Emmys 2013: Elisabeth Moss on 'Mad Men,' 'Top of the Lake'

Emmys 2013: Elisabeth Moss on 'Mad Men,' 'Top of the Lake'
Actress Elisabeth Moss was at home in New York when she got the happy news about her two Emmy nominations. (Mark Davis / Getty Images for Women In Film)

Elisabeth Moss was at home in New York, trying to stay out of the sweltering, nearly triple-digit heat when she got the happy news she'd been nominated for two Emmys for two startlingly different projects: the stylish advertising drama "Mad Men" and Jane Campion's eerily seductive "Top of The Lake," set in a backwater town in New Zealand.

We talked to her about her double nominations, what to do when you're cooped up in New Zealand for five months (hint: catch up on "Downton Abbey") and, of course, Peggy's plaid pantsuit.

You're in New York. So it wasn't too early of a morning for you?

That's what's kind of nice about being in New York for these kinds of things. It's a more decent hour. I'm not a morning person, so it's quite unusual for me to be up that early, 9:30, but I happened to be up and looked at my phone and I was like, well now I'm not going back to sleep.


How does it feel to have two performances recognized this year?

It's shocking, honestly. You don't get used to it, so it's almost like every year is more surprising than the last. You just expect it to stop at some point. This is my fifth nomination for "Mad Men." Every year it blows my mind even more. To get nominated for something else also, as a lead actress in something dramatic, I don't even know what do with that information.

And they are very different projects.

For me as an actress, for many actresses, you want to play different parts -- you don't want to do the same role all the time. You want to show that you can do other things. The fact that these are so different and I've worked so hard on both of them and that they both have been recognized in this way. This is seriously one of the nicest days I've ever had.

"Top of the Lake" takes place in such a strange, weird universe. How was it to live inside of that for months?

It was definitely very challenging. At the beginning, I didn't know anyone, not a soul. I did feel like it was a collaboration -- it never felt like Jane [Campion] and Garth [Davis], the directors, I was entering their world and I was the one who didn't belong. It felt like coming from "Mad Men" I had something to offer to them, having an experience with episodic television, having an arc over a few episodes. I was familiar with that in a way that Jane actually wasn't.

But it definitely was a very isolating experience. I didn't leave Queenstown, New Zealand, for five months. I didn't even go anywhere else in New Zealand. It was definitely something else that was full immersion, but I love doing that.

What did you do in your downtime?

I watched the entirety of "The Sopranos." I'd seen the first couple of seasons but I watched the whole thing from the beginning.  I'd work all day on this dramatic material, then my way of winding down was watching three episodes of "The Sopranos." I was really tired on the weekends and tired at night and we were traveling so much during the shoot. I watched all of "Downton Abbey." I watched "The Hour."

Do you know any of your fellow nominees?

I’m very close friends with Connie Britton. She was actually the first text I got this morning saying congrats. I am so, so happy for her mainly because it means we get to hang out that weekend. I’ve been lucky enough to meet most of the other nominees. Through the years I’ve met or interacted with kind of all of them. Robin Wright played my mom in a film when I was 20; Claire obviously from "My So Called Life" days. Kerry Washington I’ve gotten to meet and hang out with a little bit recently. Jessica Lange played my aunt in a movie when I was 12. It’s an incredible group of women.

So Peggy really had an amazing season. She got a lot of great comedic moments.

It's a unique and great quality of "Mad Men," where we create these darkly comic situations, and you have a character in a sad, horrible place and somehow there's humor to it. Peggy has a bit of a habit of getting pie in her face. Every season she gets to this place where she thinks she's doing better, she thinks she's on top, and then she gets that pie in her face and everything falls apart. I love playing that. It's a very, very Peggy trait.

That’s what’s so cool about “Mad Men,” of course it’s in the drama category, but I think it’s hilarious. All the best dramas have that -- “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos,” “House of Cards.” That’s like life -- it’s neither dramatic nor comedic. That’s a quality of a great show, when you can mix those two in a way that is truthful and honest and not too over the top. Although when I was standing in my bare feet with a broom with a knife on the end, stabbing someone screaming, there was a broader comedic moment.

Speaking of pie in the face, my favorite was when she comes into the office after breaking up with and stabbing Abe and her hair is a mess and then Ted just shuts her down.

That was one of my favorite moments, probably one of my top two favorite moments. She's had the worst night. You think it can't get any worse and then it does.

She also spoke for all of us by telling Don he's a monster.

Any time you get to talk back to Don Draper, it's pretty cool. And it's this moment when he takes away this account, and says that it wasn't her idea, which is the worst possible thing you could do to her, he humiliates her personally. Finally after everything, he's gone too far. She's one of the only people who can say to him, "You're a monster," and have it mean something. I'm sure it's not the first time someone's said that to him, or certainly not the first time that someone's thought it, but Peggy saying that to him is worse than anyone. It was a real low point. I love that after everything, that's the moment where he's gone too far.

It was such a contrast to their other private moments together in that office.

It's one of those things that comes out of heartbreak. It's not even anger. It's disappointment, which is the worst.

Don does have a way of being awfully mean to Peggy in particular.

I think it's almost because they have such a close relationship -- the people that you're closest to are the people you reveal your true selves to, that's the person you show your flaws to. It's the most honest relationship that he has in his life. She knows everything; she knows more about him than anyone does. He's the worst with her.

The season ended with her in an amazing plaid pantsuit. Would you ever wear a plaid pantsuit on the red carpet?

Absolutely, definitely yes. I have my Emmy gown, no need to find one -- a plaid pantsuit. I think it would be a very interesting statement that I am sure my stylist and publicist would love. All hail [costume designer] Janie Bryant. She found that thing. It was so perfect in its specificity to the time. I mean, it's not attractive. But for Peggy in that moment, that is the most stylin' you can possibly be. We just went with it. It wasn't maybe the most flattering -- it was so loud, you could not not wear that pantsuit.

She had a lot of great costumes this season — there was also the little sexy black dress.

That one was amazing. That was another one that we put on and it was, "Oh, perfect." We wanted the cleavage, but then it had the pink bow which was so Peggy. It wasn't constructed; that dress came like that. So was the pantsuit -- it was 100% real.