Elisabeth Moss
Photo by Larry Busacca

Elisabeth Moss: “Truth is stranger than fiction”

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Short Profile

Name: Elisabeth Singleton Moss
DOB: 24 July 1982
Place of birth: Los Angeles, California, USA
Occupation: Actress

Ms. Moss, are you a good liar?

I actually am not a very good liar. I think a lot of actors say this and I don’t know if it’s because I’m an actor or if it’s just the way I am, but when I actually do have to lie in my life, I tend to become a bit of an idiot and I’m not very good at it. So I see myself as a pretty truthful person.

Even though your job requires you to “lie” on a daily basis?

I feel like acting is sort of a giant game of pretend. You have so many different things to help you with that, you know. You have costumes and hair and make-up and a director and writers and you know, you have this team that’s supporting you in your lie – whereas in life, you don’t. (Laughs) It’s interesting, I had this conversation with a friend the other day about how we’ve gotten more honest as we’ve gotten older in a way. You feel more and more like yourself, and you’re sort of less apologetic about who you are.

It certainly becomes much easier to be yourself and to be honest.

Right, don’t you think? You’re more and more willing to be truthful. After a while you find that it’s okay, that if you’re honest it’s actually better. You worry that the truth will hurt somebody’s feelings or if you’re honest about how you feel about something it’s going to cause a negative effect or somebody’s going to be mad at you. But as you get older, you kind of just go, “Fuck it!” I mean… In the end, they’re probably going to be mad at me anyways, so I should probably just be honest in the first place, you know? As you grow up, you try to change yourself less.

“I feel like acting is sort of a giant game of pretend.”

Sometimes it’s just too late to change…

(Laughs) Partly because it’s too late! But I think you also get more confident as you get older. You realize what your strengths and your weaknesses are and you’re more okay with your weaknesses and you value your strengths more. I look forward to being 50 and I’m hoping that I’m as confident as some of the people that I look up to.

I’m sure tons of younger women look up to you already. Since your role as Peggy, the secretary turned copywriter in Mad Men, you’ve become a sort of unofficial champion for feminism.

I don’t necessarily walk around thinking I’m the face of feminism at all, like I should be on a poster or something! (Laughs) But the main point of the character is to tell the story of feminism in the workplace in the sixties. When I started on that show, I mean, I thought very little about feminism. I’m a modern girl; I was 23 in the early 2000s. I had a great upbringing in Los Angeles, lived in New York, you know, very liberal… I had no reason to think about feminism than the next person, whereas now I’ve actually studied it.

What made you decide to study feminism?

Primarily because people like you ask me about it, so at some point I have to come up with intelligent answers! But I actually studied it for the Broadway show I was in called The Heidi Chronicles. It’s been like an accidental kind of education.

What do you mean by accidental?

I’m similar to Peggy in that she wasn’t a protestor, she didn’t go to political meetings or feminist meetings, she wasn’t part of any of the groups. She was just living second-wave feminism. I am a proud feminist because I’m a human being. And I do believe in gender equality, just as many men and women do. If people want to think of Peggy as a feminist character and as somebody to believe in, then I’m happy to be the person that played that. I do think it’s fantastic that it has lead to a new generation discovering feminism. I think it’s great.

Is it important for the films you work on to have that kind of impact? Two of your recent film projects, High-Rise and Truth, both have a sort of higher message. High-Rise, based on a dystopian novel by J. G. Ballard, is a critique of class systems and modern urban life and Truth is about Dan Rather and the moral imperatives of journalism.

Yes, there are parallels between High-Rise and the social class system of the UK. And yes, there are perhaps conclusions to be drawn about American politics from Truth. I think what’s cool about a film like Truth is that there are a lot of questions raised, but it allows you to find of form your own conclusion.

“Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and sometimes fiction brings out more of the truth in every day life.”

So you don’t believe that films should have some kind of moral lesson?

You can search for the deeper meaning, and people that are smarter than me can do that… But for me, I feel like they’re great stories, entertaining stories. In the end they’re just stories of people. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and sometimes fiction brings out more of the truth in every day life. We used to say about Mad Men: in the end, it’s just about entertainment. The relevance of these types of stories to society, to where we are now, is certainly really apparent and if you happen to get some sort of moral lesson out of it, then great. But we just want to entertain you.

Should we be concerned that these stories are still so relevant today?

Of course I think the fact that it’s still difficult for women in some ways that it was in the sixties or seventies is bad. I do think it’s bad that these issues are still a problem today, but I actually think that it’s good that art is continuing to explore that and is continuing to open that dialogue and open that conversation about it. I think it’s good to have different films for different kinds of people. That’s what’s great about art, is that you’re able to open these kinds of conversations. I hope that people understand that. I think it’s important that these kinds of films are able to be made.