In Mad Men we saw Elisabeth Moss’ Peggy Olson working in a man’s world and having it all in the finale, with both professional and personal success. As Moss says, “There was only one way to really surprise the audience, and that was to give her the most romantic scene in the episode and to give her the happy ending.” Recently Moss took up the reins of retro feminism once again, this time on Broadway as Heidi Holland in The Heidi Chronicles. As she says, “I kind of liked being able to pick up the torch where Peggy left off and continue carrying it.” Moss also has the movie Truth coming up. The tale of ‘Rathergate’ – the scandal that ended Dan Rather’s career – the film stars Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett. Moss says of her character, she’s “part of a group that works with Cate and Robert, so for me, that was a huge attraction.”
How did it feel to finally have Peggy be this truly blissfully-happy person at the end of Mad Men?
I feel like everyone was sort of expecting her to run the office, or become creative director, or take over Don’s job, and all of that was just unrealistic. I mean, she’s still in her early 30s. She’s not there yet, but Pete’s right when he says she’ll be creative director by 1980. She’ll be about 40 then, and that makes sense. So, for me, I felt like it was the best surprise to go the opposite direction and actually end up giving her personal happiness, which is the last thing that you expected. With all of her troubles over the years of finding the right person, I think it’s lovely to end up giving her something that even she didn’t even see coming, that was incredibly unexpected, and it doesn’t mean that she won’t have success in her work life as well, and it doesn’t mean that she won’t continue on and run a company one day. One thing does not exclude the other.
She traded places with Joan in some ways – she ends up with a happy-ever-after romantic story while Joan’s striking out on her own.
Yeah. It’s like the job that she would’ve taken with Joan was not necessarily what she loved. She wouldn’t necessarily have been writing, and she loves writing. She’s a writer. So for her to stay where she is and continue to do that was absolutely the right thing, and what Stan says – it’s not all about being the boss and having your name on the door – is absolutely true. To abandon what she loves doing just so that she can have some sort of power, that’s not what her whole journey was about.
Could you relate to Peggy’s love of writing – are you a writer?
Oh, God, no. I have a tremendous amount of respect for writers. I think it’s one of the most difficult things to do in our business. I’ve heard from many different writers that are very successful that it is not fun. It’s a very difficult, laborious process, and it’s something that I think is an incredible gift. As an actor, for me, the writing is everything. So I have so much appreciation for it.
You’ve just been on Broadway as Heidi Holland in The Heidi Chronicles. Did it somehow feel like following a historical trail from Peggy Olson to this?
Absolutely. I loved that I got to play the next generation, which was so different than Peggy. There’s just such a huge difference between somebody who is born in 1940 and raised in the ‘40s and ‘50s and somebody who is born in the ‘50s and raised in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s just a very, very big difference, and it’s the difference between my grandmother and my mother’s generation. So, for me, it was very interesting.
At the Golden Globes, you gave E!’s infamous ‘mani cam’ the finger – do you feel the red carpet culture needs to change for women?
It’s an interesting thing because I certainly don’t stand on any soapbox. That mani cam thing was totally a joke. I was shocked that nobody had ever done that before. I wasn’t even thinking, and I asked, “can I do anything?” and they were like, “yeah,” and so I did that, and it wasn’t something, swear to God, from a higher point than, “oh, this will be funny,” but it was interesting, the reaction to it, because I had no idea that people were so passionate in their resistance of the mani cam. I just thought it was kind of silly, but I think that’s the least of our problems as far as equal rights for women. So, for me, I’m like, listen, I’m an actress. I am not a model or a fashion person. I love when women take that opportunity to talk about more important things, or talk about their work, or talk about what’s important to them. I think that’s great to use that platform to maybe speak about things that are more important than what you’re wearing. At the same time, it’s not something that I necessarily rail against. I feel like if you want to get dressed up and go to things, you should.
I did love what Patricia Arquette did at the Oscars when she took the opportunity to say something that was important to her. I think that’s fantastic. I think if women can do that, why not?
Ageism is still rampant against women in entertainment – what would you like to see in your career when you’re older?
Well, for me, the women I’m the biggest fans of are those women who have made incredible careers at many different ages for themselves, like Helen Mirren and Glenn Close and Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Those are actually all my favorite actresses. So, for me, the fact that they’ve managed to surpass and sort of fly in the face of those ideas of ageism and sexism and continue to create incredible, strong, sexy, interesting characters, that is what I would aspire to.
What attracted you to Truth?
For me it was really so much about the cast. I mean, there’s Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett. So, honestly, it didn’t matter much what it was after those two names, but then it ended up being a really, really smart script when I read it, by James Vanderbilt, who wrote Zodiac. This is his first feature, and it’s based on a really fascinating book called Truth and Duty, and the whole story is actually incredibly interesting. So, for me, those were all the draws.
What’s a dream opportunity for you right now?
I’ve never been one of those people that’s like, “I want to play this, and I want to play that.” The Heidi Chronicles ended up being a really important step for me and it was a very meaningful role for me but it literally came my way. Same thing with the Top of the Lake. Same thing with Mad Men. I think that the surprise of it is part of the fun in a way. I mean, I have things that I would like to do – I would love to do Chekhov and I would love to do Tennessee Williams. I’d love to attempt Shakespeare one day, although I find it absolutely terrifying. As far as film and television, I want to be surprised. I want to read things that I didn’t think of. That’s what I rely on the brilliant writers for. They’re the ones who come up with the ideas that I will try to live up to and bring to life.
Did you take anything from the Mad Men set?
Yeah. I took a lot of stuff that now is in my closet and I don’t know what to do with! I’m like, “what am I going to do with a typewriter?” But I took the typewriter that I’m typing on in the last scene of Mad Men. I took the telephone that I make those last phone calls on, and I took my purple chair that I always sat in, and then I took the ring. I wore this ring in every episode of the show for seven seasons. I took the red thermos that she always carries from job to job, and I took some artwork that was on my walls, but it’s all now in the closet, and I don’t know what to do with it.