Elisabeth Moss: Mad Style

Elisabeth Moss is a smoldering star on AMC’s Mad Men, which happens to be a universe thickly populated with slow burners. As Peggy Olson, Moss fist came across as a clueless naïf in the high-flying world of Madison Avenue in the early 1960s. However, though she seemed like a true tabula rasa in office assistant form, her opaque persona concealed a calculating and at times ruthless ambition. Peggy serves as both foil and reflection for Jon Hamm’s Don Draper, and the two embody one of the most nuanced male-female relationships on television within one of the most creatively complex shows on television. On the heels of her own Emmy nomination for best lead actress in a drama — among 16 other nominations for Mad Men — Moss talks about awards, life on a “small” show, her devotion to Urban Outfitters, and that thing with Don Draper.

So congratulations on your Emmy nomination. How is that significant to you personally? I love working on this show, and I’m really proud of it. I’m a big fan of the show myself, so to be recognized for something that I’m really proud feels like an achievement. I also am happy to be amongst any of our nominations — happy to be the 16th one and to help the show in that way. I know it’s sort of cheesy, but it already feels like I did win … just to be amongst those women is such an incredible honor. These women have these long, impressive careers, so it feels like quite the honor

Well, it’s basically, what, you versus three policewomen and Sally Field? And Glenn Close!

And Glenn Close, right. So speaking of the show, you’re nominated alongside Jon Hamm. For both seasons, your characters have a unique relationship among the many very rich relationships on that show — considering Don Draper’s conduct with other women characters besides Peggy, how do you two as actors work through that relationship? I always enjoy working with him so much. I love getting to do anything with him, and there’s an ease to us working together … I don’t know if it comes with similar styles, or just having worked together for a while now.

When you say similar styles, do you mean similar acting styles? Yeah, pretty much, in terms of similar working styles too .. it’s interesting because those characters are so different, and yet they kind of go to together so well with this really interesting sort of yin and yang relationship. They have these really innate similarities that are undeniable and grow stronger and stronger. Working with him is always incredibly easy. It’s very simple — not going to have a lot of discussion, we both know our characters really well, and we know their relationship, and so it’s always a very easy process, which I really enjoy.

That rapport is obvious on screen, and to oversimplify it, one would call it chemistry — but that term is usually applied to those who would have a romantic relationship. In this case, the strength of it is that neither character is going that direction. On any other, lesser show, you would have had that happen on the first season, but with us, it’s touched upon in the very first episode — and then completely buried in favor of a far more interesting sort of friendship, more protégée-type relationship.

Sort of a gradual maturing into a natural alliance in terms of their working lives. Yeah. And I think he sees himself in her, and she looks up to him, and they have an easy working relationship. They’re so similar, and I think that becomes more and more apparent given the circumstances that they both went through — these big secrets they both have.

The secret, unspoken kinship beyond the simple professional ambition. Exactly.

A few weeks back, I was interviewing Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad, and we were talking about how the TV drama is going through a renaissance of sorts, and how AMC in particular is in a place similar to where HBO was ten years ago in terms of what they’re rolling out and taking chances on. How do you feel about the show’s relationship to the network in terms of the team and the show’s creative direction? AMC went back to exactly what all networks should go back to … they found a really good script and really good writing and made a show, just like HBO once did and many other cable networks are doing, and what regular networks are sort of having to follow now.

Right. After abandoning scripted television almost entirely. Yeah, exactly. I think the standard has been raised. All the power that AMC put behind the show is so incredible, and I feel also that because it’s a smaller network and because we’re a smaller show, there’s a much closer relationship with the network — as opposed to them being this huge building that you never go into, and its full of people you don’t know. We know everyone at the network; we’re actually friends, and we’ve seen them and hung out with them and been with them from the beginning, so it feels like it’s a much more familial relationship. I’ve worked on a big show before, and this feels much closer and smaller.

For a while though — until earlier this year actually — there seemed like a real chance that show creator Matt Weiner would not come to terms with AMC to move forward with Mad Men. How would you have felt about doing the show without him? The whole cast really stood together in the idea that there really was no show without him. It’s difficult to say what would have happened or the individual decisions that the cast would have made, but I think that we all knew we would follow him wherever he went. It would not have been the same show without him. It wouldn’t have been Mad Men. It’s his show.

Well, I’m very glad it worked out in the end. Me too!

Before season two of Mad Men started last year, I was talking to costume designer Janine Bryant; at the time, she described Peggy’s look as a “schoolgirl in the office” who is “buttoned up” due to her conservative nature. One of the questions I asked her about each character in turn was what she thought a contemporary version of that character would wear. What she said for Peggy Olson was “Marc Jacobs … Maybe a little bit of Burberry.” Oh, that’s very good.

What else would the Peggys of 2009 wear? I could not possibly improve on that. Maybe a little bit of Calvin Klein mixed in … just the sort of simplicity and professionalism of it, but that’s wonderfully put. In fact, there’s a dress that I wore this season that seriously could be Marc Jacobs. You could sell it off of the rack.

How does that look or concept or style compare or contrast with your personal style? My personal style is a lot more modern and a lot more casual, although I am sort of a girly-girl, so I do wear skirts and dresses more than I’ll wear jeans and t-shirts. I’d say also my style is similar only in the sense that I’m very modest as Peggy is, so I don’t wear lots of very revealing clothes.

You’re engaged to Saturday Night Live’s Fred Armisen, and I hear you set a date. Do you feel comfortable talking about where you’re planning to tie the knot? We’re not talking about where it is exactly, or the exact date. It’s really nice and quiet, but we’re deep into wedding planning.

Where do you like to go out? We love this sushi restaurant on Sunset called Sushi Park; it’s the best sushi in the world, it’s so good. I love the Sunset Tower. We’re kind of homebodies … we don’t really go out.

Any particular shops that you like in New York or Los Angeles? There’s a lot of great little shops on the Upper West Side, on Columbus … we live on the Upper West Side, so there’s a lot of great little shops up there. I’m a huge proponent of Urban Outfitters — I adore them and adore their website and consider it my personal closet much to the detriment of my checking account. I don’t have a lot of time to go shopping honestly, and when I do, I’m not a huge designer girl. I’m very like I like the Gap and J. Crew and Urban Outfitters.

Anyone with a really good website. Exactly, because I don’t have time to go shopping, so if I can shop on the set, it’s perfect.

What else are you working on besides Mad Men? I’ve done two films this year. One’s Did You Hear About the Morgans? — it’s a romantic comedy, I play Sarah Jessica Parker’s assistant. It really fun to do that kind of comedy, which I’ve never really done — very light, snappy, you feel like you’re in an old 40s movie. I’m a huge fan of Sarah Jessica Parker’s, so that was a dream come true to work with her. Also I just finished filming Get Him to the Greek — which I’ve been doing concurrently with season 3 of Mad Men. It’s spin-off of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, produced by Judd Apatow. That was just a very different working experience for me, with all the improv.

It must have been odd to go right from the very serious drama of Mad Men to a bouncy comedy. Yeah, it was really odd. Mad Men is so minimal, and nobody ever really says anything — you have five lines, and it’s all very quiet. Then you go to doing 10-minute takes of something that’s so comedic where everybody’s improv-ing and coming up with ideas … it was so black and white.
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