The cinematic television series, now streaming on SBS On Demand, has captured the attention of audiences with its disturbing vision of a dystopian society in which women have lost all rights. A vision that is all the more disturbing because of chilling parallels between the show’s premise and the rhetoric from the Trump administration and its supporters.
Ironic, considering The Handmaid’s Tale maybe wouldn’t have had the same impact culturally if it wasn’t so relevant and of-the-now, something the series’ star and producer Elisabeth Moss is well aware of.
The Trump election was good timing for the show “in a totally crass way,” Moss tells news.com.au.
“It’s one of those things that we are not happy that there’s been such a relevance. We’re not happy that it’s been so timely. We would prefer it to have been an easy sci-fi fantasy but here we are.
“I am incredibly surprised at the reception to it. It’s a very dark show, it’s very dark material and you just don’t know when you make something like that if people are going to respond in the way you want them to.
“We had no intention of holding back in any way. So the fact that people felt very moved by it is very moving for us.”
Moss plays June/Offred, a “handmaid” in the service of a Commander’s family who is ritually raped as part of a forced surrogacy program. In the show, the United States has been taken over by the Republic of Gilead, a theocratic autocracy in which women are enslaved by men in prescribed roles.
The show has been universally praised for its writing, cinematic visuals and performances, especially Moss who is up for a Best Actress Drama Emmy, her eighth nomination.
The Handmaid’s Tale is now prepping for its second season. Moss says they are now location scouting and “deep in the planning” with the writers room having reconvened in April.
A second season wasn’t a guarantee and the first season finished at the same point as the book it was adapted from, Margaret Atwood’s seminal 1985 novel.
Moss points out the first season already featured significant differences from the source material so the challenge for the next instalment isn’t as daunting as some would think.
“There are characters that die or disappear in the book and we keep them alive and give them different stories,” she says. “We’re not as afraid of [departing from the book] as some would think because we feel like we’ve already done it in a way that fans of the book really loved. And Margaret was happy with that.
“It’s more of the same for us and anything we get to invent now is exciting. We’re not tied to something. We get to create a world that Margaret Atwood would’ve wanted to continue doing.”
Moss’s other high profile TV project this year, Top of the Lake: China Girl, is currently rolling out on BBC First with the actor reprising the role she originated in 2013.
There are thematic similarities between the two series with motherhood and surrogacy threaded throughout the stories.
“As a woman in her thirties, those are very relevant subjects for me so I’m not surprised there is that parallel,” she says. “It’s a very present idea and it’s kind of interesting for me to get to explore a similar theme but in a different way.
“Maybe in my forties, I’ll be addressing a different area and in my fifties another.”
Archive from 'Interviews'
Elisabeth Moss is on the cover of next month’s issue of Marie Claire UK talking everything from #MeToo to her dating life.
The Handmaid’s Tale was the most timely drama series of 2017. Now it’s back for a second season, and its inimitable star Elisabeth Moss tells Jane Mulkerrins why the conversation around gender inequality and sexual abuse is set to get louder
‘I’ve always considered myself a feminist. But, like a lot of women of my generation, I didn’t think we had to fight for it. I thought it was all done. I took so much for granted.’ Elisabeth Moss shakes her head, in regret at her – at all of our – folly. ‘We’ve had to take ownership of feminism in a way that we didn’t know we’d have to, and that’s changed me.’
It’s Saturday evening in a subterranean wine bar in Manhattan, and this is the same conversation I’ve been having with friends and colleagues on an almost daily basis since the 2016 election of Donald Trump, and, subsequently, the downfall of Harvey Weinstein and the rise of the #MeToo movement.The only difference tonight is that, thanks to her role in the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, the woman I’m discussing it with has become a symbol for the new resistance. As Offred, the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s seminal feminist story, Moss plays a sexual slave in Gilead, a dystopian world in which women are not permitted to read or write, and in which their fertility – the ultimate currency – has been hijacked and commodified by a far-right, fundamentalist ruling elite.‘I’ve never told a story that so closely paralleled life as it was happening around me, especially life as a 35-year-old woman in America,’ she says. ‘So the lines have gotten much more blurry than with any other role I’ve ever done. But it’s also really cathartic to take some of the anger and frustration that I feel as a citizen, and be able to tell a story that I believe in.’
Moss was, until last year, best known as Mad Men’s Peggy Olson, herself an unwitting feminist icon, who smashed through the misogyny and glass ceilings of the 60s advertising industry. We’ve met multiple times now, first for successive seasons of Mad Men, then her role in Ben Wheatley’s 2015 film High-Rise, and, last spring, for the explosive launch of The Handmaid’s Tale. In other interviews, with other actors, it might be tricky to find something new to talk about. Not this year, not with Elisabeth Moss (or Lizzie, as she is known to all).
Arriving casually dressed, all in black with a cap and rucksack, she hugs me and apologises for her exhaustion. She flew in this morning from Toronto, where the show is filmed, and has spent all day at a photo shoot. Tomorrow, she’ll be at Marie Claire’s shoot before getting straight back on a plane to return to Toronto. On Monday morning, she’ll begin filming the season finale. She’s hungry, and she is ‘definitely getting a drink’.It’s impossible to overstate the impact of The Handmaid’s Tale in Trump’s America, where freedoms for women, immigrants and transgender people, among others, are being radically curtailed. The uniform of the handmaids – blood-red capes and white bonnets – has even been co-opted by protesters at state senate houses across the US, where legislators have attempted to defund organisations such as Planned Parenthood (for whom Moss is a long-time advocate), which support reproductive rights. When she won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress in January, she dedicated it to the women of the #MeToo movement.
‘I have been fortunate not to have experienced some of the terrible things that so many women have talked about,’ she says. ‘But, when #MeToo and #Time’sUp really hit, I would talk to my girlfriends, and we all stepped back and looked at every encounter we’d ever had, and went, wait… was that OK? We’ve been conditioned to think it’s OK, and that’s the wake-up moment that we are having.’
One of the many high-profile men standing accused of sexual harassment is Moss’s former boss, Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men. Kater Gordon, a former writer on the show, alleges that one night when they were working late, Weiner told her that she ‘owed it to him’ to let him see her naked – an allegation Weiner strongly denies.
Moss is far too diplomatic to publicly take sides, but she believes that, ‘unequivocally, women have to be allowed to have a voice.’ She continues: ‘Women need to be able to speak out if they are uncomfortable, or something happened in the past that they were not comfortable with. And the minute we start telling them that they can’t, you wind up in a fucking red dress, with a fucking white cap on.’
She is equally firm about freedom of speech when it comes to attacks on her, too. Raised as a scientologist, Moss was accused by some of hypocrisy in her Golden Globes speech, as the religion – pretty much the only subject that Moss ever declines to discuss – has been accused of covering up sexual abuse.
‘You cannot take away a person’s right to speak, and to have a voice,’ she says, firmly, when I raise the matter. ‘I’m not going to tell you that you can’t say what you think. Because if I do, then am I not a hypocrite?’ She scoops up a chunk of burrata and pauses. ‘I fundamentally believe in freedom and human rights. And, if I was not thick-skinned enough to handle criticism, I would not have been in this business for 29 years.’
A few weeks before we meet in New York, I visited the set of The Handmaid’s Tale, (amid jokes from friends about whether I’ll make it back with both my eyes). Much of the action is filmed in a vast studio space outside Toronto, which houses Offred’s austere cell-like room, and the Commander’s study, with its now-iconic Scrabble set.
On the day I visit, Moss is filming outdoors, in front of the real, bricks-and-mortar Waterford house, with Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife (Yvonne Strahovski) and Nick, the ‘eye’/driver/lover (Max Minghella). It’s February, and well below zero, but Moss, in spite of nursing a cold, is cheerful as the crew films take after take after take. More than cheerful, in fact – when the three actors run through the scene, they banter hilariously, replacing the show’s dialogue with their own feelings about the interaction.
‘Weird’ is used a lot. As is a liberal amount of swearing. For a show with such dark, brutal themes, the atmosphere is surprisingly light. ‘Oh yes,’ grins Moss, when I find her during a break, ‘it’s not serious… could you hear Max and I singing Taylor Swift songs?’
That’s not to say, however, that Moss, who is also producer on the show, doesn’t command authority or respect. Everyone I speak to in the cast and crew mentions the example she sets, with her dedication and commitment. ‘Producing is a shitload more work,’ she tells me, back in New York. ‘It’s round the clock. If I’m not acting, I’m watching cuts and making phone calls. But it’s so much more fulfilling as well. And I love it, I really do.’
As soon as Moss wraps filming on The Handmaid’s Tale, she’ll go straight into production on two films back-to-back. First up is Her Smell, written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, with whom she has worked twice before. In a cast that includes Agyness Deyn and Cara Delevingne, Moss plays Becky Something, the lead singer of a successful all-girl punk rock band, ‘as if Nirvana were all women’. Moss is practising the acoustic and electric guitar, ‘madly, every day’. She presents the tips of her fingers for examination. ‘I’m proud of these callouses,’ she beams.Then she’ll star alongside Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy in The Kitchen, a comedic tale of Irish mob wives in 70s Hell’s Kitchen, written and directed by Andrea Berloff, who co-wrote hip-hop biopic Straight Outta Compton. Aside from being a dramatic departure in tone from the bleakness and brutality of her current TV gig, both will be filmed in New York, and Moss is over the moon. ‘I’m going to be in my apartment,’ she whoops. ‘I might buy a rug! Do you understand? I might actually buy a rug. And be there when it’s delivered.’
A bohemian upbringing probably prepared her better than most for the nomadic life she now leads. Born and raised in Los Angeles, Moss’s parents were both musicians – her father, Ron, originally from Birmingham, played the trombone in jazz bands, while her mother, Linda, played blues harmonica. ‘We were always travelling, it was a very unusual upbringing,’ she says. ‘Everyone was always up late, and slept late. We’d go out to dinner. It was a great upbringing.’
Her parents split up, ‘some time between me being 15 and 30. It’s complicated,’ she shrugs. Her father now lives in Florida, her younger brother, Derek, in LA, where he is a writer and editor, while her mother is in New York. On the rare times Moss is home, they have dinner together twice a week, and it was Linda who she took to the Golden Globes this year.
Motherhood is, Moss reveals, an important theme of the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale. Offred is pregnant, ‘but she is having a baby, potentially, in this world that she may not want to bring it into,’ says Moss. ‘And if she does have it, the baby gets taken away from her.’ Does she see children on the horizon in her own life? ‘I do want to be a mother,’ she says, thoughtfully. ‘I like the idea of passing on what my mother passed on to me. It’s not for everybody, and I didn’t know if it was going to be for me, but lately, I think it is.’ She throws her hands up. ‘I have no idea how I want to do it though or what the plan is.’
She freely admits she has no time for dating. ‘It’s actually a problem,’ she sighs. ‘But I’m very focused on my work… so it’s difficult to find the time to give yourself to somebody.’ In what must seem like another lifetime ago, Moss was married, at 27, to actor and comedian Fred Armisen, but it lasted less than a year.
‘I have nothing against getting married again, but what I value even more now is the relationship itself,’ she says, jabbing her fork in the air to emphasise her point. ‘It’s been eight years. I’m older, and hopefully wiser. I’m a romantic, so I love weddings, but I also don’t think you need [a wedding] to have a long-lasting, healthy relationship. Some of the relationships I know that have lasted the longest are the ones that didn’t [get married].’Running late for a dinner date, Moss starts readying to leave and admits that, in all honesty, she’d really rather just go home and crash out. The next day, she posts an Instagram shot of her on a sofa, having her toenails painted while she plays the guitar. ‘When you’re at a photo shoot, apparently need a pedicure, shooting The Handmaid’s Tale, and also prepping for a movie,’ the caption reads, ‘#multitasking’. She couldn’t look happier.
The Weekly Review – Elisabeth Moss is not much different from her former Mad Men alter ego, Peggy Olson. She’s smart, earnest, curious, and even a little daring. She’s also very good at her job and admits to already being a “feminist” when she was a young girl who learned to stand up for herself. Moss certainly brings plenty of inner strength as well as a piercing gaze to her various screen personae, whether it’s Robin, the relentless police detective in Top of the Lake, or Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale, whose second season she has just completed filming.
She’s appearing in The Square, a searing Swedish satire directed by Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure). Moss plays Anne, an American journalist who travels to Sweden to interview Christian (Claes Bang), the arrogant curator of a Stockholm museum, with whom she forms a curious relationship. A scathing and, at times, hilarious critique of bourgeois society, the film’s stylistic conceits range from the pet monkey that suddenly appears at Anne’s flat to a vigorous, post-coital tug-of-war between her and Christian over a condom.
The 35-year-old Moss is single and lives in New York City. In person she comes across as highly articulate and intelligent. She has a serious side, which is leavened by a sharp sense of humour. Her performance in The Handmaid’s Tale won her the Emmy for best actress in September followed by a Golden Globe award in January.
Your character, Anne, becomes fixated with Christian. What was your take on her behaviour?
She’s weird and a bit crazy and not afraid to be confrontational. She has this huge crush on him and begins to stalk him and pretty much tries to make his life miserable. (Laughs) I thought she was a lot of fun to play. I loved the fact that you don’t really understand her and that audiences will see her as a mysterious figure.
We all know people like that who try to get too close or invade our personal space in ways that are very disturbing and make us uncomfortable. That’s how she behaves with Christian.
Does her dark side appeal to the actor in you?
It’s always stimulating to be able to explore human behaviour that is difficult to explain. I enjoyed being able to get inside those strange psychological sides to her because I could never behave that way. If I met someone and that person gave me certain signs that they didn’t share my interest, I would back off
How did Ostlund go about directing the scene involving the condom tug-of-war?
He wanted us to play as serious and to be very present in the kind of conflict they were having in that moment. We shot many takes and there are a lot of different versions of that scene, which are much more over-the-top and more like screwball comedy, which Ruben (Ostlund) decided not to use.
It’s only the audience that is going to find it funny and that’s mainly because the characters are taking the moment so seriously. It was important to maintain a consistent tone where you’re constantly guessing about what’s going on with the characters.
Did you follow a script very closely or was there a lot of improvisation?
Most of the scenes are improvised. Ruben didn’t even want me to study the script that closely because he knows that he’s going to explore a lot of different possibilities when we shoot the scenes. We really only followed basic structure of the script and the rest was created on the set as we went along.
I’ve never worked that way before and we would spend eight or nine hours a day shooting just one scene and doing about 70 or so takes. It was exhausting but exhilarating, because you have to remain concentrated on the work. I love the raw aspect to working that way.
What is your view of women’s crusade in Hollywood for pay equality and creating more opportunities?
It’s a very important battle that’s being fought and I do think that things are improving. We’re seeing more women leading the way, like Jessica Chastain or Reese Witherspoon, who developed Big Little Lies. The best thing that can happen is that you need more women in positions of authority, either as producers, directors, or studio executives who insist on hiring more women.
That happened on The Handmaid’s Tale, for example, and I hope that continues until we reach a point where women are given their just recognition at every level of our industry, just the way it should be in society as a whole. But there’s long way to go. I remember when Cannes had its 70th anniversary celebration and I discovered that Jane Campion is the only female director who has ever won the Palme d’Or. It’s shocking.
KATY TIMES – Elisabeth Moss would not tolerate harassment at work.
The 35-year-old actress is also a producer on her TV show ‘The Handmaid’s Tale‘ and feels a sense of “responsibility” to make sure the set is a safe environment for the cast and crew.
She said: “I don’t tolerate that kind of behaviour regardless, whether it be as an actor or a producer and I never have.”
“But I do think there’s a certain amount of responsibility as a producer to make sure we have a safe working environment. And I do feel maybe a little extra responsibility being that I am a female producer.”
Elisabeth is proud that the dystopian drama has connected with so many people around the world.
She said: “The thing that means the most to me that people say is that it gave them some sort of strength or some sort of bravery. Maybe they’re going through something in their own country, whether they’re a woman or whether they’re gay or whatever it is. They watch the show and it gave them some sort of strength to be who they are and to not give up on who they are.“
USA TODAY – The women of Gilead are no strangers to abuse, rape and slavery. It’s an aspect of The Handmaid’s Tale that’s left critics, including USA TODAY’s Kelly Lawler, to wonder: Is Season 2 verging on misery porn?
At Thursday night’s massive Hollywood premiere for the new season of the Hulu drama, we posed the question to Handmaid’s creative team: When do you know to pull the camera away, that the audience can’t take any more?
“When we’ve told the story that we needed to tell,” star/executive producer Elisabeth Moss told USA TODAY on the red carpet at the TCL Chinese Theatre.
“I was actually just talking about this with (showrunner) Bruce Miller today about a scene later in the show,” said Moss, dressed in a Handmaid’s-red Dior gown. “There’s a very dark scene later on in the season, and it was cut down a little bit because it didn’t need to be gratuitous. We’re not trying to pound anything down anyone’s throats.”
Miller said even he watches some scenes from behind his hands, but noted they make a point to “show just what we need to show to tell the story so you understand why the character is one way before the event, and (another) way after. And no more.”
The gruesome violence threaded through the show is always based on real-world examples, said Miller, from the Taliban-style public executions modeled in Season 2’s opener to the female genital mutilation Emily (Alexis Bledel) was subjected to in Season 1.
“We don’t make up some kind of cruelty, I don’t want to do that. I hate that,” he says. “It’s hard because these are things that are happening in the real world. We’re not making them up. But showing them, you do carry some responsibility. The last thing you want to be making is torture porn.”
In Season 2, the show expands beyond its Margaret Atwood source material to include refugee stories across the border in Canada and scenes deep inside the treacherous Colonies, where exiled women are worked to death in toxic conditions.
Bledel’s handmaid is now one of them.
“She was such a fighter through all the trauma she endured in Season 1, but in Season 2, the Colonies is uncharted territory,” said Bledel on the red carpet. “She’s not as clued-in as she was in Gilead as to what’s going to happen. It’s an absolute wasteland. She’s lost a lot of hope, she knows she’s going to die. So she takes a new tack: she decides she’s going to dole out a form of vigilante justice on her own.”
Ann Dowd, who plays the handmaids’ ruthless headmistress Aunt Lydia, expanded on how she and a pregnant, willful Offred (Moss) go head to head in the upcoming season. “What she loves about Offred is that strength. (As Aunt Lydia), I try to beat it down because, girl, you’re not going to make it. Honey, that Commander and Serena Joy, don’t play around with them.”
On Friday 20, Elisabeth Moss stopped by The Ellen DeGeneres Show for interview. During the interview, Elisabeth has redeemed herself and proven that she knows how to twerk!
The 35-year-old The Handmaid’s Tale actress made an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2014 and had to twerk during a game of Head’s Up, but did the totally wrong dance.
During an appearance on the Friday (April 20) episode, Ellen brought up the moment from four years ago
“What is that? It’s not anything. It’s not a dance of any kind. I think I misunderstood what twerking was which was so embarrassing. I got made so much fun of by my friends for that, by the way, for not knowing what twerking was,” Elisabeth said.
Friday’s show also saw Moss open up about being stopped at airport security after winning a Golden Globe earlier this year.
She said as an image flashed up on the screen, “That’s my Golden Globe, which they didn’t provide me with a box for, so I just wrapped it in something and put it in my backpack.”
“Normally when you go through TSA you’re super annoyed when they stop you, this time I was like ‘sure, no problem.‘”
Moss later admitted she’s a “champion napper” as DeGeneres questioned how she could handle such tough scenes while filming “The Handmaid’s Tale”.
The actress revealed, “I’m very, very good at it [napping]. I do it at lunch, for like 15 years I’ve done it at lunch. There are specific requirements, I literally put myself down like a baby.”
Parede – Elisabeth Moss, the former Mad Men actress, 35, returns to her Emmy-winning role in the critically acclaimed Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale—based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel—when it returns for its second season April 25.
What’s going on with your character, June/Offred, in season two?
She has this ticking time bomb, her pregnancy, that we deal with all season. In a way, it’s a beautiful thing from her love affair with Nick [Max Minghella]; but at the same time, she knows that [her child] will be taken away from her at birth.
Even though Offred’s not in a position of power, the fact that she can have a baby means she has an ability to which other women aspire.
Absolutely. What everyone wants most is a healthy child. That is going to create a bond, a link, between Serena [Yvonne Strahovski] and June that isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it’s there. June is carrying something that Serena wants very badly. I can’t say how that manifests itself, but it’s something all the characters are highly aware of the entire season.
What do fans say to you?
The thing that means the most to me is that [the show] gives them strength, or bravery. This show is very dark, and those moments are distracting sometimes because they’re so brutal. But I do think that the idea is how you rise above that brutality that is grinding you down.
Your biggest challenge right now?
Getting enough sleep. I know that’s probably lame, because I have such a wonderful, privileged life. But sometimes sleep is a bit of a struggle. When I’m working, I get an average of five or six hours, so it’s not good.
After seven seasons of Mad Men, did you have to be convinced to sign on for another series?
When I got the script, I was in Australia, shooting a second season of Top of the Lake, and it was more of a, “Damn, I’m going to have to do this.” I didn’t think I’d sign on to another show so quickly, but I was like, “I’m not going to be able to say no to this. I’m going to have to do it.”
The thing that finally pushed it over the edge was the idea of anyone else doing the role, and how jealous I would be if anyone else got to do it. For actors, that often pushes you over the edge. It’s a good sign. That’s what you look for. I asked to see the second episode, and the second episode was even better than the first one, and then I knew.
How will Offred evolve in season two? Does her inner rebel come out, or is she going to drink the Kool-Aid a little bit?
Her inner rebel is extremely present, especially in the beginning of the season. We love to give her some hard knocks. Her challenges are nowhere near over. I think that there is a certain amount of finding what the resistance is for her, and finding out that, ultimately, resistance starts within you and there are many different ways to resist.
I think that the ways she maybe hoped or thinks that she could resist don’t always work out and you have to find other paths. Just when you think we’ve done enough to her, we do more, and she has to rise above that. It makes her a stronger person, but it is very challenging.
What else can you tease about the coming season?
We’re going to get into the colonies, which is really exciting. We worked really hard on that to make sure that it was as epic, dark and scary as we could make it. This is promised in the book. You’ll see Little America, Canada and the refugees, and how two characters over there, Luke [O-T Fagbenle] and Moira [Samira Wiley], are dealing with that.
Ofglen [Alexis Gilmore Girls Bledel] is back. I can’t say what she’s doing or where she is, but she is back and we do get to see a bit more of her life pre-Gilead, as well as some other characters’ flashbacks that we haven’t seen before. We love our flashbacks. We love showing where these characters were before, how they got to Gilead, or how they got to the present.
Of course, there is still the search for Hannah [Jordana Blake] and wanting to make sure her daughter is OK. There are a lot of very heavy issues that June’s dealing with as a mother.
As well, there is the whole Nick versus Luke conundrum, which we will get into. Then there are 9 million other things that I can’t tell you.
Do you think that the controversies of the Trump presidency, especially about women, made the show more topical?
I’ve had that question asked a lot, and it’s so hard to answer because we can’t predict an alternate future of what would have happened if it wasn’t a Trump presidency. I have heard some really interesting conversations about it.
A lot of the stuff that we talk about on the show comes from the book that Margaret Atwood wrote, and lots of what we do on the show—such as genital mutilation storyline—and there is a storyline coming up in season two that is very much an international issue.
That stuff is still present. That stuff has, unfortunately, been around for a long time, and will, unfortunately, continue to be. There are things that I think would have been relevant regardless, but at the same time, I think the reason why the show spoke to people is because the people felt like they needed a voice before Trump was elected and then certainly afterwards.
There is definitely a sense of tapping into the culture at a certain time that has been really interesting for us.
Do you wake up and pinch yourself in the morning and say, “I can’t believe the attention this show and I have gotten. It’s just incredible.”
It’s pretty crazy. It really is. It’s not something you think you’d get used to. I spend six months of the year working on the show in Toronto. I work with an incredible crew, an incredible cast, but it’s not glamorous, it’s not fancy, you know? We work 60, 70, 80 hours a week. We joke around.
We get excited when the cheese and cracker tray comes by. Like, that’s the highlight of the day. All of this is something that you almost forget about, because you’re just so absorbed in making the best show possible. That’s the most important thing. I actually really value that because it is very centering and grounding.
Then you come to L.A. and you meet all these nice people, and all these fancy celebrities, and everyone says nice things to you. All of a sudden you learn that Patrick Stewart or Gary Oldman is watching the show. You’re like, “I cannot believe Patrick Stewart knows who I am.” There is definitely that element of it that is surprising. You forget about the outside world when you’re working.
In the six months you weren’t doing The Handmaid’s Tale, you managed to film The Seagull, in theaters May 11.
I play Masha in The Seagull. It’s a wonderful cast. There is Saoirse Ronan, who is doing all right for herself, and Annette Bening, who is spectacular. It’s a really, really great cast.
Michael Mayer directs it. Adapting Chekhov is always a challenge, but we had an incredible script by Stephen Karam, who is a playwright. We wanted it to be a faithful adaptation of a Chekhov play; we also wanted it to be a good movie.
I’m very proud of it. I ran into Annette Bening in Toronto, and she was so excited about the movie. That was cool because Annette Bening has good taste. I’m excited for people to see it. It’s very different than anything I’ve done.
What do you love about being an actor?
It’s so many things. Why an artist loves what they do is often so hard to describe. Why a musician loves playing jazz, or classical music, or what makes them happy, and why an artist likes to paint. It’s so hard to actually put into words what that feeling is of joy that we get, but that is what I get, a feeling of joy when the camera is rolling, even if I’m doing something that is not joyous.
I also love the collaborative aspect of it. Ever since I was 15, when I did my first movie by myself, where my mom wasn’t there and I had a guardian, I got to know the crew, and I got to be part of a group and a family. I love that part of it, the friendships that you make.
Then producing has been a whole other wonderful addition to everything. It has only made me appreciate the acting so much more. It has only, I feel, made my experience of acting so much deeper.
The best advice you’ve received?
Clichés are clichés because they’re true, so for me, to be true to yourself, to be true to your own ideas of what success is and who you want to be, and to not be anybody else’s version of that. I think it’s very important to do things the way you want to do them and be true to yourself, your own goals, and your own ideals.
Elisabeth talked with Kevin Fallon for the The Daily Beast. She talked with him about ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ the new season of ‘Top of the Lake,’ and Oprah.
Few actresses boast a TV series track record as successful as Elisabeth Moss’—nor, as it were, one so intense: The West Wing’s first daughter Zoey Bartlett (kidnapped for ransom), Mad Men’s Peggy Olson (secretly gave baby up for adoption), The Handmaid’s Tale Offred (separated from family and forced into child-bearing slavery), and Top of the Lake’s Robin Griffin (rape victim-turned-murder detective).
But as we sit down to talk about her work in Top of the Lake: China Girl—the second season of Jane Campion’s limited series, coming four years after the first—the Elisabeth Moss we meet isn’t intense at all but, well, goofy. Actually, incredibly so.
She’s sarcastic, but not mean, and she laughs a lot. Cackles, really. Her voice adopts a sunny sing-song pattern as she apologizes for being slightly late, the kind of delivery that makes any sort of bitching immediately relatable. “Sorry, it took like 25 minutes to get here as opposed to the 15 as advertised,” she groans. “I fucking hate L.A. It’s the worst.”
Between The Handmaid’s Tale’s release in April and Top of the Lake: China Girl premiering this Sunday, and also her campaign for what she hopes will be her first Emmy Award after nine nominations for the Hulu series, Moss has pretty much incessantly been giving interviews in 2017.
It’s cultivated an intriguing breeziness and ease with which she discusses matters ranging from feminism to the election to the power of working with Jane Campion, to the point where she can transition with fascinating agility from discussing the mechanics of perfecting an Australian accent to play Robin in Top of the Lake—“Just to even try it requires some balls”—to erupting into a fit of laughter when a muddy-looking, viscous, greenish-grayish smoothie is placed in front of her.
“Wow,” she says, interrupting her own train of thought. “That looks like a fucking nightmare. This looks not like something anyone should consume. It’s a lot going on. It’s not a good color. I’m not sure what happened. I think it’s a mix of the strawberry and the spinach.”
She then fumbles through her purse and pulls out her phone. “I have to take a picture of this.” Satisfied, it’s back to the underlying themes of motherhood in Top of the Lake.
What we’re trying to say is that while there’s a lot of focus on the headier, meatier topics that arise from a chillingly resonant series in which a patriarchal regime strips women of their reproductive rights, or one in which rape and murder investigations guide season-long storylines—necessary points of focus, sure, and Moss has spoken eloquently about all of it—it seems prudent to make clear that, for all that intensity, Moss is really quite fun.
She’s practically giddy when talking about the opportunity to revisit Robin in Top of the Lake, a role she thought she was done with when she left the New Zealand set of the first series in 2013. It was a frustrating farewell as she had just gotten the knack of the role’s tricky accent, not to mention the emotional difficulty of playing a woman who, a decade after giving up for adoption the baby she had after being raped, is investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl who was also impregnated by her rapist.
“By the end of the first one, I remember saying to Jane, ‘I can’t believe we’re finishing…’” she says. “In the last month I really remember saying to her, ‘I wish we could go back to the beginning and start again. So the opportunity to revisit the character like that is such a dream, you know? And revisit it four years later with the character having had experiences and me having had experiences.”
For the character, those experiences include moving back to Sydney from New Zealand following the dramatic conclusion of her investigation, the end of her engagement, the death of her mother, and the decision to contact the daughter she gave up.
For Moss, the changes are significantly less dramatic, though still profound.
“I just got older!” she laughs. She was 29 when she started filming the first Top of the Lake, and is 35 now. “There’s a difference between those ages. I did two, three more years on Mad Men after that, a fair share of films. You have a little bit more under your belt to bring to it. A little more awareness of your own craft, awareness of who you are as an actor. A little more bravery, maybe. Robin requires quite a bit of confidence and bravery to play her.”
It should go without saying that filming a seven-hour epic series filmed in New Zealand and written and directed by Jane Campion alters how an actress might view the industry and what she wants from it in the future. But Moss is still surprised by just how much the series changed her life and her career.
“I wasn’t sure if I could do this character,” she says. “I had played Peggy on Mad Men for a few years, and I sort of needed to prove to myself that I could do something else besides Peggy. That helped to do it for me. Just to give me that confidence that I could play more than that character, that it wasn’t going to be my only calling card. That, I think, set me off on a trajectory for sure. The feeling that, yes, it’s going to be OK. There’s going to be life after Mad Men. There’s life after Peggy. That that wasn’t going to be the only thing I ever did.”
She starts laughing at herself as she hears what she’s saying: “Which, by the way, would’ve been fine. Like, more than fine.”
The amount that Moss giggles at herself throughout the interview is endearing. While quietly becoming TV’s most prolific dramatic actress, she hasn’t, apparently, lost her self-awareness.
In fact, as we compare thoughts about what changes in your life when you turn 30 and mutually boast about being Leos—“Leos are the best and we knoooow it,” she coos—it becomes clear she’s more relatable than you might expect an actress who’s worked since she was 10 years old (and, as the press has mentioned more and more lately, is a Scientologist) to be. And never more relatable than when she is freaking out about Oprah.
We’re at the point in our conversation where we’re marveling at the year that the women behind Top of the Lake: China Girl have had.
This installment of the series co-stars Gwendoline Christie, Game of Thrones’ Brienne of Tarth, as Miranda, a police officer with a puppy-dog enthusiasm and obsession with Robin, who is assigned to investigate with her the murder of a dead woman whose body was found in a suitcase that washed up on the beach.
Nicole Kidman boarded a plane immediately after wrapping Big Little Lies to start rehearsals for her role as Julia, the adoptive mother of the now 18-year-old girl that Robin gave up for adoption. Then there’s Moss, who will have The Handmaid’s Tale and Top of the Lake: China Girl on TV screens in the same calendar year.
Big Little Lies, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Top of the Lake are like the Holy Trinity of female-powered TV series this year. “You can’t help but look at that and go, wow, this is great,” Moss says. “There should be more of it, and we’ve got to make sure there’s more of it, but it is different than it was. Women want to see themselves on the screen, and they’re very interesting stories and it’s what we want to watch and [networks are] finally catching on to that.”
Suddenly she lets out an excited yelp and reaches for her phone again, scrolling past the photo of the smoothie to find a picture she took of the weekend’s Calendar section of The Los Angeles Times. “I was the only white person out of four actors on the cover. I was like, that’s fucking fantastic. That is exactly what I want to see, and I think it’s also a sign of things shifting a little bit,” she says, pointing out the other actors with her on the cover: Sterling K. Brown, Donald Glover, and Oprah Winfrey.
“Of course I took a photo of it, as you do when you’re on the cover of something with Oprah,” she says, fanning herself. “But I mean this is awesome. Four people, one white person, and she’s a woman.” Then in a mock grandiose, dramatic voice: “Now continue on, industry!”
As she gets up to leave, I shoot another glance at the smoothie, which she has surprisingly, given her initial reaction to its appearance, nearly finished. “It’s actually not bad,” she shrugs. “It kind of just tastes like strawberries.”
Elizabeth Moss, has spoken to News Corp this week about the underlying message of The Handmaid’s Tale, comparing it’s lessons to the current socio-political climate of Donald Trump’s administration. Read:
WHEN the Emmy Awards are given out in two weeks’ time, expect The Handmaid’s Tale to take home a cart full of them.