Yvonne Strahovski Is a Bear-Fighting Badass
"The Handmaid's Tale" star opens up about camping in bear country and the next "Predator" movie.
Hollywood is a fickle place and much of what we read in the press is often surface jargon about beauty, fashion and gossip. Rarely does one see the stars of our favorite programs through a lens of authenticity. Even social media, often leading us to believe we are getting an honest glimpse into someone’s life, is manicured and presented in a filtered box with a bow.
I’ve wanted to feature actress Yvonne Strahovski in the Real-Life Lara Croft series since day one. I’ve wanted to sing the praises of her acting choices, the genuineness she brings to her roles and the strength and dignity with which she often portrays difficult and complex characters. But most of all, I’ve wanted others to see her how I see her … a force to be reckoned with in the pursuit of her passions, a magnetically positive example of female empowerment and a dirt-under-her-nails-kinda-girl that doesn’t take a single sunny day for granted.
What I aspire to illustrate why this woman is a badass, as versatile, as personable and as much of a standout as any other on the list of incredible athletes and glass-ceiling-shattering ladies I’ve featured thus far.
Yvonne is the unassuming beauty who is still surprised when someone wants to take photos with her (and it happens a lot). She is the daughter of Polish immigrants and an immigrant to this country from Australia who came alone to pursue her creative endeavors … and succeeded. She’s the girl who went to her wedding dress fittings in her favorite pair of cut off jean shorts and disintegrating Toms shoes that she wears everywhere … including hiking. The girl who jumped in the lake in her wedding dress because it was so damn hot out … and looked no worse the wear for it. The girl who camps and hikes, surfs, rides motorcycles and knows how to pack a backpack for a multi-night camping trip like it’s second nature. A girl who doesn’t measure her worth by the car she drives or the bag she carries … falls in love with shopping at TJ Maxx cause they have “great deals” and wears a wedding ring that is demure and subtle because she’s not the flashy type. She knows the value of taking care of herself physically, emotionally and mentally and surrounds herself with people who echo her values.
Read More: Celebrating Yvonne Strahovski
There is no question that Yvonne is a striking human on the outside …. even to the point of having to work twice as hard to prove that she has chops …. which she does in spades. She is a perfect example of a woman who has never ridden her looks to success, but instead worked harder than many in proving that she is a multi-threat in whatever arena she enters. There is no question that she is incredibly talented. There is no question that she is a star … the sparkly kind … not the snooty kind.
The characters she seeks out to portray are complex, powerful women … the bad and the good … no shrinking violets here. From Sarah Walker on Chuck to Hannah McKay on Dexter to Kate Morgan on 24: Live Another Day to Rene Carpenter on The Astronaut Wives Club to, most recently, Serena Joy on The Handmaid’s Tale … she is drawn to interpreting strong, difficult, flawed women and breathing into them a life that allows her audience to connect with their struggles and vulnerabilities as much as with their strengths.
She is one of the most authentic and humble people in an industry that doesn’t always value such qualities.
She’s a badass outdoors woman even going as far as learning how to make fire with flint and steel. When I think of people who I would choose to be stuck in the woods with Yvonne is most certainly at the top of my list. Not only because she’s funny as hell and we’d have a good laugh about fighting off bears, but because she actually knows how to fight off a black bear vs. a grizzly vs. a polar bear … and I’m quite certain she could do it with better results than Leo in The Revenant.
She’s made her way in the world based on her own self-aware choices, sweat equity, merit and dedication to quality. She has overcome fears in the pursuit of bigger and better dreams without flinching at the possibility of failure. Most of all, it’s the conscious choice she makes daily to look at life through the lens of honest to goodness positivity and gratefulness. I’ve rarely witnessed someone, who has the grandiose choice to do otherwise, prefer to live life with exquisite simplicity.
Passion is a powerful driving force for people. How did yours develop toward acting and mold who you are and what you do?
Yvonne Strahovski: I was a child who loved to show off, be a clown and use my dad’s oversized JVC camera to create my own shows at home. My friends would act as my fellow co-stars and my mum was always doing her bit as the DP slash camera woman extraordinaire. (Man, she devoted a LOT of hours to us). I’m not sure why I got, so hell-bent on pursuing acting. It was just something that was within me. I knew that I wanted to do it, work hard towards it and saturate my life with it.
My parents, despite their careers in electronic engineering and chemistry, have a huge artistic side to them. Mum loves to paint, has always been incredibly creative, puts together the meanest wildflower bouquet and even laid the slate tiles down on the steps down to our backyard when she got sick of waiting for dad to do it. My dad used to play guitar and sing in a band back in Poland, has always been a mega jokester and clown (dad jokes being the specialty here), and has renovated all the homes we’ve ever lived in as a family. So I’d say there’s a lot of inspiration right there.
You have specifically chosen strong characters to play in your career. What draws you to these roles?
YS: A lot of the characters I end up playing find me and ultimately the decision to play them is due to a combination of good writing, great people involved, as well as whatever it is that specifically allured me to the character in the first place. I’m entranced by all types of characters in general. The best thing about discovering them personally on a project is finding their humanity and their flaws. Especially the ‘strong’ characters. There is always something lurking underneath that makes them totally human beyond the strength they might portray on the outside. Recently, I had been so drawn to Serena Joy (The Handmaid’s Tale). I wanted to figure out what made her so bitter, hard and brittle.
Any particular role in your career that has stood out to you as extra interesting, challenging or even uncomfortable?
YS: I had the pleasure of playing Lorna Moon in the Broadway production of Golden Boy a few years ago and was immediately entranced by her inner vulnerability underneath her hard exterior shell. She was such a complex woman in such a layered, beautifully written play. I remember being in awe of my cast mates who work the stage most nights of their careers. I take my hat off to their stamina and discipline to be able to perform daily like that.
Playing Serena Joy in The Handmaid’s Tale is also mega interesting and challenging. The writing is astounding and I get to play with so much. There is PLENTY that is uncomfortable about playing someone like her. For one, I don’t particularly agree with her ways and often the circumstances of the scenes I do are very uncomfortable – mainly because of the ever-evolving twisted relationships. I love the challenges of the high stakes and the many dualities of Serena. Particularly the complexity between someone living their life in a cage of their own devising. I am so excited for everyone to see season two. We just wrapped the season in Canada!
“The Handmaid’s Tale” has become a phenomenon, not only winning Emmys and Golden Globes, but also as a banner for women to shout out against oppression. What is your takeaway of being a part of something so revolutionary?
YS: It is astounding to be part of something that has reached so many people and touched their hearts. We have, in a lot of ways, become a symbol of resistance. I think it is an homage to Margaret Atwood herself – to the original writing in her book and just how powerful it is, and has been since it came out in the 80’s. The fact that we get to bring it to life on screen is such a treat. I’m humbled that I get to be part of some extraordinary television that inspires people to talk so deeply about REAL LIFE.
In an industry that applauds keeping up with the Joneses, I know you to be the girl in cut-off jean shorts and her favorite, disintegrating pair of Toms who is as passionate about adventuring as she is about the characters she chooses to play on screen. One might say you are unaffected by the glamor and need to be fancy around you. What is that core spirit that keeps you so grounded?
YS: Where I come from is really important to me. I have strong, adventurous, loving parents. I think they instilled a drive for exploring and adventure in me since I was little. At 27, they left a communist Poland and migrated to Australia, who at the time were open arms to receiving people from other countries who had less fortunate circumstances. Their decision to leave their entire family behind would have been incredibly dangerous and difficult to make. They landed in Australia with one suitcase, 20 bucks and no idea how to speak English.
Ever since I can remember we were always on some kind of a road trip. Exploring beaches locally and far away, exploring coastal towns, going to other countries and seeing the world. They worked hard and taught me to appreciate the simple things in life, and the most important. Family. Love. Laughter. I met the rest of my family when I was 8 when my parents got to go back to Poland for the first time. And it changed my world. My culture and my family in Poland continue to instill in me the core family values that my parents taught me in the first place.
I hold onto that disintegrating pair of Toms partly because I never throw anything away until it completely dismantles and partly because, well, I just love my disintegrating pair of Toms. They remind me of my adventures and the value of life.
You took up surfing a few years ago and overcame a fear to do so. What was that process like and how has your new hobby affected you?
YS: You were the first person to drag me out kicking and screaming into the ocean. I remember the day clearly. You told me to just try the stand-up paddleboard because I was freaking out about the cold, deep water, the waves, and what might be lurking under them. A real fear that I know a lot of people share and relate to! And a fear I always resented because I felt it was holding me back from a huge part of what I love doing which is adventuring and exploring out in nature. The ocean to me seemed untouchable. I was always paralyzed by a fear of deep water. I will never forget standing on that board and realizing how incredibly therapeutic it felt. I suddenly felt charged enough to be persuaded to paddle out on a surfboard. The feeling of exhilaration I felt when I first stood up and surfed some whitewash all the way into the shore was pure magic. And I realized that I suddenly had something to hold onto that overpowered the fear. It has taught me that you really can never say “never.” Never in a million years did I think I would be able to go out alone for a surf – enjoy it and forget about my fears of what might be lurking underneath. That’s not to say I still don’t feel those fears from time to time. It’s a work in progress, and that’s OK. Almost everything in life is a work in progress. You just have to begin.
You took a pretty incredible road trip this year and recently went to see polar bears in Manitoba. What road trip, camping and travel tips do you have for those looking to get out more often into the wild?
YS: Keep it simple!
Camping and getting outside can often seem overwhelming for people.
But really, you just have to keep it simple. Do away with everything but the basics. I mean, do we have another three hours here?! I love talking about this stuff.
For road trips, I love to pre-prep food. A tub of cut up raw veggies like carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumber goes a long way. So does fruit. Make some easy sandwiches. Ham and cheese on bread. Bring a tomato to slice up. (I always pack a small cutting board, a knife and some napkins in there too). Everything tastes better outside. I pack a plug-in car cooler and keep it in the car (a great investment if you’re a big roadie explorer). I keep a big water supply in the car too, so I’m not constantly buying disposable water bottles that ruin our environment. The rest is all good company and follow your heart and see where the road takes you. If I have an instinct about stopping and seeing something, I usually follow it and it pays off. And don’t forget your sunscreen and hat, and always, always – a warm sweater and jacket in case the weather turns.
Gear tips? Tent? Stove? Sleeping bag?
YS: I was brought up on super lightweight stuff because in Australia I did a lot of backcountry hiking and camping for a few days at a time. So I still have my super lightweight three-season tent (REI has great options for these at various price ranges). There is NOTHING better than waking up in a tent in your sleeping bag and unzipping the tent flap to let the view and fresh air in. My sleeping bag is a below freezing one – it works for most areas as temperatures usually drop during the night and you don’t have to sleep with it cocooned around you. You can unzip the whole thing and just use it as a light throw over if it is too hot. Or if you know, it is going to be super hot just bring a regular flat sheet to sleep under. If car camping you can afford to bring a proper blow-up mattress with a small portable electric pump. (Just don’t go turning it on in the dead of night and ruining everyone else’s sleep around you.) In backcountry – a light Thermarest is the best! Stoves – I am a SUCKER for a good old-fashioned Trangia. I grew up on them, have backcountry hiked with them and just adore them. There are other gas stoves available, but I always go back to my Trangia for the versatility and let’s face it, the sentiment.
What camping food do you like to make over the fire or on your portable stove?
YS: Over a fire, you cannot go past a Polish Kielbasa and lightly toasted Polish bread! I also love some potatoes thrown deep into the coal, with a light sprinkle of salt after they have been cut in half. Use a teaspoon to pick out hot potato … mmmmm.
Portable stove – LOVE hard boiling eggs! Am also always boiling water for a cup of tea. A thermos is also an essential gear pack for me – I prep a thermos of tea most mornings I’m on the road for sipping throughout the day. Or stopping by a gorgeous creek and having a cuppa and a sandwich. Or even just a truck stop. For dinners, you can either bring something pre-prepped at home (like some Spaghetti Bolognese) or make up some pasta and throw in some cut up salami or ham and a bit of onion, bring a little red sauce. Anything really. It’s all about how you pack it. Do away with all packaging you don’t need. Keep things compact. For example, if you want to bring salt – don’t bring the whole grinder, just bring a little container of it. Nowadays you can buy a ton of varieties of reusable small plastic containers in travel sections of stores. Back in the day though we used old film containers.
What’s one of the wildest, scariest, most intense adventures you’ve ever been on?
YS: I remember jumping into the open Australia ocean on the West Coast to swim with Whale Sharks and thinking OH MY I really hope something doesn’t swim up from below and eat me. I was pretty terrified. I also remember getting the heeby-jeebies pretty bad when hiking in grizzly territory out in the Teton Ranges. Not exactly my comfort zone! Definitely had my hand on the bear spray deterrent in those woods, while full well knowing that it, unfortunately, doesn’t always work. My biggest advice for hiking in bear country is know your bears and know exactly what to do should you encounter one. The actions to take when a grizzly approaches vs. a black bear approaching are vastly different, so do your research first!
You don’t eat processed sugar, you eat clean and you make dog food for your doggies that is fit for a good human meal. Got a favorite recipe to share of human and/or doggie delights?
YS: Most cake recipes can still be made if you substitute honey and/or maple syrup for the sugar. The cake does come out more moist though and you have to pay attention to cooking time because it does alter it. Experiment a little and see what happens.
For my doggies, I try to make sure they have a variety of foods to keep them healthy with all the nutrition they need. They eat lots of things like bone broth, beef bone marrow bones, lots of different types of meat. Sometimes I’ll cook up a stew with chicken and some veggies like carrots and broccoli. You can, of course, find great recipes online for doggies.
What career projects are you working on now and in the future that I can highlight?
YS: We just wrapped The Handmaid’s Tale season two and I’m off to Australia to work opposite the lovely Noomi Rapace in Angel of Mine with Kim Farrant directing. Am obviously excited about working on a female-driven project with these two amazing ladies. I had the pleasure of joining the cast of the upcoming Predator film, which is slated to be released later this year.