Tuesday, March 21, 2023

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Boss Bruce Miller on What Got Him Through the Pandemic

“The Handmaid’s Tale” showrunner Bruce Miller notes that writers have always had to work on their own and potentially from anywhere — as opposed to actors and directors — who rely on each other to be able to complete a scene. Even in traditional writers’ rooms where ideas bounce back and forth, eventually individual writers go off to pen a script. So for Miller, working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic was not as big an adjustment as it was for his production, which shot its Emmy-nominated fourth season amid new health and safety protocols. What was different was that he carved out office space in his home for the first time. “Before the pandemic I wrote at the kitchen table,” he says. “I’ve never had a room that was just for me. But I’m sitting here, and there’s one chair in the room. At 56 years old, I have my first office; it’s exciting.”

Bruce Miller Room With a View

Room With a View
Miller’s home office has one window, and that opening to the outside world became very important to him as he was working on his series. As he watched the changing landscape — birds and butterflies coming and going, for example — he really appreciated the creativity it stimulated. So much so that he found himself spending a lot of time writing outside. “I didn’t realize how much that helped,” he says. “Even through the winter and even through the summer, I pretty much did most of my work from outside, and it was lovely, and I don’t have any intention of stopping.”

Bruce Miller Serious Storytellere

Serious Storyteller
Behind Miller’s desk are shelves of books, most of which, he admits, he picked because he liked the spines or the back blurbs. Miller says this is because he is dyslexic: “Although I was dying to read all these books when I was growing up, it was such an effort, so I tended to fall in love with [these brief parts].” While he struggled to read, he would imagine the stories the pages held. Now, “I have lots of books and the way that they inspire me is not often by pulling them off the shelf and reading them cover to cover, [it’s] by just looking at the range of possible things you could write about.

Bruce Miller Wordsmith's Work

A Wordsmith’s Work
Many families engaged with jigsaw puzzles in the earliest days of the pandemic but, ever the scribe, Miller and his family worked on crossword puzzles together. “It was very, very helpful in terms of keeping me sane,” he says with a laugh. A New York Times subscriber, he still prefers to work on the actual newspaper that is delivered to his Los Angeles home, rather than the app. He admits he doesn’t usually finish the puzzles — though his wife does — but he finds it important to have a hobby into which he doesn’t invest his ego.

Lazy loaded image

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Michael Buckner for Variety

When Miller turned 40 his wife gifted him with 10 yoga classes at home. More than a decade-and-a-half later, he is still enrolled and participating every week. He keeps his yoga gear inside his office because he finally has a private space where he can close the door and be alone in the practice. After so many years of virtual instruction, the past year of doing it on Zoom did not change much physically. But he did notice a shift in their importance. “Just having someone once a week go, ‘How are you feeling?’ Just that part is worth it,” he says. “It’s been wonderful, and I credit it with me being much healthier than I would be in this stressful job.”

Bruce Miller Advancing His Art

Advancing His Art
Another thing that got Miller through the past year was drawing. “When I originally picked it up as a hobby, I could not draw at all. It’s gotten much better over time,” he says. Initially he drew because he wanted to learn and sketchbooks were portable ways to have “a diversion and use a different part of my brain.” These days he finds himself etching a lot of pictures of handmaids, as well as playing around with a red color palette inspired by their robes. “I find the iconography of the show really powerful,” he says. Additionally, he just spends so much time thinking about handmaids in his scripts that they are naturally on his mind when he moves to another artistic medium.


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