Yvonne Strahovski’s portrayal of Serena Joy Waterford in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is one of those performances that make it hard for the public to disassociate the actor from the character. Unsurprisingly, her work on the dystopian TV series has earned her several accolades and placed her among Hollywood’s contemporary leading actors. Serena Joy is dark, caring, and terrible. As Vanity Fair has argued, Serena Joy is the “series’s most poignant puzzle” and Strahovski plays her with “exceptional nuance.”
“She had the adage of, ‘I will do whatever you need to get this part,’ and we all responded to that. She’s that level of actor that she really has no ego,” said Sherry Thomas, one of the casting directors, per Business Insider.
In addition to capturing us all with her performance of Serena Joy, Strahovski has also starred in many other successful works, mostly in TV. She started her career by playing CIA agent Sarah Walker in “Chuck,” for which she was recognized with several Teen Choice Awards wins and nominations. She then joined the cast of “Dexter” for its final two seasons — and her performance was not lost on critics this time around either.
While Strahovski has found unprecedented fame with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she has actually enjoyed a steady and fruitful career in Hollywood since 2007. This means she has been in the American public eye for nearly 15 years, as hard as that is to believe. Keep scrolling to check out her story and her transformation over the years.
Yvonne Strahovski grew up in Australia in a Polish household
Despite her flawless American accent heard in the works she has become known for, Yvonne Strahovski is an Aussie and English is not even her first language. As GQ reported, Strahovski grew up speaking Polish at home in the suburbs of Sydney as both of her parents are immigrants from Poland. “I can’t imagine that decision. To be so young, and to leave everything you knew and have no idea where you were going, aside from a couple of pamphlets from the Australian government — ‘Come and live here: here’s some kangaroos and some beaches.’ When I think back to it, it’s just wild,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald.
English naturally became more prominent in her life when she started school, but she can still speak, read, and write in Polish, per ChuckTV. “[M]y English is better, but… I’m fluent in Polish.” Strahovski was a dedicated student with an interest in dancing and acting. “I was a goody two shoes — a straight-A girl, and I took pride in my studies,” she told GQ.
Strahoski’s interest was always present. As a young child, she would use her father’s camera to create shows with her friends, per The Sydney Morning Herald. “I don’t remember a particular moment of realizing [I loved acting]. I do remember always having dad’s big old JVC camera, and my friends and I making up television shows and plays and things. It was just something I was always doing.”
Yvonne Strahovski went to drama school after graduating
Because Yvonne Strahovski was such a good student, her parents, Piotr and Bozena, were not expecting their daughter to try her luck as an actor. As the only child of an electrical engineer and a lab technician, Strahovski’s artistic tendencies were not seen as a great career choice by her parents, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. So, when she graduated high school and got into the prestigious — but now shuttered — Theatre Nepean at the University of Western Sydney, her parents were not exactly thrilled. “I announced, ‘I’m going to drama school’ and my parents, well, the only term that comes to mind is ‘freaked out,'” she told the publication.
Strahovski understood her parents’ reaction, given how difficult their life journey as immigrants during the Cold War had been. “[W]hen you look at where they come from, getting the steady job was the right thing to do,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald. Plus, she and her parents have always been a very close “little unit,” and she knew they would come around eventually.
And they did. When Piotr and Bozena saw that Strahovski approached her career with the same seriousness she had taken her studies, they learned to trust and embrace their daughter’s choices, she told The Sydney Morning Herald. “I think they would have preferred I went and did something else at the time. But they are absolutely wonderful and are 100[%] supportive of what I’ve chosen to do,” she said.
Yvonne Strahovski moved to Los Angeles in 2007 — and changed her name
Yvonne Strahovski had appeared in a few commercials and TV shows in Australia, but nothing career-defining. In 2007, she bought a plane ticket to Los Angeles to audition for a few roles and landed a meeting with the producers of NBC’s “Chuck.” She never used her return ticket, per The Sydney Morning Herald. A week after arriving in the U.S., she learned she had snagged the role of Sarah Walker, one of the CIA officers assigned to watch over the main character, a computer expert whose brain was accidentally implanted with a software containing federal spy secrets — a role she had for six years.
Around that time, producers asked the actor to consider changing her name to something that was easier to pronounce. Per GQ, one of the early suggestions was Yvonne Stryker, a name she would have shared with adult film star Jess Stryker. “She is never going to forgive me for suggesting she should change her name to Stryker,” said “Chuck” producer Josh Schwartz. Instead, Strahovski opted for the phonetic version of her last name, spelled Strzechowski.
While she understands that changing one’s name is part of Hollywood culture, Strahovski says she would not do it if she were asked today. “If it was now, I probably wouldn’t have done it… if everyone could get past Schwarzenegger and learn how to say that then surely they can learn how to say my name as well,” she said on Collider Ladies Night.
Yvonne Strahovski worked hard to shake the stereotype of beautiful Australian blonde
After “Chuck,” Yvonne Strahovski remained active in Hollywood, working as a voice actor for video games, like the “Mass Effect” series and “The 3rd Birthday,” and starring in several films, including “Killer Elite” (2011) and “The Guilt Trip” (2012). That year marked another milestone in her career, as Showtime announced she would join the cast of “Dexter” as Hannah McKay, the girlfriend of serial killer Dexter Morgan, played by Michael C. Hall. “I just feel so lucky to have gotten to work with such great material, and be able to do things in my career that I had never done before, up until that point, and flesh out this character that was so complicated, layered, manipulative and all kinds of things,” she told Collider.
After “Dexter,” Strahovski felt she kept playing the same character — one attached to her physical attributes as a tall, beautiful blonde. “She’s always had to fight that archetype of the perfect blonde beauty,” Australian actor Olivia Stambouliah told The Sydney Morning Herald. To prove she has what it takes, she made a bold move in 2012 when she turned to theater. She starred in a revival of Clifford Odets’ “Golden Boy” as Lorna, a performance that earned her a Theatre World Award, per The Sydney Morning Herald. “The icily beautiful Ms. Strahovski, making a striking Broadway debut, brings out the velvety heart beating under Lorna’s cool, hardened-steel exterior,” The New York Times’ Charles Isherwood raved.
Yvonne Strahovski cemented her success with 'The Handmaid's Tale'
Yvonne Strahovski’s decision to be selective about the roles she accepts has paid off. In 2017, her career reached new heights when she was cast to play Serena Joy Waterford in Margaret Atwood’s TV adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Strahovski was set on playing the character as soon as she read the script. Showrunner Bruce Miller had his doubts because he envisioned Serena as an older woman. “I don’t know if I would have thought it would be a great match, the general effervescent personality of Yvonne and that role, but it’s a beautiful match,” Miller said, per If.com.au.
Strahovski’s performance in the hit Hulu series has earned her seven award nominations, including a Primetime Emmy, a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice, and three Screen Actors Guild nods for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor and as part of the show’s ensemble cast.
Throughout it all, Strahovski has worked hard to maintain a low profile. In 2017, she secretly married her longtime boyfriend, actor and producer Tim Loden, with whom she shares a son, William. As The Sydney Morning Herald noted, Strahovski is adamant about keeping her son away from the limelight. She does sometimes share snippets of motherhood on her Instagram, though not often and she mostly hides his face, as seen here, here, and here. Per the Australian publication, Strahovski speaks to William in Polish, who is said to have “a great Ponglish accent.”
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