In Her Smell, Elisabeth 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.