‘The Handmaid’s Tale’: Who Plays Mrs. Esther Keyes? McKenna Grace Joins the Season 4 Cast

On April 28, Hulu released the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4, and fans are already intrigued by Mrs. Esther Keyes, who is played by new cast member McKenna Grace. Here’s a breakdown of the character and what to expect next.

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers from The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 Episodes 1-3.]

McKenna Grace plays Mrs. Esther Keyes in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4

McKenna Grace as Mrs. Esther Keyes forces Madeline Brewer as Janine to eat in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 Episode 1, “Pigs.”
McKenna Grace as Mrs. Esther Keyes in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4 | Jasper Savage/Hulu

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It’s possible you’ve seen Grace before her role as Mrs. Keyes in The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4. The 14-year-old actor appeared in Young Sheldon, Fuller House, Designated Survivor, Annabelle Comes Home, and The Young and the Restless.

Grace also played younger versions of iconic characters throughout her early career. The list includes Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Theo Crain (Kate Siegel) in The Haunting of Hill House, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) in Once Upon a Time, Caroline Forbes (Candice King) in The Vampire Diaries, Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) in Captain Marvel, and Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) in I, Tonya

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ team on McKenna Grace’s character, Mrs. Esther Keyes

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Mrs. Esther Keyes is the 14-year-old wife of Commander Keyes in The Handmaid’s Tale. The character makes her first appearance in the season 4 premiere, and she looks up to June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss). Mrs. Keyes is also understandably determined to hurt Gilead. Not only was she forced to be a child bride, but her husband invited other men — Guardians, Eyes, and Commanders — to rape her. 

Meanwhile, The Handmaid’s Tale showrunner Bruce Miller opened up about Grace’s character in an interview with Decider. “The character’s written to be scary, and untrustworthy,” Miller said. “She, a very young woman, brings so much complexity and the idea that you’ve got a kind of a crazy child running with their hand on the trigger, and it’s wonderful.”

Joseph Fiennes, who plays Commander Fred Waterford, also shared the importance of Mrs. Keyes during the “PaleyImpact: Female Empowerment in the Age of The Handmaid’s Tale” panel. 

“We’ve got some new characters — McKenna Grace,” Fiennes said. “[She] reminds us of the appalling kind of marriage of young women, which echoes today. There are many themes that continue to echo the sad reality of our world.”

McKenna Grace on playing Mrs. Keyes in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Season 4

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When speaking with Entertainment Tonight following The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4 premiere, Grace opened up about playing Mrs. Keyes. 

“Something great about Mrs. Keyes, that was really fun to play, was her split personality,” the actor said. “Although she is the wife and the mistress of this household, she has been having to grow up and mature so quickly in this whole Gilead place. So she’s still childish, but already her maturity is above the regular 14-year-old.”

Grace also answered whether Mrs. Keyes will return in later episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale Season 4. As you may remember, Nick Blaine (Max Minghella) revealed Mrs. Keyes was “safe in custody” when June was captured in episode 3.

“I’m very excited for my return. It’s quite dramatic,” Grace said. “In true Handmaid’s Tale fashion, everything is dark and dramatic.”