The standard narrative about Gilmore Girls is that Lauren Graham was a brilliant lead actress, Kelly Bishop was a fantastic supporting actress, and Alexis Bledel was kind of just there, being pretty and unremarkable.
And until this summer, Bledel’s interviews tended to reflect that narrative: They were usually frothy and silly and focused on pictures of her being pretty. During the Gilmore Girls revival press tour last fall, her most high-profile interview was about how she holds things awkwardly in press photos.
At Gilmore Girls’ height, many people seemed to accept that Bledel was maybe just not a very good actress, but now her more recent work on Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale is slowly demonstrating that those people were wrong all along: Bledel is a good actress. It’s just that her wheelhouse is “giant-eyed woman who has been traumatized into silence”; in other words, the exact opposite of friendly, screwball Gilmore Girls. All Bledel needed to prove everyone wrong was a showcase episode in which she is masked and silent and still manages to be completely heartbreaking, and that’s what episode three of The Handmaid’s Tale gave her.
Bledel just picked up an Emmy nod for her role as a recurring guest star on the series, and she’ll be promoted to series regular this fall. What that means is that for the first time in her 17-year career, she’s going on a press tour and being treated as a serious, talented actress and not a glorified model. She’s being interviewed about things like acting technique, and judging from her appearance Tuesday night on Late Night With Seth Meyers, she is utterly delighted by the change. She’s always been a shy, slightly awkward interview, but on Late Night, she couldn’t contain her giddy laughter.
“Did it take so much out of you?” Meyers asked her of shooting The Handmaid’s Tale’s traumatic subject matter.
“Oddly, no. It was a great working experience!” Bledel said, eyes lighting up. “Filming it was an incredible creative experience, just so satisfying and lovely.”
Meyers broke out a picture of a key scene where Bledel wears a mask and gag, “which I would imagine,” he said, “as an actor is a little bit limiting.”
“It was an incredible challenge, and I was so excited about it,” said Bledel, who kicked off her career by spending seven years on Gilmore Girls, a show devoted to speaking as much and as quickly as possible. “It was really freeing to just have movement and your eyes and looks to work with.”
“It looked like the top half of your face had been waiting your whole life for that,” Meyers agreed.
“I think it was the fear of being the weakest link on such an amazing show,” Bledel admitted.
If anyone knows how unpleasant it is to live out that narrative, it’s Alexis Bledel. She looks so happy to be out of it.