Elisabeth Moss on ‘Her Smell’ and Why She Won’t Do a ‘Mad Men’ Reboot
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Elisabeth Moss on ‘Her Smell’ and Why She Won’t Do a ‘Mad Men’ Reboot

Vanity FairElisabeth Moss puts it all out there as the strung-out rock star at the center of “Her Smell.

The Alex Ross Perry drama earned raves for the Emmy winner when it screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with many critics noting that the drug-addled, hard-partying singer is a change of pace role for Moss who tends to portray more outwardly composed characters in shows such as “Mad Men.” Moss learned to play the guitar and does her own singing in the film, a stretch that she found alternately terrifying and exhilarating.

Her Smell” is Moss’s third collaboration with Perry — the two previously worked together on “Listen Up Philip” and “Queen of Earth.” On the eve of the film’s Toronto debut, Moss spoke with Variety about drawing on Axl Rose for inspiration, the feminist side of punk rock, and why she thinks her Hulu hit “The Handmaid’s Tale” has resonated with audiences.

What’s behind your frequent collaborations with Alex?

It’s simple. He writes really good scripts, and ‘Her Smell’ had an incredible female lead that most people wouldn’t have thought of me for. We also have a good yin and yang. He’s good at things I’m not good at and vice versa. I’d make six more movies with him if I could.

Why did you want to play Becky Something in ‘Her Smell’?

She’s larger than life. She’s volatile, emotional, sensitive, and she has this terrible toxic combination of extreme confidence and very high self-esteem. When she’s at her best, she’s so fun and you want to be around her, and when she’s bad, she’s the worst demon to deal with.

What kind of research did you do to play the role?

I read a lot about that era of punk music. In the ’80s and ’90s, there were actually a bunch of incredible female punk artists and bands as part of this riot girl movement. I didn’t try to emulate any one person, but Alex says there’s a lot of Axl Rose in her and that he’s an inspiration.

She’s an addict, so I spoke to a few people who will remain anonymous about what it’s like to be addicted to drugs. You can look on YouTube to see how you behave if you take a particular drug, but the most interesting thing that someone told me was this idea that the drugs stop working at some point. You’re always chasing a high, and you can’t take enough to get to the same place, so you just take more and more.

Did you sing and play the guitar for the film or did you lip synch and play along to pre-recorded tracks?

It’s me. I started learning the guitar in the middle of Season 2 [of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’]. I remember telling my instructor, I’m not here to have a career change. I just need to learn these songs. Alex told me that I didn’t have to learn to play, I could fake it. But in order to fake playing the guitar believably, you have to learn to play it. There’s no in-between.

Will you keep performing music?

It was just for the role, but it was such a rush to pretend to be a rock star. It’s one of those crazy, cool things you get to do when you’re an actor. It’s so validating to get up in front of all these people and sing and play. They’re are all these extras that are hired to cheer and scream and make you feel like you’re amazing.

Why do you think fans have embraced ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?

The material is incredibly relevant. It’s tapping into a feeling of anxiety and frustration that’s really out there right now in this political moment.

Would you do another season of ‘Top of the Lake’?

In a heartbeat. [Creator] Jane Campion could make me fly to New Zealand and read the telephone book. It’s not up to me, but I love that character. She’s so challenging and exciting to play, but we have to have the right idea. The last season wrapped things up well, so we have to have a good reason to come back.

From “Murphy Brown” to “Will & Grace,” there are lots of television revivals right now. Would you want to revive “Mad Men”?

I’d love to do anything that [creator] Matt Weiner writes, but it would be a different show. That series was about this group of people living in a very specific era. I guess never say never, but I think the show ended pretty well. Sometimes it’s best to leave the party before everybody wants to kick you out.

Elisabeth Moss and Alex Ross Perry challenge themselves and the audience with ‘Her Smell’
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Elisabeth Moss and Alex Ross Perry challenge themselves and the audience with ‘Her Smell’

LA Times

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival has an unexpected onslaught of movies centered around female singers. There’s the splashy “A Star Is Born,” starring Lady Gaga, the headier “Vox Lux” with Natalie Portman, the rootsy “Wild Rose” featuring a breakout turn by Jessie Buckley and the yearning “Teen Spirit,” with Elle Fanning.

And then there is “Her Smell,” a wild, churning character study like no other starring Elisabeth Moss as Becky Something, the leader of a fictional ’90s rock group called Something She.

Just like its lead character, the film is aggressive and purposefully obnoxious. It more or less dares an audience to live through its forceful, unrelenting energy — and the self-destructive, pushy pitch of Moss’ performance — for most of the two-hour-plus running time to ultimately get to a place of serenity, self-knowledge and grace.

The movie is the third collaboration between Moss and writer-director Alex Ross Perry, following the literary romantic roundelays of “Listen Up Philip” and the female-centric psychodrama of “Queen of Earth.” The award-winning star of “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” may seem an unlikely fit with a low-budget filmmaker specializing in caustic examinations of discontent, but they have forged one of the most energizing partnerships on the current indie scene.

It just kind of works for some reason,Moss said. “Obviously there’s a really basic thing which is like we both want to make not only good films but films that haven’t been done before — films that we haven’t done before. We both really wanted to challenge ourselves, particularly with this movie.”

Her Smell” had its world premiere Sunday night as part of the Toronto festival’s Platform section. Perry’s film brings an outsized ensemble into Becky’s vortex of bad vibes, including Becky’s bandmates played by Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin, a younger band played by Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson and Dylan Gelula, a pop-star rival by Amber Heard, a record executive by Eric Stoltz, an ex by Dan Stevens and Becky’s mother by Virginia Madsen.

And though the inspiration for Becky Something in “Her Smell” would presumably be the world of ’90s rock figures such Courtney Love of Hole, Kim and Kelley Deal of the Breeders or riot grrrl-era bands such as Bikini Kill, L7 or Sleater-Kinney, according to Perry, the film instead found its main impetus in the recent Guns N’ Roses reunion tour — and in the structure of Shakespeare.

If you can make it so I’m a little bit struggling, just on the edge of being like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ that’s what I want.

In summer 2016, Perry saw a Guns N’ Roses reunion concert, a production of “The Merchant of Venice” featuring his “Listen Up Philip” actor Jonathan Pryce, and Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour screen adaptation of “Hamlet.” Something clicked watching the rise and fall of Shakespeare’s characters.

 “I can see how it would seem unusual,” admitted Perry, who also co-wrote this summer’s Disney hit “Christopher Robin,” in an interview alongside Moss here this week.

I’d been kind of promising Lizzie this script for a while just saying I have this character and I know her name and then a year passed and then this month happened. At the end of it I said, I know this movie now,” said Perry. “And then six months later I had a script.

Moss ended up with only a week between the end of shooting the second season of “Handmaid’s Tale” — for which she has subsequently been nominated for two Emmys ahead of next week’s ceremony — and the start of production for “Her Smell.”

Becky speaks in a wild, nonstop patois all her own, a raging torrent of words, which combined with an abrasive demeanor made the character uniquely difficult even for a performer as experienced as Moss

It was hard. It was one of the only things I’ve done that wasn’t always fun,Moss said.

Because I do a lot of really dark, challenging material, if you can challenge me at this point, you get such a really big gold star from me,” she said before pausing. “I’m trying to word it without sounding egotistical, but if you can make it so I’m a little bit struggling, just on the edge of being like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ that’s what I want. I want you to put me in a place where I’m not sure if I can do it. That’s interesting to me.

In preparing for the role, Moss tried to borrow from a range of inspirations, so that the character couldn’t be too closely tied to any one person. She watched documentaries on Marilyn Monroe, and studied people across the spectrum of fame for how they grappled with addiction.

And just as there are multiple female pop-star movies at TIFF this year, there are also numerous films dealing with addiction, including “Ben Is Back,” starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges, and “Beautiful Boy,” with Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. Yet despite Becky’s appetites for any substance she can get her hands on, Perry says his film is not a story of addiction.

Honestly, if I’m being serious, the thing I say is the movie is about identity,” said Perry. “It’s not about nineties music. It’s not about the dynamics of a band. It’s not about celebrity and not about motherhood, it’s not about addiction, it’s about identity. Simply put, this is a movie that has nine characters, all of whom live their lives with a name that is not their name. And that, to me, is the movie.

The style of the movie is deliberately extreme — from the churning, disorienting sound design to Becky’s abhorrent behavior. A negative review in the Hollywood Reporter called the film “excruciatingly self-indulgent” as well as “ugly and off-putting.” Even a positive notice in IndieWire referred to it as “obscenely unpleasant.”

For Perry, delivering the first three acts as a full-on whirlwind is purely intentional, designed to take people well past a conventional breaking point.

I think in a punk movie about punk women, you want that adrenaline,” Perry said. “The characters give you license to make a movie that just goes and goes and goes and goes. It goes like cocaine. It goes like electricity plugged into an amp. It goes like a neon sign buzzing for three acts. And to me it’s an appropriate thing based on what the movie’s about and what the characters are.

“It’s also just a gigantic challenge that I wanted to do both on the page and then an even bigger challenge on set,” Perry said. “I, as someone who’s very low-key and fairly lazy — can I make something that has a relentlessness to it?

Moss herself had a revelation about the movie while watching it for the first time on a big screen in Toronto.

This film is not her point of view. It’s from the point of view of the other people,” said Moss. “It puts you through what Becky put those people around her through. It is in-your-face. She is annoying. It can be off-putting. It’s a lot. You just want to take a … break. You’re also kind of drawn to her and want to know where she is. You’re looking for her when she’s not there. It puts you through what the people around her go through.”

Late in the movie, Moss performs a spare, heartfelt rendition of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” at a piano for just her young daughter in a startling, single unbroken take. After all that Becky and the movie have put audiences through, both Moss and Perry say that reaching that catharsis is the point.

I felt like that’s the movie,” Perry said. “If we can get people there — it’s literally the last thing in the world you would expect to happen in this movie after the first hour. So therefore we’ve got to do it.

Check the pics in our gallery:

Photoshoots & Portraits > 2018 > Pep. 9 | TIFF

  
Elisabeth Moss Goes Down Rabbit Hole Of Manic Self-Destruction As ’90s Punk Rocker
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Elisabeth Moss Goes Down Rabbit Hole Of Manic Self-Destruction As ’90s Punk Rocker

Deadline

In Her SmellElisabeth Moss’ third film with writer-director Alex Ross Perry, the Emmy and Golden Globe winner trades in dystopian hopelessness for a different kind of darkness, throwing herself entirely into the anarchy of the ’90s punk rock world.

Starring alongside Cara Delevingne, Amber Heard, Ashley Benson, Dylan Gelula and more, Moss is Becky Something, the brilliant and brilliantly self-destructive front woman of ’90s rock band Something She, struggling with sobriety and alienating everyone in her path in the years of her creative decline. Clearly something of a muse for Perry, Moss is drawn to the “really great female roles” the director has written time and time again. “[He] makes movies that other people aren’t making, very unique,” the actress told Deadline, appearing with Perry, Delevingne, Heard, Benson and Gelula. “That’s the kind of stuff that I want to do.

Prepping for the film—which focuses, atypically, on the fall from rock star glory, rather than the ascent—Moss reached out to individuals from the music world who could speak to this aspect of the rock star’s experience. “To be fair, you did watch YouTube videos of girls tripping on meth in Walmarts,” Perry joked, with regard to her research process.

Setting out to write a great role for Moss that we haven’t seen from the actress before, Perry was cognizant of the fact that there wasn’t much precedent for the kind of project he had in mind. “There’s a lot of music movies in the world, but I think that the genre of this movie is something that no one really makes movies about, or takes particularly seriously,” he said. Many of the “women in rock, or girl punk movies” that do exist were made in the ’80s, when this musical culture was new, the director noted. “People haven’t started really looking back at it, and certainly not at the ‘90s, which felt like something that I just had never seen before.

Writing the film around the time of the 2016 Guns N’ Roses reunion tour, Perry wanted Becky to be “that machismo, swinging attitude, vulgar male rock star”—akin to Axl Rose or Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher. To portray the punk rock world convincingly on screen, Perry had all of his actresses in the film’s two central bands go through their own musical boot camp. “We all had different journeys with the instruments. I had four or five months, I guess, of trying to learn how to play something, and everyone just kind of jumped in really head first,Moss said. “It was really, I think, scary for a lot of us. It’s not what we do, but we were very supported by each other in our anxiety about it.

To hear more from the Her Smell stars about their preparations for Perry’s latest film—which marks something of a creative departure for the indie writer/director—take a look above.

Elisabeth Moss Studied Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Marilyn Monroe to Play an Unleashed Rock Star in ‘Her Smell’ — TIFF
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Elisabeth Moss Studied Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Marilyn Monroe to Play an Unleashed Rock Star in ‘Her Smell’ — TIFF

IndieWire

The actress and producer tells IndieWire she turned to some of Hollywood’s biggest tragedies to inspire her role in Alex Ross Perry’s hard-hitting rock drama.

It’s easy to hate Becky Something, the hurricane of rock n’ roll destruction at the center of Alex Ross Perry’s “Her Smell.” Played with ferocious intensity by actress and producer Elisabeth Moss, the star’s third teaming with Perry sees Moss hitting another high note after the pair’s vicious “Queen of Earth,” but it also comes with a timely addiction narrative that she was eager to get right.

Told in a five-act structure and interspersed with flashbacks, “Her Smell” unfolds over nearly a decade as Becky and her bandmates (Agyness Deyn and Gayle Rankin, worthy matches for Moss) struggle with the price of fame and creative freedom as their band, Something She, rises and falls, mostly due to Becky’s whims.

As the band cycles through bad gigs (three out of five of the film’s acts take place in grimy backstages) and even worse trips, Becky is forced to grapple with the havoc she’s wreaked on everyone around her, made still more frightening by her drug addiction and emotional unease.

It’s familiar territory for Moss and Perry, who previously used 2015’s “Queen of Earth” to stage another incisive view into the bonds between women threatened by mental illness, but “Her Smell” goes even deeper.

Moss remembers her “Queen of Earth” director texting her in 2015 with an idea: to follow “a rock star who was on the outs in her career and was an addict and had a baby, and dealing with that, what that would be like to have that kind of addiction and lifestyle and have a baby.” That’s all she needed, and she encouraged Perry to write so they could set about making it.

First, however, she had to prepare for the role that would be emotionally and physically draining, from her on-stage performances to some high-energy tantrums.

I watched any music documentary I could get my hands on, honestly,Moss told IndieWire in a recent interview. “All the usual suspects, ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck,’ which I’d already seen but now I’ve seen a million times, ‘Amy,’ the Amy Winehouse documentary. And also things on Marilyn Monroe, like that kind of thing, just to get a grasp of that fame and that addiction. Anything I could find about somebody who was incredibly famous or successful, but also dealing with addiction, was very helpful.

Some early reactions to the film compared Becky to Courtney Love, but Moss bristles a bit at the need to trade one blonde rocker for another. As she put it, “Why isn’t she Axl Rose?

Moss also looked beyond well-publicized stories of Hollywood tragedy, opting to spend time with recovering addicts who showed her “things that you can’t get from reading a book or watching a documentary, but things that were very real.

I have not, thankfully, dealt with addiction myself personally, but I tried as much as I could to, not just watch documentaries, but actually talk to people who’ve dealt with it and were now sober,Moss said. “A couple of people that I spoke to, obviously who will remain anonymous, were so open and vulnerable about it. … You actually have to be able to talk about it, and you have to be able to face it.

The film doesn’t glamorize drugs; instead, it drops the audience into Becky’s story long after she has gone off the rails. “It was very important for me to try to be as accurate and truthful about that as possible,Moss said. “That’s why we don’t even show a lot of drugs being taken in the movie, because we do not want to glamorize it. We want to show the effects on the people around her, of that addiction.

For Moss, those effects were the most informative element of the film. “I think that it’s one thing to be crazy and fun, and say crazy shit and talk really fast, but it’s specifically in Act Three, which is at the height of her demise, she’scruel,Moss said. “So much of the film deals with not only the person who is going through the addiction, but how it affects everyone in her orbit, her bandmates, her ex-husband, her child, her mother, and affects the people that are connected to them.

She continued, “When you’re that fucked up and you’ve really lost yourself, you can go places that you would never think that somebody would be able to go.

Her Smell” premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

Elisabeth Moss Finally Gets to Cut Loose in Her Smell
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Elisabeth Moss Finally Gets to Cut Loose in Her Smell

Vanity Fair  

Alex Ross Perry’s rock-star movie will be divisive—but there’s magic in it when Moss is on-screen.

Resolved: rock stars are a handful. Few recent movies attest to this as brashly, or as uncomfortably, as Her Smell, the newest collaboration between offbeat indie writer and director Alex Ross Perry and his as-ever surprising, invigorating star, Elisabeth Moss.

Moss plays Becky Something, lead singer, in the 1990s, of the three-woman punk band Something She—which used to sell out large venues and grace the cover of Spinmagazine but has, as of the movie’s opening minutes, fallen into a bit of a slump.

You can thank Becky for that. Loud, unpredictable, chain-smoking Becky, who’s been canceling tours at the last minute, who insists on dragging an overpaid and likely fraudulent shaman with her from venue to venue to cleanse her life of bad vibes—which must be hard when Becky is the bad vibe. Her behavior backstage and in the studio has prevented the band from releasing an album for years; audiences have shrunken down to their nostalgic devotees. She’s an addict, plain and simple. And Her Smell gives us a front-row seat to how powerfully this undermines her relationships and her sense of who she is, to say nothing of her career.

 Not that you’re entirely aware of her condition at first. One of the more curious choices Perry makes in Her Smell is to avoid a specific sense, for most of the film’s run time, of just what’s driven Becky off the rails. We never see her drink or do drugs; in the film’s opening stretches, she could just as well be having a manic episode—or, frankly, be acting like a rock star. Which must be the point. Her Smellopens exhaustingly, with the world-consuming orgy of bad behavior that, as anyone who’s followed the lives of Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, or Axl Rose knows, come with the territory.

But that doesn’t mitigate the utter shock, the outsize discomfort, of Her Smell’s opening minutes. Perry and his sterling cast jump-start their movie by throwing us to the wolves. Becky, backstage with her bandmates, Marielle (Agyness Deyn) and Ali (Gayle Rankin), after a show, is chaos incarnate—and so is the filmmaking, a whirlwind of clashing colors and tight shots that makes the bodies on-screen feel like they’re in a constant state of collision. Becky’s by turns distraught, amused, angry face smears the screen with unpredictable emotion, against a constant clash and clatter of music.

 What’s happening is easy enough to suss out: Becky is high, and has received a visitor—“Dirtbag” Dan (Dan Stevens), ex-husband and father of her child—whose presence, and new wife, seem to set her off. Other things happen. Her manager, Howard (Eric Stoltz), has reached the end of his patience, to say nothing of his credit line. Zelda E. Zekiel (Amber Heard), Becky’s former collaborator, has arrived with an offer to perform together—which Something She needs, but which Becky, proud and erratic, declines.

It’s just one stage in a series of high-strung encounters Perry and Moss have cooked up for their heroine, whose behavior is tracked in five spacious, aesthetically discreet scenes, each separated by home-video interludes of the good old days—when the band was still young, still traveling. We tag along with Something She in the midst of their downfall, from the backstage antics, to a disastrous studio encounter in which Becky latches onto a younger girl group (played by Cara Delevingne, Dylan Gelula, and Ashley Benson) in a rash attempt at rejuvenation, to—in a clear-eyed, disheartened moment of sobriety—Becky’s home, a year after the film’s opening showdowns.

It’s all there, in a clear arc, to lead us to the film’s final moments: when Becky has sobered up, has attempted reconciliation with her band, and is thinking of taking the leap back into her damaged career. But even that sequence is as nauseating and unpredictable as the rest. The movie knows that though an addict may clean up her act, the damage to everyone else lingers, despite their faith. They all seem to know that things could go wrong again any minute—which doesn’t stop them from giving Becky extra chances. Love is, unexpectedly, the force that buoys the movie. Marielle says it best: “You were horrible, but it never made me not love you.”

Is it redemption what the movie’s after? Somewhat. But what I love about the last leg of the film is that it’s all so tenuous. If the movie hits with you, that hesitation to trust is what ultimately breaks your heart. The fragility of it—of the world built atop the ashes from when the addict let the world burn.

Her Smell sounds like a sentimental story, and it’s true that by the end, I was surprised by how moved I was; you wouldn’t predict from the chaos of the film’s opening hour and change that it plans to swing around toward clarity—and Becky’s fear of it. I watched the whole film with a knot in my stomach, and that’s largely thanks to Moss, who roars and rampages with an abandon we’ve rarely seen from her—except in Perry’s movies. (This is their third collaboration, after 2015’s Queen of Earth and 2014’s Listen Up Philip.)

In Her Smell, Moss hops and flits and stomps around from subject to subject, crisis to crisis, with mock-Shakespearean villainy—her insults are delightful doses of venom—and an extraordinarily damaged sense of largesse. You don’t need to see her doing coke to know that it’s the gas in her tank, catapulting her off the deep end. To say nothing of all the buried traumas and disappointments, hinted at in the script, that Moss slyly signals in the precision of her whirligig moods.

Watching the movie, I laughed more than I expected to, but in a sick way; Perry’s humor often comes with the price of noxious disgust. (Remember seeing two siblings kiss in The Color Wheel?) I didn’t know what the film was ultimately about until this last section—which is also when something truly clicked for me in Moss’s performance. What resounds is not merely the sense that Moss is great, but the sense that we’ve barely scratched the surface of what she can do.

IndieWire: Elisabeth Moss Is One of the Most Noxious Movie Characters of All Time in Brave and Rewarding Punk Epic
Filed in Articles Elisabeth Her Smell Interviews Movies News

IndieWire: Elisabeth Moss Is One of the Most Noxious Movie Characters of All Time in Brave and Rewarding Punk Epic

IndieWire

So about that title. It stinks. It’s pungent and rancid. “Her Smell” could have a positive connotation, but you just know that it doesn’t here. There’s a hostility to it, like an odorous barrier you’d have to get through in order to reach the woman exuding it. Viewers familiar with any of Alex Ross Perry’s previous films will probably be holding their noses as they walk into this one. Newbies might want to follow suit.

Perry knows what he’s doing. His work has always had the courage to be profoundly unpleasant. We’re talking about a guy whose breakthrough film (“The Color Wheel”) was a micro-budget 16mm road trip comedy that built to a sudden eruption of incest, and whose comparatively star-studded follow-ups (“Listen Up, Philip,” “Queen of Earth,” and “Golden Exits”) have shined a light on some of New York’s shittiest people. The most “likable character” in his entire body of work is a cat named Gadzookey. But if all of Perry’s stories have been hard to stomach, “Her Smell” takes things to impressive new lows before hitting bottom and tunneling out through the other side. It’s truly one of the most noxious movies ever made, which might help to explain why it’s also Perry’s best.

Imagine if Danny Boyle’s “Steve Jobs” was about Courtney Love in the mid-’90s and you’ll be on the right track. Chronicling the reckless fall and cautious rise of punk rocker Becky Something — lead singer of the band Something She — “Her Smell” is told across five long scenes that stretch over 10 years, each of the vignettes unfolding in real time. Three of them take place in the snaking bowels of a concert venue’s backstage area, where the drug-addled riot grrrl (a bravely loathsome and unhinged Elisabeth Moss) is surrounded by fellow musicians (Amber Heard), her manager (Eric Stoltz as Howard Goodman), her mother (Virginia Madsen), her ex (Dan Stevens), their baby, and even some kind of huckster shaman who she’s paid to cloud her mind with nonsense.

Every member of this motley crew is hanging on for dear life, trying to weather a storm that’s been raging around them since Becky Something first became famous. Most of them seem like decent people, especially Becky’s two longtime bandmates: Ali van der Wolff (“GLOW” star Gayle Rankin) and the star’s closest friend, Marielle Hell (a raw and layered Agyness Deyn, already making good on the incredible promise she displayed in “Sunset Song”).

The other girls are guilty of all the usual vices, but they’re nothing like their lead singer. Becky is nothing short of a manic emotional terrorist on bath salts. She’s your estranged older sister, the girl you don’t want to talk to at a party, the crazy lady on the bus, and the musician who’s auditioning for her own episode of “Behind the Music” all rolled into one. She exclusively speaks in the kind of coked out, incoherent stage banter that demands some applause even if you can’t understand it; one second she’s smiling, the next she’s trying to stab Marielle with a shard of broken glass. The more Becky smiles, the harder she cries. Her mascara runs an ultra-marathon every night. Nobody describes her smell, but I’d guess it’s something like the stench that would come from throwing a cherry bomb into a meth lab.

Later, after it becomes clear that Becky is far too broken to finish her new album, Howard signs a wide-eyed trio called the Akergirls in a desperate bid to save his label, the film’s ridiculously loaded cast growing even larger with the introduction of Ashley Benson, Cara Delevingne, and Dylan Gelula (all of whom are terrific, even if their specific pop-punk vibe doesn’t feel like it has any real cultural precedent, and the movie suffers as a result). Becky is the rotted trunk of a wilting family tree that’s still adding new branches, and Perry forces us to watch the decay from the inside out.

More loudly stylized than his earlier films, “Her Smell” is visceral nightmare from the moment it starts; if the script evokes John Cassavetes, the aesthetic seems more inspired by Gaspar Noé. Sean Price Williams’ sinuous 35mm tracking shots follow Becky and her bandmates through the grimy backstage halls, taking us deep into a labyrinth of pain and self-preservation. Keegan DeWitt’s queasy, bass-heavy score pounds through the ceiling, like the entire first half of the movie takes place on the floor below the loudest house party of all time. Huge chunks of the dialogue are drowned out by the din, which is just as well, because every word you hear from Becky makes you loathe her more.

Moss is such a whirling dervish that you can’t help but fear for the safety of those around her. You wonder how they don’t give up. “Where do you find the faith?” one of them asks. It’s a rhetorical question. At this point, it’s hard to believe that Perry even knows where to look.

But then it turns. Time passes. We realize that, in broad strokes, “Her Smell” is sort of like “A Star Is Born” in reverse (though Olivier Assayas’ “Clean” might be the more helpful reference point). Becky gets sober, the film u-turns towards catharsis, and — for the first time in his career — Perry leans hard into sincerity. The second half of the movie is so rich and hopeful that it almost feels like a sweet reward for not walking out of the theater. After running our hands under a burning hot faucet for more than an hour, Perry turns off the tap and lets the burn sink in.

Highlighted by a moving and uncut piano rendition of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” — easily the most convincing music scene in the movie, as Moss’ looks sheepish and lost when she’s onstage for the Something She gigs — these scenes are an absolute reckoning, and they get under our skin because of all we had to suffer through in order to see them.

One beautifully framed shot, in which Moss strums a guitar with her back turned to Deyn, aches with a lifetime of regret, as we come to appreciate how Becky wore her addiction (and general awfulness) as a suit of armor to protect herself from, well, everything but herself. As much as the people in her life used to need her, she needs them now even more. It’s unexpectedly moving to see the most narcissistic and insufferable character Perry has ever written earn a chance to become his most redemptive, as well.

It takes an unfathomable degree of confidence to bury such a resonant story about the strength we get from each other in the backend of an obscenely unpleasant 135-minute ordeal that’s designed to make you give up on the movie at every turn, but that bold stroke is what allows the final chapters of “Her Smell” to go up your nose and get under your skin. For us, it feels like an endurance test. For Perry, it carries the whiff of an exorcism. Time passes. People change. Artists grow up, and sometimes the good ones get even better.

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.

Check the pics in our gallery:

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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.

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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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“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