With AMC’s award-winning series Mad Men returning Sunday night, I recently had the chance to participate in a roundtable interview with Elisabeth Moss. Since the cast is always guarded when talking about upcoming storylines, most of the interview covered the big storylines of last season, Peggy’s relationship with Don Draper (Jon Hamm), what Matthew Weiner told her about her character last season, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what Moss had to say.
Before going any further…spoilers from previous seasons are discussed during this interview.
If you’d like to listen to the audio of this interview, click here. Otherwise the full transcript is below. Look for another Mad Men interview tomorrow night.
ELISABETH MOSS: Or not, maybe this is a huge trick. This is a big red herring. They’re like, you have to come do press. I’m like, I’m not on the show anymore! No, I am on the show. That’s my joke is like I can only say I play Peggy Olson and I work in advertising. The only thing I can say. I can’t even say like where I work, or who I’m working with. Super boring.
I know the show’s called Mad Men.
MOSS: Yeah, it is. I can confirm that.
I’ve got a point. I’ve always thought that your character was really one of the biggest stories about what has gone on with life during that time, changes as far as workplace and women and everything, I really felt like that’s a huge story despite that it’s not Mad Men and Women.
MOSS: Yeah. I think that when we originally started the show that was the kind of thing people were talking about: Oh it’s called Mad Men but it’s actually got these really interesting female characters. Betty, Joan and Peggy are really complex and layered and not stereotypes. In each of their stereotypes, they’re very different. That was one of the first kind of surprises of the show, first season: Oh, there’s really cool women on this. For me, getting Peggy has been such a lucky thing. Just by virtue of her age and her position and who she is, there’s been such an arc for her. She starts out at 20 — I think last season she must have been 26 or something — and she’s in the ’60s, in the workplace, with all of those elements… You just have so much to play with. There’s so much material because it was when things were changing. I think for me to get that particular part, that particular character, has been great. It’s allowed me to change her — not that it’s all me, it’s the writers — but it does allow me to have a lot to do with her, which has been really cool. And it keeps changing too. Even Season 6 I feel like is so different than Season 5 for me. It presents new challenges. Normally on TV shows, it’s like, oh, you play the same character and you got to go back and do the same thing for nine years and you’re like, kill me. This is amazing. Every year is a new challenge on this show. Every year you’re like, oh god, I’ve got to figure out how to do this again.
How did you feel about who Peggy ended up with [romantically]? We don’t even have to talk about this in terms of last season because I was always curious about the men she dated and who she would end up with, whether it would be someone she worked with or it would be someone who’s completely different, which is the way they’ve written it. But how do you feel about who she’s paired up with, at least for the moment?
MOSS: I feel like that’s true in life, you don’t know whether it’s better to date somebody who does what you do or not. There’s good things and bad things about both. And I think ultimately it’s not about that at all. I think that for Peggy her problem is that she’s so focused on work. She’s too young to understand she’s gonna have to balance that, and she’s gonna have to figure out a way to have both. And I think that’s a problem with women of that time as well. They hadn’t quite figured that out yet. For her, it’s less about who she’s dating. They might have worked out, he might have been a great guy. It’s like “The Suitcase,” I’m staying here on my birthday and I’m not going to dinner with my family and my boyfriend, and she makes that choice because she’d rather be at work. And that’s the truth: She’d really rather be there. And I think that’s her problem.
Last season we saw Peggy break away from Don and actually reject him, but at the same time she learned a lot from Don about this business. What did she really learn from Don that she takes into this new role?
MOSS: I think that she wouldn’t be able to leave and take this position without him. That’s what she says to him in Episode 11. She’s like, “This is exactly what you would’ve done. You wanted me to do this. This is what you trained me for.” I think that… It’s so hard to fucking talk about it. You think it sucks for you guys. It’s not so fun over here either. But I think that Don is what her idea of what a boss is, so obviously she’s learned how to be a boss from him. So I think she tries her hand at that a little bit, but ultimately she’s still Peggy and she’s not Don. What actually makes Don love her and respect her so much is that she’s better than him. She has a heart and I think it brings up an interesting kind of thing about female bosses and how they might be different than male bosses, especially at that time. I think that she’s going to have to learn like every other season how to do it her way. How to be herself. And not follow other people, specifically Don.
Is there something she’s seen Don do that she would never do?
MOSS: Probably sleep with her secretaries — just because she’s straight. If she got a male secretary, you never know. I don’t think she has the cruel bone. I think Don actually has a cruel bone and he actually can be really mean. He can do the wrong thing. I think she’s tough and she’s hard and capable of yelling at people and ordering them around, but I don’t know if she could actually lower the boom that we’ve seen Don do. And I don’t think she can drink as much.
Fashion-wise, Peggy still is really conservative. Is that a function of her being raised Catholic or do you think she has a certain image of how businesswomen dress? I’d like to see her get more like Megan and break out some of those Pucci outfits.
MOSS: I know, right? That would be so cute. No. It’s not gonna happen. She will probably dress like that in one form or another for the rest of her life. It’s like my grandmother who kind of found what she loved and continued to wear it in more comfortable, modern fabrics. I think that’s how she’ll be. She’ll always wear pantyhose and she will consider it appropriate to wear hats and gloves. It’s funny because as we’ve gone through the ’60s — she used to be quite progressive — she’s actually become old-fashioned, I think. She’s become of a different generation now, as we get later in the ’60s. And you see Megan become more… Obviously she’s always been more fashionable. I don’t think Peggy will ever go there. I don’t think her hair’s gonna change that much. That’s who she is now.
Is that part of her asserting her authority in a man’s world?
MOSS: I’m sure, absolutely. I feel like women still deal with that today, dressing appropriately for the office. It’s by choice — you don’t want to sexualize yourself too much. You want to be respected. So I think it still happens. You want to be taken seriously, and there’s certain things in our culture, if you do, if you wear, you won’t be taken seriously. So absolutely, I think she from the very beginning of the show does not want to be seen as a woman, just wants to be seen as a great copywriter.
MOSS: That’s a good question. I think both, probably. I think that she loves the job and that’s what started her out, that passion for what she did and the fact that she was kind of really good at it, when she discovered that she was good at it, which was sort of by accident. And then she liked it and realized, oh my god, I have to work three times as hard as the men do. Now she’s at a place where I don’t think she’s battling that as much. I don’t think she’s battling the male sex as much. She’s not being objectified as much. She’s her own person and I think she doesn’t feel that. But also she’s made it that way by not presenting herself that way and having control over that. So I think that her love of her work is what started her out and then she realized she had to work really hard.
At the end of last season when you’re quitting, did Matthew pull you aside and say, you’re quitting, but you’re not going to move away? Or were you the one who said, hey Matthew I am quitting, am I going away?
MOSS: It’s funny. He called me, before the Episode 11 script came out, and he told me the whole thing. Which was quite similar to the first season. The first season he called me into his office before we started and was like, blah blah blah blah blah, all this stuff’s gonna happen, and then you’re gonna have a baby. This time he called me and said all this stuff’s gonna happen and then you’re gonna leave. I literally was like, that sounds amazing, am I still on the show? He was actually a little bit offended and he was like, of course, yes! I was like, well it’s a logical question. And he was like, no, it’s fine, totally, of course. For me I just felt like — and for him as well — what else was she gonna do? That’s the beauty of this show, it’s not afraid to take that risk, to kind of give the audience a little bit of maybe what they don’t want.
But that’s what would’ve happened — she would’ve gone to another agency. It’s very common for people in advertising to flip around and go to different places. And it made so much sense. And when I went back and looked back in my head at all the scripts before I was like, oh my god, this is where it’s been going all the time and I didn’t see it. We’ve been building up to it since the first episode when she watches Megan dance to “Zou Bisou Bisou” and she looks at her and sees this woman embracing her life and being her own person — and how much Don loves that, and respects her for it and admires it, and I think that’s where the seed is planted.
Do you worry in the way that the show has expanded from the first season — with Don and Betty breaking up, and the office moving, and now with you moving on — the show is still centered at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, do you worry about much screen time you were going to get?
MOSS: I was, actually, at first. To be honest. I totally was. I was personally kind of sad because I was like, oh, I love those guys. That’s who I grew up with and I always worked with those boys. And then obviously Jon and that whole thing was really hard. The only thing I can say is I’m very happy with where it’s gone, I’m very happy with what’s happened. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I have had to do in this season. I was kind of expecting not to be in it so much, because I thought, oh, I’m at a different agency. And I’m pleasantly surprised.
Top of the Lake starts Monday? Can you talk a little bit about that?
MOSS: I’m really excited. I’ve seen all of it obviously. It’s so cheesy to say, of course I’m gonna say this, I’m not gonna be like, it sucks, but I’m proud of it. I really am. We did it for no money and we did it in New Zealand and it was hard and it was a crazy, 82-day shoot and I worked 65 out of 82 days, and it was really intense work. I’m really proud of it. I like that the first couple of episodes are going in this one direction and then I feel like Episode 3, it kind of dives down the rabbit hole and goes in a different direction, and you’re like, Jesus, what the fuck is this? And kind of continues there on a wild journey. It’s very not formulaic. It’s a fantasy. Which is very important to Jane. It’s not real. It’s a fantasy land. I like that.
That will be then just a one-off miniseries? There’s no chance of…?
MOSS: I think so. I’ve heard Jane say both things, to be honest. I’ve heard her say maybe and I’ve heard her say no, so I don’t know. I think one-off. I would put money on one-off. I feel like that’s the beauty of it. It’s like a long movie. But I never know!