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Elisabeth Moss Revels In Naive-But-Calculating Characters


At this point in her career, the name Elisabeth Moss is probably synonymous with Peggy Olson, the secretary-turned-copywriter she's played for seven years on AMC's "Mad Man." She has been acting since the age of 6, but it's her work on that popular drama that has earned her widespread recognition and five Emmy nominations. "Mad Men" airs its final season next spring. Moss has already moved on to new projects. She stars in a new film that came out Friday called "The One I Love." She joins us from the BBC studios in Belfast. Elisabeth Moss, thank you for being with us.

ELISABETH MOSS: Thank you so much for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So now this film is part rom-com, it's part something much darker. Could you set up the plot for us?

MOSS: Yes. I will tell you as much as I can. It has Mark Duplass and I. And we play a couple who go to see their therapist, Ted Danson. And we're at a crossroads in our marriage and sort of deciding whether to stay or to go. He sends us off to a kind of weekend house to reconnect.


TED DANSON: (As The Therapist) It's absolutely beautiful. It's about an hour and a half north from here. It's like a perfect retreat - just the two of you. Give you a chance to reset the reset button. I've sent a lot of couples there, and they've all come back renewed.

MOSS: As they say, hijinks ensue. And we end up finding a little bit more than we thought we would at the house. And it definitely pushes our - tests the boundaries of our relationship.

WERTHEIMER: One of the interesting things about this film is that there are only three people in it. You, Mark Duplass and Ted Danson, who's just in at the beginning where he plays the couple's therapist. Almost all of the scenes are just the two of you. What was that like?

MOSS: It didn't really feel like that for a couple of reasons. And one of them was that we were shooting so fast. We shot the film in 15 days. And it was a very collaborative experience. We were constantly talking about it and working on the scenes and writing the scenes and filming the scenes. So it didn't really feel like it was just the two of us. It felt we were going at sort of a breakneck speed.

WERTHEIMER: Now you have played a number of characters who come across as somewhat naive but also capable of calculating behavior. Is this something that you see in yourself?

MOSS: I mean, I think that, for me, I'm attracted to playing two things at once. I like the idea of things not being black and white. I like playing women who are strong and weak and who are in control and not in control. And being a woman, being a human being, there's definitely that in me as well. I'd like to think I'm a little bit less naive than Peggy, but there's definitely parts of me that can be gullible and naive, I'm sure.

WERTHEIMER: Now speaking of you and your personality and your characters, there's only half a season of "Mad Men" left. You've given seven years of your life to Peggy Olson. So are you going to miss this woman?

MOSS: Yeah, for sure. I mean, that's the thing that I'll miss the most, honestly, because I know that I'll see the people that I worked with again. They're my friends. They're my family. So as much as I'll miss seeing them every day, I know that they'll still be around and in my life.

But she won't. And, you know, she became, for better or worse, somebody that was - I felt very close to. And I'm going to miss her. I don't - it's weird to me that there is no more story there. It's weird to me that I don't know what happens to her next, you know?

WERTHEIMER: You were 17 years old when you got a part playing the president's daughter on "The West Wing." That was very popular. It was a big success. And there again you were involved for seven years. By my math, you've spent nearly half your life in series television.

MOSS: Yeah. Getting on "The West Wing" when I was 17 - that was kind of the beginning of this new golden age of television that they ended up calling it. You know? And that was one of the first shows that kind of marked the start of that. And I've been really lucky to be a part of that and then after that going on to, yeah, "Mad Men." And I've been really lucky to have these kind of incredible writers and show runners and roles to play with.

WERTHEIMER: You've made some very good decisions, and you've done very well. And I assume you'll continue to do very well. But what are you thinking about as you think about this next part of your life?

MOSS: I'm really kind of thinking about who I want to work with. I want to work with people that are better than I am. I want to work with people that are going to teach me things that I'm going to learn from. So for me, I'm just looking to be challenged and to grow and to get better. You know? I still don't think I've really quite got it down, this acting thing. So I still want to work on it.

WERTHEIMER: Elisabeth Moss' new film "The One I Love," came out on August 22. Thank you very much for speaking with us.

MOSS: Thank you so much. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.