Elisabeth Moss on a Decade of Critical Acclaim & Becoming a Top Halloween Costume
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Elisabeth Moss on a Decade of Critical Acclaim & Becoming a Top Halloween Costume

L.A. Confidential 

Amid Emmys season madness, Elisabeth Moss surveys her glittering domain as the Queen of Peak TV.

This time of year is always pleasantly surreal for Elisabeth Moss. Hardly a September passes without her navigating the red-carpeted run-up to the Emmy Awards (she finally won in 2017 after nearly a decade of nominations); and then, in October, come the Halloween costumes.

For a while, it was all about Peggy in a tight ’60s dress carrying a martini glass,Moss says with a smile. Peggy Olson was the determined copywriter she played on Mad Men for seven seasons. This was after she spent seven seasons as Martin Sheen’s daughter on The West Wing. Now the trick-or-treat pick is Offred, the dystopian protagonist Moss portrays on the Hulu drama The Handmaid’s Tale, which earned her dual Emmys last year for acting and producing. “Honestly, I didn’t see it coming, this fascination with the long red robe and the white bonnet,” she says.

It is not lost on Moss that these tributes—high, low and fashionable—add up to validation both about her exemplary decision-making and her ability to totally rock a period frock. “When people all over are dressing up like you, it’s definitely flattering and also kinda bizarre,” she says. “You realize how much of this work is beyond your control.

That’s certainly the case lately for Moss. With television hit after hit after hit after hit (the 2013 miniseries Top of the Lake landed her a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice Award and an Emmy nod), she’s been dubbed “The Queen of Peak TV.” But now with two seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale streaming to universal acclaim, and a third on its way in 2019, Moss, 36, is an unwitting icon in a culture waking up to #MeToo, the treatment of immigrants and the battle over women’s bodies. The drama, based on Margaret Atwood’s dark classic, is set in an authoritarian alternate present that many say mirrors the far-right extremism of current-day politics. Radical Muslims are blamed for government problems, and women are stripped of basic rights and sexually violated. Much of what draws people to the series is Moss’ unflinching portrayal of Offred, a woman who submits to ritualized rape on a regular basis as part of her duty to male masters. It makes sense that the character’s gown-and-hood look is a staple alongside pink hats at women’s rights rallies.

We never intended to copy what’s happening in the world, but like most other people, I feel that things on the show are way too close to home,Moss says. “It’s this sense of, ‘Hey, if we don’t pay attention, if we stop listening, if we fail to take action against injustice, we’re getting pretty close to the dystopia we see on-screen.’”

Lizzie Moss didn’t set out to become a feminist meme. Growing up in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, the older of two kids to musicians Ron and Linda Moss, she was on track for a career in dance, having studied ballet as a teen at The School of American Ballet in New York City and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., while pursuing an acting career. But when her side passion of acting began paying off, Moss made the decision at 15 to commit to show business full time. “I could imagine not dancing, but I couldn’t imagine not acting for the rest of my life,” she says. At 17, she won the recurring part of first daughter Zoey Bartlet on The West Wing and has worked steadily and to great acclaim ever since. “I’ve been doing this long enough to see how fortunate I’ve been, and I never take it for granted,” she says. “It’s unusual as an actor to feel that sense of security, so I sometimes just kinda pinch myself.

Moss, who can be slightly imposing despite being only 5 feet, 3 inches tall, lives in Manhattan now and stays mostly quiet about her personal life. A few details are well-known: She and actor Fred Armisen were married in 2009 and separated the following year. Also, she was born and raised a Scientologist. Moss has said the church helps “[make you] a better you, not necessarily changing who you are,” and with “empowerment and respecting yourself as an individual.” On this particular day, with meetings and fittings, cats to be fed and laundry to be done, along with filming Her Smell, out next year, Moss laughs and says, “My spiritual life consists mostly of trying to watch a little TV and get enough sleep.” Pressed further about her religion and the increasing focus on it, she says, “It’s an odd feeling. I put myself emotionally into my work. Beyond that, I have to keep something for myself.

It’s hard to find an actor more emotionally all-in. The second season of The Handmaid’s Tale opens with Moss stripped bare in an intense sex romp with costar Max Minghella. Another scene has her lopping off her hair along with a chunk of her GPS-tagged left ear to avoid being tracked by the menaces from Red Center. The brutality has been a sticking point for some viewers. Does showing women being mistreated on-screen ever cross a line for Moss?

The guiding principle is honesty,” she says. “Whatever you see in terms of violence or sex is an accurate representation of the world we’re in, which is why it never feels false or gratuitous. I think that’s a common thread in all my work. The question is always: ‘Does this feel real? Are we being true? Because it’s only by being accurate to reality that audiences can escape from it for a little while.

Moss escapes whenever she can. She’s an avid traveler and especially loves Italy and New Zealand. In the infinitesimal spaces between jobs, she’s learning to play piano and guitar for her upcoming role as lead singer of a punk rock band in Her Smell and spends quality time with her cats, Lucy and Ethel, who were found on the street in Brooklyn when she was making Listen Up Philip. “They’re quite famous,” Moss says, arching an eyebrow. “Lucy’s kind of private but Ethel is kind of a big deal, at least on social media.” (A recent Instagram post on @elisabethmossofficial that showed the feline lounging luxuriously in Moss’ Upper West Side apartment—it was slugged “Current mood. #ethel”—got more than 15,000 likes.)

Chalk it up as one more fascinating side effect of being Elisabeth Moss. In a way, having a celebrity pet is no more unreal than Oprah walking over to say she loves The Handmaid’s Tale (“Totally crazy!Moss says) or Hillary Clinton praising the “amazing” series in front of 10,000 middle and high school girls, as she did at Los Angeles Convention Center last year (“I was like, ‘Holy shit!’”). And who knows what will happen this year on Halloween? “I was shooting last year, so I missed it,” she says, “but if I need a costume, I know where I can get one.

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How Elisabeth Moss spent her summer ‘vacation’: Four movies and a floor covering
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How Elisabeth Moss spent her summer ‘vacation’: Four movies and a floor covering

LA TimesElisabeth Moss began her summer break from “The Handmaid’s Tale” planning to shoot two movies, unpack the 15 boxes she shipped home from Toronto and, maybe, just maybe, finally buy a rug for her one-bedroom New York apartment.

Flash forward a couple of months: Moss has finished the two films — playing a destructive punk rocker in “Her Smell” and starring alongside Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish in the crime drama “The Kitchen” — and added two more movies to her calendar.

At the moment, she’s shooting “Shirley,” playing the reclusive short story master Shirley Jackson in a film that sounds very much like the kind of spooky thriller Jackson might have written.

Shortly, Moss will leave the New York location of “Shirley” and fly to California to begin work on “Us,” Jordan Peele’s follow-up to “Get Out.” Then she’ll go back east and finish “Shirley,” return to California to complete “Us” and then fly to Toronto to start shooting the third season of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

She had boundless, unfathomable energy,” “Handmaid’s Tale” creator Bruce Miller says. “I get tired just listening to what she’s doing day to day.

Do I covet a bit more sleep?Moss says. “Yeeeesss. But what am I going to do? I’m not going to pass up opportunities like these.

Moss is sitting in her publicist’s office in Beverly Hills. She has been in Los Angeles for a couple of hours, and she’ll take a red-eye flight back home after participating in a “Handmaid’s Tale” Emmy panel at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater that night.

Near her chair on a ledge, there’s a Jon Hamm bobblehead figure wearing a St. Louis Cardinals jersey, and upon spying it, Moss, a die-hard Cubs fan, feels obliged to rotate it so she doesn’t have to look at her onetime “Mad Men” costar’s offending garb.

That quiet gesture is vintage Moss, who, as you can glean from her career choices, revels in acts of playful, subversive mischief. Last year, she played a journalist in Ruben Ostlund’s squirmy satire “The Square,” a performance notable for, among many things, a spirited post-coital tug of war over a used condom and the scenes she shared with a monkey for reasons even Ostlund described as completely arbitrary. (“Why not a monkey?” Moss asked me by way of explanation at a “Handmaid’s Tale” Emmys party last year, while holding two trophies, one for acting, the other for producing.)

All of which is to say that if you were one of those people — and there were many — upset by the decision that Moss’ “Handmaid’s” character, June, made during the Season 2 finale to remain in repressive, authoritarian Gilead after all the time and energy spent on getting her out, know that Moss (kind of) revels in your displeasure, if only because all that grief signaled a deep emotional investment in the show.

I knew people were going to be like, ‘Why the … didn’t she get in that van?’” Moss says, smiling. “I get it. I totally do. But she has to make the harder choice. She has to find her daughter.”

This isn’t to say that Moss doesn’t think about servicing the needs of the show’s fans. She says she feels “very in tune” with them, meaning that June most definitely will not be confined once again to the beautifully lighted attic in the Waterfords’ home next season. That last moment in the finale, when June raises her red handmaid’s hood and disappears into the night, signaled the arrival of a June reborn, a woman finally possessing a sense of agency. (The third season, Miller says, moves from “blessed be the fruit” to “blessed be the fight.”)

I’m a big fan of letting the story guide you, and you’re already starting to see the cracks in Gilead.

-ELISABETH MOSS

Everyone, it seems, is ready for a change.

She’s going back to fight,Moss says. “She really means business. There’s no more … around. Yeah. It’s going to be really fun. It’s time.

That doesn’t mean that Moss buys into the criticism that the show’s second season spun its wheels a bit, mired in darkness and despair. (A search for “Handmaid’s Tale” and “misery” generates 369,000 hits, including think pieces with headlines like: “Is ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ still worth the agony of watching it?”)

I get a little pissy when someone comes up to me and says that they’re too scared to watch the show or they find it too disturbing,Moss says. “I’m like, ‘Buck up.’ That’s the problem. If you’re not brave enough to watch the TV show, how are you going to be brave enough to face the reality?

I get that it’s dark,” she continues. “I don’t expect it to be easy to watch. But you have to be brave enough to face the truth of these things.Moss pauses, saying she really doesn’t want to turn this into a political conversation. Still. “It’s hard to look at those images and see the things we see on a daily basis and face that kind of reality. But if you don’t, aren’t you doing a disservice to the people who are actually going through it?” She pauses again. “This is obviously very different because it’s a TV show.

Moss leans back and lets out a nervous laugh, aware that there were times during the airing of “Handmaid’s” second season when the collision of the show’s images and the day’s headlines felt a little too close for comfort. President Trump picked an unlikely fight with Canada just as the episode exploring the uneasy tensions between Gilead and Canada aired. The following week, June was granted a brief reunion with Hannah, the daughter Gilead had taken from her, while the news cycle was dominated by news of the U.S. government separating immigrant children from their families.

The traumatic mother-daughter reunion was written in consultation with United Nations experts who offered advice on how such extreme, emotionally fraught situations play out. (“Never as expected,” Miller says.) The following episode, save for a brief, biting interlude with the Waterfords, featured June alone on screen, first looking for escape and then giving birth to her long-awaited baby. That delivery scene — moaning, groaning, guttural, beautiful — was thoroughly researched as well, with Moss watching dozens of YouTube videos of home births.

We wanted women to watch and go, ‘Yeah, that’s what it sounds like. That’s what it looks like,’Moss says. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done physically … I almost lost my voice from all that groaning.” Pause. “Though, I’m sure, it wasn’t as difficult as giving birth. Let’s maintain some perspective here.

On the subject of perspective, Moss, an executive producer on the show, initially said she’d bite her tongue when told that Miller had sketched out 10 seasons for “The Handmaid’s Tale.” But her reluctance to speak on the subject doesn’t last long.

I’m a big fan of letting the story guide you, and you’re already starting to see the cracks in Gilead,” Moss says. “We know from the book that Gilead ends. So you know, at some point, you have to bring it to a close. If we can’t finish the story until Season 7 or 8 …” As she trails off, it’s suggested that it feels like “The Handmaid’s Tale” could easily wrap up in five seasons.

Moss cups a hand over her mouth. “I think so,” she whispers. “I just feel like with most shows, five is the sweet spot,” citing “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad” as examples.

Several weeks after this conversation, Moss calls from the backyard of her family’s home in the Chicago suburbs. “The Handmaid’s Tale” just earned 20 Emmy nominations, and Moss is, of course, thrilled. But she’s nearly as enthusiastic about finally buying that rug for her apartment, an act of commerce she had earlier guaranteed would not happen any time soon.

It was a huge accomplishment just to get it under the bed,Moss says, laughing. “You think June giving birth was hard? Getting the rug under that … bed was impossible.

TIFF to Screen Her Smell
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TIFF to Screen Her Smell

The Toronto Film Festival unveiled its 2018 Platform section for its upcoming 43rd edition in September, led by world premieres for films starring Nicole Kidman, Elisabeth Moss, Patricia Clarkson and Frank Grillo.

This year’s Platform lineup also includes four features (30%) directed or co-directed by women, and seven titles that feature strong women in leading roles. The wide-ranging slate features films from the Americas, Europe, and Asia, and all but two of the titles will be making their World Premiere at the festival.

Her Smell was written and directed by Alex Ross Perry and starred and produced by Elisabeth Moss

Elisabeth Moss stars as Becky Something, a maniacally destructive punk rock star and leader of the seminal all-female rock band Something She, who pushes her relationships with bandmates, family and followers to the limit as she wages a years long war against sobriety, while attempting to re-engage the creativity that had once led her band to massive crossover success. When a new, younger female band called The Akergirls, led by Cassie, bursts onto the scene, Becky becomes their mentor. With added responsibility and watching her former friend Zelda E. Zekial (Amber Heard) RISE to celebrity megastardom while her career falters, Becky falls deeper into her downward spiral, losing all ties with those she cares about most, including her young daughter and estranged husband Danny (Dan Stevens). It is only when Becky hits rock bottom that she begins to find her path to true redemption.

The cast also features Cara Delevingne, Dan Stevens, Amber Heard, Agyness Deyn, Gayle Rankin, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula, Virginia Madsen, and Eric Stoltz.

The Platform section sees up to 12 auteur films come into Toronto without Hollywood studio backing to compete for a $25,000 prize.

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Elisabeth Moss nominated for an Emmy Awards

Elisabeth Moss has received her second Emmy nomination for her portrayal of June Osborn in The Handmaid’s Tale. She was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Last year Elisabeth was nominated for this category and won.

The Handmaid’s Tale” received 20 nominations: lead actress in a drama (Elisabeth Moss), supporting actress in a drama (Alexis Bledel, Ann Dowd, Yvonne Strahovski), supporting actor in a drama (Joseph Fiennes), guest actress in a drama (Kelly Jenrette, Cherry Jones, Samira Wiley), drama series directing (Kari Skogland), and drama series writing (Bruce Miller).

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Elisabeth Moss attends “The Handmaid’s Tale” finale screening

Elisabeth Moss attended the season two finale screening of The Handmaid’s Tale on July 9 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles.

The Emmy-winning was joined at the event by her co-stars Samira WileyAlexis Bledel, a very pregnant Yvonne StrahovskiMax MinghellaBradley WhitfordMadeline BrewerNina Kiri, and Amanda Brugel.

Season two of The Handmaid’s Tale is streaming on Hulu now.

Elisabeth was wearing a Carolina Herrera tux and Christian Louboutin.

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Appearances & Public Events > 2018 > July 09 │’The Handmaid’s Tale’ TV show finale in Los Angeles, California

  

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Elisabeth Moss helped ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ costume designer get bonnet approved

WINA – Elisabeth Moss sneakily tried on her “The Handmaid’s Tale” bonnet before it was officially approved for the show.

Costume designer Ane Crabtree, who was nominated for an Emmy and won a Costume Designers Guild Award for her work on the series, was initially tasked with creating headscarves for Elisabeth to wear as handmaid Offred so her face wasn’t covered.

In Margaret Atwood’s book, which the show is based on, the handmaids wear “white wings” so they can only see what’s directly in front of them, and so Ane set about trying to recreate this.

(With the scarves) it just felt like any old TV show and I just quietly, without getting approval, made five bonnets, took them to Lizzie (Moss) for our first fitting and I said, ‘I’m going to film you with my iPhone turning your face to the camera’,” Ane recalled, reports Variety.

And because she’s Lizzie and she’s magic incarnate, it was the right thing. It was spooky.

Ane was talking at “The Handmaid’s Tale” panel at the Producers Guild of America’s 2018 Produced By Conference over the weekend, June 9th-10th, 2018.

Showrunner Bruce Miller was also part of the panel, and explained how Elisabeth, who is also a producer, and co-star Alexis Bledel couldn’t hear each other at first because of the bonnets, and also kept hitting the camera.

But they really learned how to use the wardrobe for dramatic purposes and I think it’s one of the things that are best in the show,” he added.

Ane also shared how Bruce wanted the cloaked costumes to appear as normal and everyday as T-shirt and jeans.

I was up for the challenge but it was really the thing that kept me up at night. How can that be normal, sincerely?” she said. “So it’s been a very interesting journey as an artist to go through that… and to have other women take it and make it something greater is huge, politically and emotionally, and all those great things.” 

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Elisabeth Moss stars on Max Richter’s Short Film

Elisabeth Moss stars on Max Richter new short film for his 2004 song “On the Nature of Daylight.

The clip was director by George Belfield, and shows Moss walking a long distance in emotional distress. “My work has been inspired by his music for so many years and not a day goes by on set where I don’t have Max’s music playing in my ears before a take,Moss said in a statement. “His music and my acting have gone hand in hand for a long time. So for me the opportunity to act to one of his most prolific pieces was such an incredible honor.

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  Screencaptures > Music Videos > 2018: Max Richter – On The Nature Of Daylight

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Elisabeth Moss at the ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ TV show FYC Event

Elisabeth Moss attended the  The Handmaid’s Tale Emmy For Your Consideration Event on Thursday night (June 7) at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Moss looked chic in a sparkling black dress as she stepped out to promote her hit Hulu series.

Joining Elisabeth at the event were he co-stars Alexis BledelSamira WileyMadeline Brewer, and Yvonne Strahovski.

Season two of The Handmaid’s Tale is streaming on Hulu now.

Elisabeth was wearing an Alex Perry dress and Stella Luna shoes.

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   Appearances & Public Events > 2018 > June 07 │’The Handmaid’s Tale’ TV show FYC Event, Los Angeles

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“It’s a Revolution”: The Hollywood Reporter Drama Actress Roundtable

Six top TV stars — Angela Bassett, Claire Foy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Elisabeth Moss, Thandie Newton and Sandra Oh — unload on the power of producing, onscreen nudity (male and female), learning to say no and the better-late-than-never push for gender pay parity: “There was so much talk, and where was the action?”

The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Drama Actress Roundtable conversation veers into the subject of pay parity. It is a hot-button issue that the Crown star has been unable to avoid since March, when a producer on her acclaimed Netflix drama disclosed that Foy, who has played Queen Elizabeth for two seasons, was paid less than her male co-star Matt Smith. Going forward, however, the producer noted, “No one gets paid more than the queen.” The admission ignited fury and was quickly followed by an apology for dragging Foy and Smith to “the center of a media storm.” But the saga was not without a silver lining: HBO stars Thandie Newton (Westworld) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Deuce) quickly saw their own salaries boosted to match their male counterparts’, as they reveal to their compatriots at the Hollywood gathering.

Over the course of an hour at Line 204 Studios on April 29, Foy, 34, Newton, 45, and Gyllenhaal, 40, were joined by Elisabeth Moss, 35 (Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and SundanceTV’s Top of the Lake: China Girl); Sandra Oh, 46 (BBC America’s Killing Eve); and Angela Bassett, 59 (Fox’s 9-1-1) for a wide-ranging discussion that also hit on the politics of sex scenes, the power in producing and the parts that have warranted an easy and immediate “no.” But first and foremost — as is increasingly the case in today’s Hollywood — they talked money.

Claire, one of the conversations that you got unwittingly pulled into was one about pay parity.

CLAIRE FOY Here we go … (Laughs.)

How much did you know about the pay disparity between you and your co-star before the world knew, and what did it feel like to be at the center of that?

FOY I [could have] kept my mouth shut and said, “I have nothing to say, I’m a robot.” I was part of a really incredible show that I’m really proud of and grateful for, but that shouldn’t stop me from having an opinion about something that I have been brought into the center of. It would be very different if it was something that I didn’t have an opinion on, but it’s something that I feel really strongly about and that I had a suspicion of …

THANDIE NEWTON Is that why it got talked about? Because you had a suspicion?

FOY No, no, no. It came about purely because the producers brought it up [at a conference] as a way of saying, “This is a good thing because in the first two [seasons] this is what happened, but we’ll never do that again.”

SANDRA OH Oh, whoops!

NEWTON That’s what’s happened with HBO now because of what [happened on your] show. They’re now having all the men and women [making] equal pay. It’s a revolution.

MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL It’s true. That’s a place where honestly there was so much talk, and where was the action? And then I just get a call going over the bridge to Brooklyn saying my salary now is way higher than I ever considered it would be, and it’s because of these conversations. At first, I was like, “Wait, this is not fair. Why do I get to win the lottery?” And then I went, “No, it’s been unfair to the point where I’ve digested it and accepted it without ever considering that it could or should be equal.”

FOY Looking back now at the conversations you have at the beginning of doing a deal and all that, and this may be a cultural thing, but in the United Kingdom we don’t talk about money.

GYLLENHAAL We don’t talk about it here either.

But will you now?

FOY No. (Laughter.) But the point is I don’t have to now.

NEWTON It’s going to set a precedent.

FOY Yeah. And the thing is, at the beginning of the deal when they’re saying, “This is gonna happen and you’re gonna get paid this and blah, blah, blah,” I have never felt that I would ever be in a position where I could ask [for more] and I would know what was happening and I would know what decisions were being made. But they used that to their favor, [the fact] that you can’t, and they’d all say, “But you’re not worth that.” And you go, “You’re right, I’m not.” Because that’s what you say to yourself when someone tells you that, and you absorb it.

ALL Yeah.

For those of you who are producers, do you feel compelled or empowered to start having those conversations and speaking up about pay on your shows now?

ANGELA BASSETT I’m probably feeling a little bit more empowered to do so, but for so long it’s just been about wanting to work. And wanting to be paid fairly, sure, and not having a frame of reference of what someone else is getting or the fear of, if you over-reach you’re going to lose the job.

NEWTON And that’s used against us all the time.

BASSETT You hear, “We’re gonna move on if you say no.”

NEWTON But then you say no, and suddenly they say, “Oh, actually would you reconsider?” That’s a tactic I’ve used.

BASSETT Good for you. (Clapping.)

ELISABETH MOSS When you’re leading the show and you’re the face of the show and a lot of people are making a lot of money off of that face and your work, it does put you in an empowered position. It’s not just financial, it’s about other ways of having control and a say, which frankly no one is used to. You start asking for something, and they’re like, “Oh right, I guess you could have that. No one has ever asked.”

FOY I can’t imagine being an executive producer on a show and me saying something and them not just going, “But you’re just an actor.”

You’ve heard that?

FOY That’s what’s understood. And that you’re difficult when you say, “Could we just push my pickup time by 25 minutes?”

MOSS Oh yeah.

GYLLENHAAL I asked to be a producer on my show because I’d never done this thing before where you get three scripts and the season is 10 scripts and then you might go on for three years. And I’m playing a sex worker, and of course I have to take my clothes off all the time, and I’m like, “Wait, I have to be able to know that I will be included in the conversation.” But, actually, I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying, “Could you please push my call time 25 minutes?” (Laughs.)

MOSS Really? I do that all the time.

FOY All the time. I’m like, “I need to sleep.”

What are you asking for with that producer hat on, Maggie?

GYLLENHAAL Well, for example, in our show there is lots of prostitution, lots of transactional sex, lots of fake orgasms. They’re not called fake orgasms, but you cut in on the end of a sex act between a sex worker and a John and you hear this loud orgasm, and I said to David Simon, the man running our show, “I think you need to see a real feminine orgasm in order to show the contrast and to show that these are performative. It will illuminate the misogyny and the performance and all that stuff.” When I first said it to him, he pretended to spit his water back in his cup. But then he wrote a scene where my character is sleeping with somebody whom she actually wants to sleep with. He doesn’t make her come, and so she turns over and makes herself come.

NEWTON That’s amazing.

GYLLENHAAL And I was like, “This orgasm needs to be the realest orgasm ever. This needs to be one that takes 30 seconds, that’s very quiet, that’s just about her.” I thought about it, and then I went in and did that on TV. And that’s way more vulnerable than the orgasm that’s the performance.

OH How empowering to be able to have an artistic say in what your character is doing.

GYLLENHAAL But then I see the cut, and they cut the orgasm.

ALL No! (Laughter.)

GYLLENHAAL I wrote a dissertation by email, and then I woke up at 6 o’clock in the morning to see if they [read] it. And the second I got to set, I was like, “Where is the orgasm?” I explained to them again why they needed it in. And they put it in.

BASSETT You fought for it.

OH That’s fantastic. Such a great win.

MOSS I know that dissertation email so well. (Laughs.)

When you’re considering roles, you’re all at a point in your careers where you can afford to be picky. How do you decide what’s a yes versus a no?

OH It takes a while to get to a point in your career where you can actually make a choice. And after a decade of my life on a show [Grey’s Anatomy], I had enough economic power to be able to say no. Those four years were like active waiting. I was not not working really in here (motions to her gut) to be able to figure out what the right thing is and what it is to say no and what it is to say yes. It’s like falling in love. Now, what I realize is I have a little bit more awareness, a little more consciousness, I want this out of a relationship and I’m just going to wait until they show up because I feel like they’ll show up.

You’ve talked about reading the initial pilot script for Killing Eve and scrolling through quite a bit of it before you realized you were being asked to play the central storyteller. Why do you think that is, and what did you learn from that realization?

OH That moment was a real punch in the gut for me because the internalization [that I couldn’t be seen as the lead] was really deep. I get the script, I’m on the phone with my agent, I remember exactly where I was, right by BAM in Brooklyn, and I’m going, “Scrolling, scrolling” (scans her phone). I’m just like, “I don’t know, who am I playing? What’s the part?” [My agent] goes, “Eve! You’re playing Eve.” Something happened to me in that moment where I couldn’t even see myself [as the central character].

NEWTON You hadn’t given yourself permission.

OH Right. Why didn’t I?

FOY That makes me want to cry.

OH So the fact that [creator] Phoebe Waller-Bridge, BBC America and Sally Woodward Gentle, our producer, said, “Yes, why not this [for me]?” I felt slightly ashamed — and if I can’t see myself in that moment, then other people have that weight as well. And so we need to hold these things up for other people to see.

NEWTON Oh my God, yes.

OH And that’s one of the reasons why I said, “I’m going to take this. I’m gonna leave my life here — I’m going to do everything to make this.”

So that was your big yes. For the rest of you, are there types of roles that you just say, “Mmm, not gonna do that”?

NEWTON Oh my God, yeah. Ninety-five percent [of them].

What’s an easy no?

NEWTON Well, for a start, it’s how a character is described in a script. For years, I’d be called up and they’d say, “Thandie, they want to go exotic with the role, so get excited.” (Laughter.) Or they want to go “ethnic” with the role. And I would just have to brace myself because it was so deeply offensive, but I wanted to work. And then I’d read the script and I’d transform it out of this bizarre objectification. I’d think, like, “How can I help make this more progressive?” I’d spend a lot of time trying to give more dimension to these women’s roles. And oftentimes — well, always — they would be written by men, and I’d find myself desperately trying to stop these characters from being demonized, and that happens [because] you don’t have enough lines or screen time to actually try and humanize these characters. So, I’ve found I’ve had to rise above the initial hurt that I feel that a man has written a role that is objectifying this person, whether it’s their ethnicity or [a description like], “She turns up, she’s beautiful, she’s sexy without giving too much away …”

FOY Oh God, that’s an awful description. (Laughter.)

NEWTON Or you turn up at a photo shoot, and it’ll say, “The idea behind this shoot is strong, powerful, sexy.” And as soon as I read sexy, I’m like, “Really? Do we have to be sexy in order to be powerful?” Let’s start looking at the way things are described because they have ramifications. I have daughters. I don’t want her thinking you have to be sexy to be powerful.

BASSETT Well, at least you stay in the conversation. If I look at something and I feel that way about it, or offended, then it’s like, “Well, it’s not for me, but it’s for someone else, perhaps.”

NEWTON But we have influence and we can help them because very often people have no idea that they’ve done it. I’ve heard unbelievable statistics about how many men are writing our roles, and of course they’re going to get it wrong. How can they be in our shoes? How can they really understand how we feel? We have to correct that. And we have the opportunity.

GYLLENHAAL I’ve worked with a lot of men who are actually interested in and curious about women. Even if, of course, it’s impossible for a man to entirely understand a feminine experience, there are men who are interested in exploring it with you and in correcting it if you’re like, “Mmm, no, it’s actually more like this.”

NEWTON Sure. It’s scary, though, to be the one to say, “Hang on a sec, guys, can we try this?”

GYLLENHAAL My show is actually about this: sex as a way into having an actual interesting conversation. And when I look back with a little objectivity on the work I’ve done in my life, I don’t think I was conscious of this but I do think sex and sex scenes and sexuality has been a way to get people’s attention and then go, “OK, are you listening now? Here’s what I actually really want to talk about.” That’s what was available to me, so that’s what I used.

NEWTON Yep.

GYLLENHAAL I’m really interested in sex, like everybody else, and I’m interested in sex scenes. But in my show, my character has access to filmmaking but only in porn and only with her body. That’s how she can get in and start having the conversation where she’s like, “What does that light do?” — while she’s got her clothes off. But I kind of relate to that as an actress. I don’t know if you all feel this way, but it has felt like a prerequisite that, yes, you can be smart and powerful and all these things, but you also have to throw a little sexiness in there. And I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way, but it certainly has been that way for most of my career.

NEWTON [It’s one thing] when you’re in control and empowered to be able to dial up and down however much sexiness you want to use, but what worries me is when you’re a young person coming into this industry and you’re encouraged to use your sexuality and you haven’t made decisions about that.

GYLLENHAAL But haven’t we all been …?

BASSETT Mmmm, no, not really. (Laughter.) I’ve not been asked to use my sexuality in my career.

GYLLENHAAL Really?

BASSETT Not as a black woman, no.

GYLLENHAAL Hmm.

NEWTON I wonder why?

OH I’ll echo Angela’s experience. For me, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten any job based on bum bum bum … (motions to her body). As fabulous as it is. (Laughter.)

FOY That’s really interesting and alarming.

OH But it’s also complicated in lots of ways if you are the person [for whom] that’s not at the forefront of your toolbox. And there’s a lot of different feelings that we have when people are not interested in your [sexuality]. I have realized in a lot of this awakening that there are a lot of times where I have felt left out, ignored, not seen, but now I see I’ve been protected.

NEWTON How?

FOY If people didn’t see you that way, you don’t get sent those parts?

OH It’s not so much that, it’s the compromises. I have not necessarily been in the situations where I have had to compromise in those ways. Other ways I have — but my ability to continue the integrity of my work has not, I don’t think, been as weighted as it has for a lot of other actresses I know.

FOY What really pisses me off is that there is one idea of what is sexy. And now because I’m doing more and more photo shoots and things like that that are required of me and I’m expected to be a certain way …

What way is that?

FOY (Gives mock sexy poses.)

NEWTON Yeah, yeah, yeah, the sexy thing. (Laughter.)

FOY I just don’t have it. I don’t have it in me to be sexy as someone else. I don’t know why I would be sexy or in what way I’m sexy, and I don’t know whether I can play up my sexiness.

GYLLENHAAL But I’m not talking about that kind of sexy. I’ve been told I’m not sexy enough or beautiful enough so many more times than I can even remember from the time I was 22 years old. I’m talking about what you’re saying (looks to Oh), which is: I figured out at some point that one of the things in my toolbox was the way I feel that I’m sexy. And for us as women, we have to use whatever’s in our toolbox. I’m not interested in the pretend sexy thing and I’m not interested in seeing it in other people, either.

FOY That’s the fallacy of it. I don’t think anybody really is.

NEWTON Well …

GYLLENHAAL I know. (Laughter.)

How do the conversation and tone on set change as you start to see more male nudity?

GYLLENHAAL Oh, I’ve had like three prosthetic penises put in front of a group of people to figure out which one went best with which man.

OH Wow.

And what does that feel like, having always been the one who’s had to strip down?

GYLLENHAAL I don’t know how to compare that to anything! (Laughs.)

NEWTON I do. With the season premiere, [my co-star] Simon Quarterman was completely naked and he was terrified. There was no prosthetic penis there. He decided to go for it. And just being aware of his vulnerability … What I love about Westworld is that it’s showing the vulnerability and the objectification of a person, and if you see a person naked and not in a sexual context, suddenly you don’t want to look. Well, maybe some people do want to jerk off to what I was doing in season one, but that’s really weird and they should check into a hospital.

ALL Mm, hmm. (Laughter.)

NEWTON But that’s why I took the show. I’ve been objectified, I’ve had directors lie to me when I’m in a naked situation on a movie and been told that they’re cutting here (motions to her bust line and up) when in fact they’re shooting from here (motions to whole body), so you see everything. I’ve had terrible things happen, so to be able to say to the showrunners of Westworld, “I am willing to stand for 75 percent of this season totally naked” because it wasn’t a sexual context [is powerful]. And then to see this man terrified of being naked when Evan Rachel Wood and I have grown accustomed to it, sitting there, having a chat, a glass of water, totally naked, it was very touching. And he’s learned that it’s really tough, and the more men that do it. … And men are also really worried about how their bodies look. So much more worried than us. Like these guys on Westworld are all, “How does my bum look? I’m really scared, can you do some shading here and there?” And we’re like, “Really?’ (Laughter.)

For those of you who are producers, when have you decided to weigh in as a female voice?

MOSS Luckily, I work in a really incredibly collaborative atmosphere on my show that I’ve never experienced before — and I’ve been around for a while. As one of the only female executive producers, obviously there’s a weight there. I have a perspective that nobody else will have, and that’s so respected and appreciated. That shouldn’t be crazy that it’s appreciated, it should be appreciated. As far as the nudity and the sex, I was lucky in the sense that five years ago I worked with Jane Campion [on Top of the Lake] and it was my first nude scene, and she gave me 100 percent approval without me asking.

NEWTON Oh, that’s incredible.

MOSS I was like, “I don’t know, I don’t know,” and she was like, “Listen …”

GYLLENHAAL I have that, too.

MOSS Everyone should have it.

What does 100 percent approval over nude scenes entail?

MOSS It means I have 100 percent approval over all the footage and I can literally say, “You cannot use that scene.”

GYLLENHAAL And it means instead of having to negotiate [ahead of time] — which I think is really strange — “You can show a right nipple but not this (motions to her rear) …”

MOSS Instead it’s [seeing the footage and saying], “Oh, I’m comfortable with this but I’m not comfortable with that.”

GYLLENHAAL I’ve been doing a lot of nudity all my career and I’ve had it for 15 years, and I’ve actually never taken anything out.

MOSS You’ve got to get it. I have it on everything now. They can’t send out a cut that has something in it without me approving it.

NEWTON I wish I’d known that. That’s why we all need to talk.

The Hollywood Reporter