Everyone knows Elisabeth Moss from her role as Peggy Olson on the massive hit show, “Mad Men.” She’s also done great work in the show “West Wing” and the short series “Top of the Lake.” She stopped by the SiriusXM studios to talk about the upcoming season of “Mad Men” with Ron Bennington. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
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Ron Bennington: Alright, right off the bat, I want to say this – best show this year, maybe best show I’ve seen on TV in a long time – “Top of the Lake”. Unbelievable.
Elisabeth Moss: Wow, thank you very much. I really appreciate that, thank you.
Ron Bennington: Stunningly great!
Elisabeth Moss: Thank you.
Ron Bennington: And incredibly frightening in the real life sense of scary, that things can get that weird.
Elisabeth Moss: Yeah, yeah. Well, thank you. I really – it’s like, we – that was something kind of that wasn’t made for a lot of – we didn’t have a lot of money, and it was a really tough shoot in New Zealand in five months doing six episodes and, so the fact that people love it, is to me, just – I’m so flattered.
Ron Bennington: It’s better than most movies. It’s what movies used to feel like – that really strange tension that you can get, instead of falling back on action and explosions. But beautiful place, but harsh, right? Down there.
Elisabeth Moss: Yeah, definitely. Very raw. I think that – we shot a lot of it in Queenstown, New Zealand which is on the south island and it’s a beautiful place, it’s a stunning place. It’s probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, but it does have a raw edge to it. There is something frightening about it, and mysterious. I don’t know it’s just because it’s so remote, or just because it’s –
Ron Bennington: Well, it’s all so big that everyone looks small there. Everyone just looks tiny because the lake is giant, the mountains, everything. So, it just makes people more and more vulnerable. It was a very vulnerable story.
Elisabeth Moss: Yeah, that’s why those helicopter shots were really important, in the – sort of more in the beginning, episode two or three. Because we wanted to show how big that landscape is, and how hard it would be to find a 12-year-old girl.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, it was – Kubrick did that in “The Shining” in the opening scenes of “The Shining” of just the helicopter shot to show you – and there is something about remoteness that is frightening.
Elisabeth Moss: Exactly, that you will – and that’s what happens to Robin, to my character, is she does end up kind of being the only one. The only person who can solve the case, the only person who believes that Tui can be found. She kind of is alone so much in her search, in her journey, and the landscape definitely reflects that.
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Ron Bennington: How long has “Mad Men” been on now?
Elisabeth Moss: Six seasons. This is is its sixth season.
Ron Bennington: Six seasons. So, what year are we up to on “Mad Men”?
Elisabeth Moss: I think we are on at least ’68.
Ron Bennington: ’68?
Elisabeth Moss: We might be ’69, but I’m not sure if that’s happened yet on the show.
Ron Bennington: So, all this time I was always wondering if Peggy was just going to go anti-establishment, move over to the other side. But she does, she keeps her feet in both worlds.
Elisabeth Moss: Yeah, she does. And I think that that – I love that. That’s who Peggy is. She’s not – she’s not going to become a hippie. She’s not going to start burning her bra. She’s going to always – how she dresses now on the show is probably how she will dress pretty much for the rest of her life. I remember my grandmother wore like pretty much the same kind of pantsuit all the time. And she got her hair done once a week. Like, “What are you doing today?” She was washing her hair. So I think that Peggy will remain who – she’s a child of the ’50s, not the ’60s. So, she will remain who she is probably for quite awhile. She’s not going to become that person.
Ron Bennington: It really is funny, though. I’d never thought about that, but when people hit a certain age they’re like, “Yup, this is it for me. This is my style, this is the way my hair looks, this is the music I listen to – I’m done changing.”
Elisabeth Moss: Totally. And she’s not quite there yet. I think she’s got to be – she’s a little younger than me, so she’s got to be, like 27 maybe now, or 28. But by the end of the show, she’ll get there. (laughs)
Ron Bennington: Yeah, by the end of the show, it’ll be some kind of – and then, if you really look at this – they’re going to end up in the ’70s with weird key parties. I mean, their life is one of the strangest. But that, I always thought, was the weird generation. Because, I always looked at them one way when I was younger. But, now when you go back and you watch the rat pack type stuff, and look at some of the style, they really did have some cooler things than they were given credit for by their kids.
Elisabeth Moss: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that the reason why Peggy is good at her job, and why, like you said, she’s got one foot in both sets. She is a child of the ’50s enough to have a certain kind of old-fashionness to her, but she has her finger a little bit on the pulse of the youth. So, she kind of knows what’s going on there, but also knows how to manipulate it. As opposed to being somebody like one of the more kind of hippy-ish guys in her crew. Which is more limited of a viewpoint?
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Ron Bennington: Yeah. But, that same generation – because we were talking about they way they looked and all – they were also, I think, the first generation who started to have midlife crisis and stuff. Or they would go, “Okay, now I’m into EST,” or whatever weird new thing is coming along the line. But, it was still done from a place of searching. Where before that, if you were of that the same age of the ’40s and ’50s, you were just like, “This is life. I go and do these things and I stop.” I think that was like the first generation to go, “I don’t feel fulfilled. I don’t feel right.”
Elisabeth Moss: Yeah, absolutely. I think that was sort of – listen, I’m not – Matt Weiner would be a much better person to speak about this kind of thing – but I do think the little knowledge that I have of it, my understanding is there is a sense of disillusionment that was perhaps different than the ’40s or ’50s with the war and with things that were happening politically, and with the way that life was changing. There was a sense, I think, of people being dissatisfied and disillusioned by their country, and disillusioned by their leaders, and people that they were supposed to look up to. And, they started to look up to – more previous than where we are now – but, The Beatles more than they would look up to – that’s who the kids followed, were the bands. And, so I think that there was definitely a sense of searching, and a sense of being lost that I think we’re trying to show in this season, of people feeling like they’re treading water. You just can’t seem to get forward, and you just keep making the same mistakes, which I think is reflective of that time.
Ron Bennington: Right, and then everything after that. After that, people decide, “I don’t know how everything fell apart. I thought I was on the right path.”
Elisabeth Moss: Yeah, well that, I think, is one of the – I mean, I don’t know how it happened this way. I don’t think it was necessarily intended. It’s just that, I think one of the reasons why people really connected to the show is, it came along at a time when people were feeling and experiencing exactly that today. And so you were able to look at this show and go, “Oh my god, yes. That’s what we’re going through now!” The parallels between that time and now, there’s just so many, not only politically, but just as a country. I think that there’s definitely been that feeling the whole time, and it’s getting darker and darker. (laughs)
Ron Bennington: Sure, that’s why Obama couldn’t use the “hope” thing the second time around. Because there’s nothing worse than giving people hope –
Elisabeth Moss: – and taking it away (laughs) –
Ron Bennington: – and then pulling it back out, because you immediately feel like an abuse victim.
Elisabeth Moss: Uh-huh. Absolutely.
Ron Bennington: So, people don’t want – I mean, I think people today are pretty covered up.
Elisabeth Moss: Yeah, I agree. I agree, and I think that you see these characters like John Slattery’s character, Roger Sterling, who is definitely having a crisis. Who’s definitely going through this sort of – he doesn’t know which – his generation is kind of on the way out, he doesn’t really necessarily feel like he’s very relevant anymore. He’s lost so much, and I think he’s trying to kind of try something new. I mean, It is the definition of kind of a midlife crisis. And it’s a very common story of that time, and a very common story now.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, and imagine. Like, that was the generation, they won the war. They come back home, things are going well, and then all of a sudden, everything changes, and their own kids are like, “No, this thing that you thought was truth and reality, we’re done with you, we don’t like you, and we’re gone.”
Elisabeth Moss: Absolutely. And, “We’re not listening to you anymore.” But, what’s so interesting about “Mad Men”, is like you said, it’s the element of advertising. So it’s a great way to be able to comment upon the time, and comment upon what people are going through and feeling, without having to be too expositional about it. So, you have a great reason to discuss the temperature of the country at the moment. Because you’re trying to figure out how to sell them baked beans. (laughs)
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Ron Bennington: Look at your career, how you keep…, “West Wing”, “Mad Men” – I mean, we’re sitting around talking about how hard it is to find quality, and you keep finding yourself in that position from time to time again.
Elisabeth Moss: (laughs) Yeah, I’ve been really weirdly lucky. I didn’t intend to do a lot of television or anything. It just – those were the parts that I got, you know? And “West Wing” was a part that I got. I wanted to be on the show, but it wasn’t something like I was like, “I’m going to do great television.” It just – I don’t know, I happened to kind of fall into it.
Ron Bennington: Does it take awhile before you even look back and go, “Hey, this thing worked has worked out a little better?” I mean, in real time, could you tell, or –
Ron Bennington: Right away, yeah.
Elisabeth Moss: Yeah, it had a little trouble at the beginning, I think. But I think it pretty much got great ratings-wise and all of that pretty quickly. “Mad Men”, we had no idea until we won the Golden Globe, and Jon (Hamm) won the Golden Globe for the first season. We didn’t think we were anything. We thought people liked us, we got good reviews, but we were like, “Nobody knows who we are.” We didn’t know if we were going back for a second season, none of that. We thought “Grey’s Anatomy” was going to win, because that was like the show of the time, and it was like this massive show, massive hit. So, that was our moment when we were like, “Oh, huh? This might be working.” (laughs)
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Ron Bennington: And then the weird thing about “Mad Men” is the people almost take it too seriously. Like, they really identify with those characters, and they really – I mean, the fans will get depressed or happy depending on what’s happening with them. It reminds me of like my mom’s generation was with soap operas. They don’t see actors, they see actual life in front of them.
Elisabeth Moss: Yeah, I’m a huge television fan. I watch a lot of stuff, and I get it. I feel the same way. I meet a lot of actors, obviously. You go to the Emmys and stuff like that and you see people that I get the same way. I’m like, “Oh my god. It’s Kyle Chandler from “Friday Night Lights”. Or, you know – and I can’t get over it. And I’m the same way – “Breaking Bad” – I yelled at Vince, the creator of the show, when I saw him. Was just like, (crazy voice) “This is crazy! How could you do this? How could you leave us like that?! When are we coming back?!” and literally was like, “You’re an asshole!” (laughs) So, I understand that feeling, because I feel that way.
Ron Bennington: And who knew that this was going to be another golden age of television?
Elisabeth Moss: I know. It’s crazy.
Ron Bennington: “Homeland” is another show like that, that you’re just –
Elisabeth Moss: There’s so much good stuff out there. And then I love this whole kind of resurgence of miniseries and the original film, or TV movie, or whatever you call it these days. We used to call it the movie of the week, but I don’t know what it is now. I love that. It doesn’t feel like there are any lines anymore. It just feels like, good people make good stuff, and then people see it.
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Ron Bennington: All right, it’s so great to see you.
Elisabeth Moss: Nice to see you too!
Ron Bennington: Again, thanks so much for “Top of the Lake” too. That was really, really a tough thing to pull off. And of course, “Mad Men” is a big hit. Airs Sundays 10 o’clock, 9 Central on AMC. And Top of the Lake is available on Netflix. Make sure you pick that one up, too. That’s amazing. Elisabeth, see you next time coming through.
Elisabeth Moss: Thank you so much! Thank you.
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You can learn more about Ron Bennington’s two interview shows, Unmasked and Ron Bennington Interviews at RonBenningtonInterviews.com.