Elisabeth Moss on Cracking Up, Sexism and the Peggy Strut
It’s been a little over three months since America watched Peggy Olson strut sassily down McCann Erickson’s hallway, an unlit cigarette hanging from her lips and a painting of a sexually adventurous octopus tucked under her arm. But while we’ve all spent our summer replaying that singularly GIF-able scene and mourning the loss of Mad Men, Elisabeth Moss has already moved on: Since wrapping the hit AMC series, she’s played the titular role in The Heidi Chronicles on Broadway, and has lined up no fewer than seven movies, including an adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull, an adaptation of J.B. Ballard’s class-warfare novel High Rise, and Queen of Earth, her second collaboration with writer-director Alex Ross Perry after 2014’s Listen Up Philip.
In Queen, Moss plays Catherine, a young woman who, after the death of her father and a particularly painful breakup, decides to hole up in a lakeside cabin with her best friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston). But the childhood pals immediately engage in a passive-aggressive pas de deux, pointedly insulting each other’s flailing careers and romantic failures until Catherine starts to psychologically crumble. The result is an eerie, darkly comic portrait of mental malfunction and mindfuckery that feels like the product of some unholy union between Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Persona, and every other Polanski film.
Though the drama’s bitter bucolic banter is a serious departure from Peggy Olson’s chipper ad-campaign pitches, Catherine herself isn’t much of a shift for Moss, who’s been playing complicated women on the receiving end of violence both emotional and physical since childhood (most recently as tortured detective Robin Griffin in Jane Campion’s critically acclaimed miniseries Top of the Lake, rumored for a second season). We caught up with Moss before Queen of Earth‘s premiere to talk about the movie’s liberating effect on her, why Peggy still resonates so deeply, and whether or not she thinks things are improving for women in entertainment.
Some reviewers are describing this movie as a comedy, others call it a horror film. How’d you interpret it?
Alex [Ross Perry] and I think it’s funny…sometimes. We don’t think it’s funny all the time, but it is an extremely dark comedy. We’ve actually discussed it and we think it should be confusing in a Kubrick-film kind of way. It should be so dark that it occasionally makes you giggle because it’s so out there, you know? If people are disturbed or scared, that’s great; if they giggle, that’s great too. As long as people get the story and are enjoying it, we don’t care what their reaction is. It’s not quite supposed to be taken completely seriously, I think. Although it’s a very serious thing, if that makes sense.
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