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Alana Pancyr (left) plays Ofwyatt in The Handmaid's Tale. (Photo by George Kraychyk - ©2018 Hulu)
By Shannon Boklaschuk
A University of Saskatchewan alumna who recently appeared in The Handmaid’s Tale describes working on the hit television show as “amazing.”
Alana Pancyr, who studied in the College of Arts and Science’s Department of Drama, played the character Ofwyatt in the first episode of the show’s second season. It was originally released on April 25, 2018.
“She has a really rebellious back story,” said Pancyr (BFA’13) of the fictional character. “I don’t want to say too much to spoil anything, but she basically serves as an example of what happens if you rebel.”
The Handsmaid’s Tale is a highly acclaimed show based on the best-selling dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. The plot depicts a totalitarian society of the future that forces the handmaids—fertile women—into servitude. In the episode in which Pancyr appeared, the pregnant handmaid Ofwyatt is imprisoned and shackled.
The Hulu show stars Elisabeth Moss, who received the award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series at the 2017 Emmys. In total, The Handmaid’s Tale was nominated for 13 awards and received eight Emmys, including the award for outstanding drama series.
Other stars who have appeared in the show in recurring roles include Joseph Fiennes, Alexis Bledel, Max Minghella and Samira Wiley, with guest appearances from Marisa Tomei, Clea DuVall and Oprah Winfrey, among others.
Pancyr, who was born and raised in Saskatoon, said she was “over the moon” when she found out she would have a role in The Handmaid’s Tale.
“I was pinned by casting and my agent and I were waiting a week to hear back—this was the same week the show won so many Emmys. I wasn’t sure the role was mine until costuming sent me an email to set up a fitting,” she said.
Pancyr said working on the show was an amazing experience—“probably my best day on set to date.”
“When I was getting my makeup done, Elisabeth Moss swung by to introduce herself; I couldn’t help thinking how nice that was,” said Pancyr.
“It’s another world working on a show like that; they wanted rain outside the windows, so every time they called action the rain would pour down the glass. Everything becomes totally real; I got to work with a great costuming and prosthetics team. Also the director, Mike Barker, has been one of my favourites to work with yet. We got a quick rehearsal before shooting and it was thrilling to get introduced to the set, her (Ofwyatt’s) bed, her treadmill and the idea of her captivity.
“I was really locked into my chains, but they were so on the ball about unlocking me between takes. Despite the fact that the show looks very unforgiving, it was a very comfortable day on set. I also got to work with two talented, kind and generous Emmy Award-winning actresses, Elisabeth Moss and Ann Dowd, who are both incredible, so I was pretty thrilled when I went home that day. It also just made me love acting all the more. Every time I get to be on set and they call ‘action’ and I get to perform, there is no greater feeling for me.”
It certainly seems Moss believes the future is bright for Pancyr. Moss tweeted to Pancyr after The Handmaid’s Tale episode was shot, stating: “Your performance in the show was so brilliant and we all admire you very much for sharing that brilliance with us. Look forward to watching your career flourish!”
Pancyr’s acting career first started to bloom at the U of S. She looks back on her time at the U of S with fondness, noting her undergraduate training gave her the confidence to move to Toronto and “try taking acting on as a real job.”
“My professors were really excellent and taught dedication to your craft, which is what you need to sustain yourself. They also always went above and beyond, often taking time out of their regular hours to answer my questions as I prepared myself to go,” said Pancyr.
“The work I did in those (undergraduate) years really taught me to respect myself as an artist and take my work personally but also professionally. The work I did was mainly in theatre, but I found a pretty seamless transfer to film after my studies. I have had to shift more with time, since the film industry just works at a much faster pace.”
Pancyr said moving to Toronto was “a bit of a learning curve” for her and there was definitely an adjustment period. However, artistic communities “are much the same wherever you go—supportive and welcoming,” she said.
“I was lucky to fall in with a great group of actors and acting coaches who took me under their wing. It’s a lot of running around, and failing and getting back up,” she said. “The city is expensive, so keeping yourself afloat while staying open for 24-hour notice of auditions from your agent and casting can be a challenge. I’ve sort of found my way now and a balance, but it took a few years.”
Pancyr encourages other artists to “dream big” and find the strength to pursue what they love. She knew acting was her passion as a student at the U of S, where she appeared in Greystone Theatre productions such as The Love of the Nightingale.
“There was nothing better than spending my whole day studying acting, voice and movement and then putting it into practice every night in a show for a month,” she said. “I loved that lifestyle; that’s why I knew I could do this the rest of my life.”
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