The Hollywood Reporter – Elisabeth Moss is back in Toronto, where she stars in the locally shot Hulu drama The Handmaid’s Tale, for which she won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for best actress in a drama.
But Moss is this week at the Toronto Film Festival to debut her latest movie, Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell, where she plays a maniacally destructive punk rock star battling substance abuse and personal demons in a failed bid to stay famous and creative.
“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Moss said of her third collaboration with Perry and her role as Becky Something, the brilliant and brash frontwoman of a ’90s rock band who finds herself giving up everything and everyone as her emotional freight train speeds toward a cliff’s edge.
Before the world premiere for Her Smell on Sunday night at Toronto’s Winter Garden Theater, Moss talked to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Etan Vlessing about preparing to play a self-destructing punk rocker with emotion and sweat, developing skin calluses to play the guitar without pain, and possible award season buzz for her latest movie star turn.
You spend so much time in Toronto shooting The Handmaid’s Tale. How does it feel bringing Her Smell to TIFF?
Toronto has become a second home. I’ve spent so much time there, around six or seven months of the year. I spend more time in Toronto than I do in New York City, where I live. For me, it’s great. I’m staying at the house that I’m going to live in for season three [of Handmaid’s] for the festival. I know the neighborhood. I can tell the driver where to go, as opposed to a few years ago at the festival when I didn’t know where I was. I know Toronto really well. So it’s incredibly convenient.
In Her Smell, you play Becky Something, a character who battles everyone and everything to stay sober and not self-destruct. How did you balance your character having an emotional breakdown while carrying the movie’s audience on a wild ride?
One of the interesting things is we pick up at the start of her demise, at the start of her descent, rather than her rise to fame. That’s one of the conceits of the script that Alex wanted to do, to watch somebody fall, rather than launch them and see them rise up. We’ve kind of seen that story and know it is a great one. But with this character, you want to see what happens at the beginning of their demise and descent from popularity and fame.
Tell us about who Becky Something is.
She’s an incredible artist and she’s an incredible singer and songwriter and has a vitality to her that’s difficult to keep in a box. She’s an addict, which has a huge effect on her personality and her life. And when we start the movie, she’s at the height of her addiction and struggling to chase the high of the fame and adulation as well. It’s not just the drugs, as she struggles to be as famous and relevant as she once was.
How do you prepare for a role where, emotionally and physically, you hit rock bottom?
I did a lot of research into addiction and spoke to a few people who were very generous and very open and willing to share their stories. It’s amazing how personal the people I spoke to were able to be, as they gave me an insight into issues that are difficult to talk about — not just the mechanics of addiction, but the personal stories.
Becky is an incredible musician. I’m assuming you are not. How did you prepare for that side of the role?
It was about six months of preparation in learning to play the guitar and the piano and learning the songs. I know how to sing, so I listened to a lot of punk and grunge music. I’m not really into either punk or grunge, as I was raised on jazz and blues music and classical, because I was a ballet dancer. So it was a deep dive into that punk and grunge world.