Hollywood Mad About Moss! Exclusive Elisabeth Moss/Truth Interview by Paul Fischer in Los Angeles

| October 20, 2015

Elisabeth Moss, looking simply elegant in a Beverly Hills hotel room, may be tired of talking about the 8 season Mad Men which catapulted her to stardom, and garnered her a whopping 6 Emmy nominations, the last of which was for the final season. In her final bow as the complex Peggy Olsen, Moss was roller blading her way into TV history, and finds all the recent Emmy attention genuinely surprising. “It’s a difficult concept to wrap my head around”, the actress tells me smilingly, while promoting her role in the Cate Blanchett-Robert Redford drama Truth. “I’m so flattered whenever anyone tells me I should have won, but I really do feel so lucky to have been involved and nominated because I think there are so many incredible women on television right now , so for me I was like ‘I’m glad I got in there and I’ll take it.’ It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around a concept that I lost anything. To me it’s all a win. It’s just gravy.”

Of course the 33-year old actress existed on our screens well before Matthew Weiner had the foresight to cast her Peggy Olsen. Born in Los Angeles, Moss is the daughter of musicians. She was first seen onscreen in 1990, when she appeared in the NBC miniseries Lucky/Chances. She provided the voice of Holly DeCarlo, a main character in the TV special Frosty Returns (1992) and of Michelle in the animated film Once Upon a Forest (1993) and played Harvey Keitel’s younger daughter in the film Imaginary Crimes (1994). The following year, she appeared in the remake of the Walt Disney Pictures film Escape to Witch Mountain (1995) and played a young Ashley Judd in the TV-movie biopic Love Can Build A Bridge (1995). But her real breakthrough came in 1999 when she played Zoey Bartlet in 25 episodes of the classic Aaron Sorkin White House TV drama The West Wing. A flurry of smaller film and television came her way before the unexpected success of Mad Men came her way. Mad Men came out of nowhere, on a cable show not known for experimenting with audacious drama, and its ratings have never been huge, so Moss is the first to admit how shocked she was that the show led to a few of the cast being so successful. “My brother has a great joke that always makes me laugh. He says ‘when you’re an actor if you have a job you’ve already won. You’ve already beat out all these other people.Then the show gets picked up and you are killing it at this point, which is also so rare. Then the show does well, it continues and gets nominated for awards and it becomes a cultural phenomenon. You are so above and beyond what you expect of yourself at that point.’ So yes, shock is the perfect word, and even now I’m still amazed, and at the opportunities it provided me. For so many years I was a working actor who worked and then didn’t work a lot, so for me to be able to work and do films that i want to do is amazing. I feel that if I could this for the rest of my life it’d be so good,” she says smilingly.

Her success and popularity on the Emmy winning series has resulted in the actress enjoying considerable success with some 6 films being released this year, the first of which is Truth. Directed by screenwriter James Vanderbilt and based on the Mary Mapes’ best selling book, the film tells of 60 Minutes producer Mapes who, in 2004, covered George W. Bush’s military service, and the subsequent firestorm of criticism that cost anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford) and producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) their careers.Moss plays part of the research team, Lucy Scott, who also ends up falling on her sword. Despite this not being a huge part, Moss says she was drawn to the overall project, not necessarily the character. “I mean the character is interesting but it is very much part of the ensemble. It’s Cate, and Bob and James’ script. I read the script before I read the book and I just fell in love with the story,” she explains. “I was just so happy to read the book and get so much more detail, so for me it was just being part of a picture that was a great story to tell.” Asked what the challenges were for her to sink her teeth into a character not as well perhaps defined as that of Blanchett, she sees her role in Truth as being “very much a facilitator. I’m there to help the story along and to provide information to the audience that they may need. I feel like I’m very much a cog in the machine, which I’m really happy to be when I really love the story and the people involved. For me the challenge in was trying to make material that is very factual and informative sound real and interesting and not sound boring,” she adds laughingly. Moss didn’t need to much research own this, she says, adding “it was very much on the page and int the book. They did such extensive research on this story, and it’s all in the book.”

Now that she has left Mad Men behind her, one wonders what the challenges for her are to find as richly defined characters to play as that of Peggy. “For me I was very lucky in sense of having had a few opportunities while the show was happening, to go and do things that were different and really stretched me.” It began on stage with David Mamet’s Speed the Plough, which marked her Broadway debut, “so doing something on stage like that on that scale with that language was a big stretch for me and gave me a bit more of an education to take back to the show.” During the show’s 6th season hiatus, Moss sported a flawless New Zealand accent in the Jane Campion series Top of the Lake. “That was a really fortuitous thing for me as an actor , because I think there was a part of me that wondered if I could do something else. And I felt, as an actor, that it helped me to realize that I could play another role that was really different and I learned so much doing that and it gave me such a taste for playing a different kind of role that I was then able to relax a little bit.”

Despite the constant complaints about roles for women in Hollywood, Moss has reason to be optimistic, sort of. “Look I think it’s getting better especially with television over the past decade. I remember 10 years ago there might have been just a handful of great performances on television, now there’s too many to nominate, not to mention all these big network shows run by woman, like Scandal, Good Wife and Nashville. I think that television is allowing for that to happen more than film sometimes and the roles are more plentiful.” Asked if she has any aspirations to direct, Moss laughs. “I don’t think so. It’s a lot of work and too hard. You have to be on set all day every day. I like my breaks.”

But Moss has nothing to worry about, what with six films coming out in the next few months, but she wouldn’t be drawn on having a particular favorite, though she has hopes for a new film adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull, in which she stars as Masha. But as to anything she’s excited about coming out, she just admits “each one is just really different and I like them for different reasons.”Finally, I ask the actress if acting was always in her blood, and the answer is a resounding yes. “I can’t do anything else so I have to act. It’s the thing I’m best at, so I’m stuck with it unfortunately.”

TRUTH IS SCREENING IN SELECT CINEMAS IN MAJOR CITIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

About the Author:

Paul Fischer I've been an entertainment writer going on for three decades. Born in Australia, I began writing for Australian papers and was the first Australian journalist ever to interview both Woody Allen and Mel Gibson. I moved to Los Angeles at the end of 1999, and apart from my teaching career, have written for Film Monthly and Dark Horizons.
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