One of the aspects of Hulu's adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale that makes the show so thoroughly enjoyable and accessible is Elisabeth Moss' voiceover. More specifically, the way her voiceover aligns perfectly with what Offred is doing onscreen, so that her movements, facial expression, and even posture seem in perfect sync with her inner monologue.
I assumed that this could be attributed this to Moss' excellent work on-screen and off, combined with an incredibly talented group of editors and superb ADR looping. As it turns out, Moss pre-orchestrated this amazing performance herself, by memorizing all of the voiceover before filming and using it in her onscreen performance.
Handmaid's Tale showrunner Bruce Miller told Vulture that, while he knew voiceover was critical to the show in order to convey tone and mood, even he was amazed at how seamlessly Moss' onscreen activity synced with her voiceover. As he found out, this was not happenstance but the direct result of Moss' amazing level of commitment to the project, and her own instincts that understood how critical voiceover was to her performance:
“We shot these bits of Lizzie just sitting in a room, quietly going through emotional phases, and when I watched it paired up with the voice-over, it worked perfectly,” he told me. “And I said, ‘That’s lucky!’ And Lizzie said, ‘No, it isn’t lucky. I memorized the voice-over and I did it in my head while I was sitting there.’ Paragraphs and paragraphs and paragraphs of stuff that she memorized and walked through emotions while she was sitting there silently. But none of it was sitting there silently. It was all following the emotional trajectory.”
Obviously the memorization of dialogue is not unusual; it's pretty critical if one is an actor, so it's not surprising that Moss memorized all of her character's script. What is so impressive is her instinctive knowledge aforethought of how very important VO is in Handmaid's Tale - it's the only real way for Offred to communicate in her dystopian world, and understanding her inner monologue is so critical to the viewing experience.
This is the type of performance that explains why we're hearing so many actors on voiceover projects, as well as why so many voice actors moonlight as on-camera actors - or why many of us are increasingly doing both. Cross-pollination of mediums is increasingly happening with less reluctance from both agents and casting directors .
Just as voiceover artists are actors, great actors are great voiceover artists . Elisabeth Moss truly understands voiceover, which is one of the reasons why she is a television MVP, and The Handmaid's Tale is so accessible and bingeworthy.