous believers of Gilead, so early on I was trying to figure out what that means. Is she a true believer, or is she just afraid? Because she is so zealous and June is not, what I tried to play is that this is someone who believes what she believes, but also, she’ll be even more rigid because she’s confronted by someone who has the polar opposite belief. That’s why she comes off even more rigid than she might be normally—because she’s confronted with a walking partner who is so openly against Gilead, and so openly rebellious, which makes Ofmatthew have to tighten down on everything that she does in public.
“Is she a true believer, or is she just afraid?”
HB: What triggers her breakdown, in your mind?
AL: I think everything that she believes has fallen. I think that anyone who has a fundamental belief about themself and about the world, if that were challenged in a moment, that’s unsettling. All of a sudden you don’t have anything to believe in any more, and she doesn’t have anyone to help talk her through that. So she has to sit with, You are wrong about everything. Everything that she has done is wrong, all of these hangings… I think that Ofmatthew is a survivor, and I think that she does believe, to a certain extent, that she is right. Or at least in a moment when she has doubt, she’s able to convince herself that she’s right. So to suddenly realize that everything you believe is wrong, and to be confronted with the horror of Gilead for really the first time, is what makes her break.
HB: When did you find out you were going to die?
AL: Three days before we shot it! We block shoot, which means that we shoot more than one episode at the same time, which is really fun and sometimes a little chaotic. Sometimes Monday we’d be shooting Episode 5, and then Tuesday we might shoot part of Episode 8, and then Wednesday we shoot part of Episode 6. We didn’t shoot 7 and 8 until towards the end [of the block], and I hadn’t gotten the script until right before we shot it, and we actually shot the grocery store scene first. Out of everything in those few episodes, that was the very first scene we shot!
HB: You have to play so much in that scene: Ofmatthew effectively has a full psychological breakdown in the space of about three minutes. How do you get yourself to that place?
AL: Director Mike Barker and I had a conversation about what it is that drives her to this extreme point. Everything that happens at the beginning of Episode 8 is what leads up to the grocery store scene. This is someone who doesn’t really have any friends in Gilead, but she is a favorite of all the Aunts. And so when June turns all the Handmaids against me, that’s horrible, and the idea is that this has been going on for weeks and weeks, just constant torment between the Handmaids. But then that scene when Aunt Lydia, my only supporter in this entire regime, also turns against me when she forces me to go in the circle of shame, then it becomes this idea of, I have no one. I have nothing. I truly believed in this, and it turned against me. The idea that I’m alone in this awful world, with a baby that I want to have and will never have, is what helped me to play that scene.
HB: There’s a moment when Ofmatthew aims the gun at June, and then decides not to shoot her and aims at Lydia instead. What’s happening in her mind there?
AL: It was written in the script that we kind of have this stare-off moment, and Mike played with the idea that June is directing the narrative from the moment that we get in the grocery store. June is the one who’s seeing Ofmatthew about to break, and chooses, in a moment when Ofmatthew looks at her like, “I need help,” to look away from her. And June is thrilled with the turn of events that is happening, until the gun is pointed at her, and that’s I think the first time that June shows fear, and recognizes that she doesn’t actually want to die, and feels vulnerable. She’s been pretty invulnerable—she’s got a lot of status in Gilead and she’s never really felt like she’s in danger because she’s needed. They need her in order to get the baby back to Gilead from Canada.
I think Ofmatthew, even in her grief and rage, recognizes that this is a person that she cared for, and she can see that she’s afraid and she recognizes that June is actually not the problem. June is not really responsible for what went wrong. And I also sort of twisted something in that scene, and decided that Ofmatthew thinks that if she doesn’t kill June, that she kills Aunt Lydia, then we can get the baby out. So I played that as well, the idea that we have to kill the people who are responsible and then we can all get out and go to Canada. I think that’s what’s happening for her in that moment.
HB: Several episodes before she snaps, Ofmatthew seems uneasy about her pregnancy; she says she’s had babies before but this one feels different. Why is that?
AL: I think it’s learning that June’s baby has gotten free. That’s what has caused this crack. It’s hard to give them up, but there is no alternative, and I think Ofmatthew has always firmly believed that this is the only way to survive. Then suddenly, there is an alternative. Someone has found a way to get them out, which means that everything that I’ve been doing, giving up these children, is for naught. For me, I stuck with the idea that I desperately want this baby, in a way that is not okay for what we do in Gilead.
HB: Why does Ofmatthew betray June and get Frances, the Martha, killed? Is she just trying to be a good soldier and do what Aunt Lydia tells her?
AL: I think that Ofmatthew, in her own warped way, thinks of June as her friend. She doesn’t have any friends, and so she thinks of June as someone who, while I don’t really show her all of my true colors, we have had moments of intimacy and moments of connection. So seeing her friend do something potentially dangerous and damaging, I believe Ofmatthew thinks she’s actually doing the right thing here. Death is common in Gilead and I didn’t know that Martha, but I do know June, and I know that June, my friend, will be killed for what she’s doing. So I think when I get that woman killed, it is truly to protect June. I think Ofmatthew expects a, “Thank you, you’re right, I was going down the wrong path and thank you for showing me the light!”
“Any time I read something and thought ‘That’s so wrong!” I would be like, well, let me find a way to make that right, because that’s what Ofmatthew does.'”
HB: Ofmatthew’s piety is such a big part of her characterization. Was there any particular research or preparation you did that helped you understand that mindset?
AL: I’d never played anyone whose beliefs are so challenging to myself. I’ve never played anyone who was just so polar opposite of me. But I will say, I’m from Chicago and I grew up in a household that went to church. I was raised Christian, and so I have a lot of experience with some of the more zealous type of Christians, unfortunately. And also reading the news and listening to certain people’s belief systems in U.S. politics, and thinking that they are fundamentally wrong, I used all of that. Any time I read something and thought, “That’s so wrong!” I would be like, well, let me find a way to make that right, because that’s what Ofmatthew does.
HB: Was there anything in particular in the news that resonated for you?
AL: The show I think has always been very relevant and current, and I found while we were filming that I didn’t focus too much on the cultural and societal impact, because I thought it would be distracting. But now that the show is out, it’s terrifying. These fetal heartbeat laws, that’s the thing currently where I’m like, we’ve done it again, unintentionally. We have become the most relevant show, again, because now we have these laws coming out that are right out of Gilead. Now that we’re done filming for the season, I’ve found that I’m really taking note of just how relevant the show is, and that’s terrifying.
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