Elisabeth Moss, starring in the new release The One I Love, is having a very good year. Mad Men costar Jon Hamm gets the scoop.
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Jon Hamm: You’re coming off Top of the Lake (the Jane Campion miniseries), and you did two movies, The One I Love and Listen Up Philip, back-to-back, both of which showed at Sundance. You won a Golden Globe. Earlier in the year, I think my statement to you was, “You’re having a very good 2014 and it’s only February!”
Elisabeth Moss: [Laughs] Yeah!
JH: Obviously Mad Men has been a long run, an eightyear journey, but as you develop characters for something new, do you feel the difference?
EM: It’s a lot scarier. We've had so much time to live with the characters on Mad Men. We've grown and changed with them.
JH: You shot The One I Love in how many days?
EM: Sixteen or 17. It was a completely different experience from Mad Men. We were sort of flying by the seat of our pants. But you don’t want to do the same thing on your hiatus.
JH: I thought The One I Love was incredibly good. There wasn’t a full script for it, right?
EM: No, there was a 50-page “script-ment” as they called it, which had the general structure, some scenes, and the last act .
JH: What drew you to the project?
EM: I just thought it was a great idea for a movie [to compare] the person you are at the beginning of a relationship to the person you are a couple years in. I called Mark [Duplass, costar and executive producer] and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to make them write the script because the idea behind it is complicated, and I don’t want to mess it up.” He said, “ I’ve done this kind of movie. It’s going to be fine.” I’m a huge fan of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman movies and thought it would be in that vein, which was cool. It was an indie, but it was going to look beautiful, like a real movie.
JH: Was the improv the most difficult part? Or that you had so much crammed into a tight schedule?
EM: We would shoot 15 pages a day and a lot of that would be improv. You kind of took it scene by scene.
JH: Was that challenge part of the appeal?
EM: It was also [the chance to explore] some ideas, like what is the ideal man and woman, and what is the ideal partner? What does the good girlfriend do? How would the ideal woman react to her boyfriend wanting to watch sports all day on the couch? It was fun to work all that out. Everyone shared their experiences and their relationships, and I liked that part, too.
JH: Would that be on set or after you wrapped for the day?
EM: Justin Lader [the scriptwriter] would write the night before, all night. You would get the scenes handed to you in the morning for that day. Everyone would pitch their ideas and say, “I want to try one this way,” and “I don’t think that works.” It was the most collaborative experience I’ve ever had.
JH: Would you ever want to direct?
EM: I like my position in this world. I don’t know if directing is my thing, because I don’t know if I could talk to actors.
JH: Did you learn anything either about production, script, or character during the process [of making The One I Love]?
EM: The way Mark makes these films is interesting. He does them for little money in a few beautiful locations, so wherever you point the camera it’s gorgeous. He uses few actors and has really good material. If you have good material, like on Mad Men, and you hire people who are good at their jobs, it tends to work out. JH: Then you pivoted off and did Listen Up Philip, which was very different. What attracted you to that?
EM: I loved the script and have always wanted to work with Jason Schwartzman. I thought the idea of us as a couple was really cool.
JH: You’ve been acting since, I want to say, age 9...
JH: I was reading it upside down, I apologize.
JH: Having been in the business over 20 years—does that ever inform your decisions about whom you want to work with?
EM: You tend to gravitate to the same material, so you end up working with the same people. Do you know what I mean? JH: I look at the differences between The West Wing, Mad Men, Top of the Lake, Listen Up Philip, and The One I Love—that seems like a very wide [swath] of the [narrative] universe.
EM: That’s true. Thank you.
JH: Well, that’s a credit to you and your choices.
EM: [Laughs] I just take what they hire me for.
JH: That’s obviously not true. Are you developing anything you want to talk about?
EM: I’ve been getting more into producing. Writing I don’t think is my thing. I bought this book and am developing it. I don’t think I can talk about it yet, but I’m really excited. As I was saying before, I learned that if you pick good material, that tends to get you pretty far, pretty fast. We have a great writer and a great director because the material is good.
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JH: With the projects you’re putting together, what do you respond to? The source material or the script? Or is it a character you want to play?
EM: If anything wins, it’s the character. But it’s not going to work if it’s not a good script.
JH: I have a really good project I’ve been developing. It’s about a secretary in the 1960s and how she grows and does this whole evolution. I think it would be fun for you to look at.
EM: I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.
JH: I mean, you should read it.
EM: I don’t think I can do it. I don’t want to disappoint you.
JH: Okay, that’s fair. EM: [Laughs]
JH: You were born in LA, but you’ve lived in New York for a significant period of your life, so I feel you consider yourself a New Yorker at this point.
EM: I’ve lived there off and on for 12 years now.
JH: What is your go-to place—Manhattan or Brooklyn? It’s probably Staten Island.
EM: Why wouldn’t it be Staten Island? It’s the greatest. By the way, Staten Island is amazing.
JH: We love Staten Island. I’m not being ironic. It’s amazing. A couple of long bridges get you there. What is your neighborhood like? What’s your jam in New York?
EM: I have always lived in the East Village. I don’t know why. Originally it was the cheaper apartments and I just stayed. It’s where I know where everything is. That’s my neighborhood. The Bowery Hotel has always been my place; I lived there for a couple of months. Gemma is my favorite restaurant. Fourth Street has a great bar that I used to spend way too much time in. I like it down there, although I’m thinking of moving elsewhere.
JH: Is there a part of New York that means the most to you?
EM: I love going to the theater. I can’t get over that feeling when you’re walking down a street in the 40s, with rows of theaters on either side. It’s 7:30 pm and you’re going to see a play, and so many people are also going to go see plays, which I think is so cool. There’s an excitement and there’s buzz. It brings me back to when I’ve done Broadway and makes me wish I were backstage in my dressing room getting ready. You can go to beautiful places, neighborhoods, and parks in many different states and countries, but there’s nothing like the theater district for me.
JH: Do you remember the first time you saw a Broadway play?
EM: It was Sunset Boulevard. I’ve seen it twice, once with Glenn Close, the other time with Patti LuPone. Then I basically lived out my life waiting to get old enough to play that part. I also remember seeing The Will Rogers Follies. It was just such a great, oldfashioned, sad musical. I like sad musicals.
JH: Would you ever want to be in a musical?
EM: Yes. I’d have to go work on my voice a little bit, which is something I’ve always intended to do. I can hold a note. I can sing on key, but I feel I need to get a bigger voice.
JH: Have you seen anything recently that’s turned your head?
EM: God, there’s so much good stuff. Once!
JH: Once—it’s Spanish for 11. It’s about Irish people who love to count in Spanish. They get to 11 by the end of the play.
EM: You recommended Once. I loved the movie and the soundtrack.
JH: Where did you get your appreciation for music?
EM: Honestly I don’t know. First it was musicals like My Fair Lady and West Side Story. Those were like [whistles] the greatest things I have ever seen. Then the black-and-white movies: It Happened One Night and His Girl Friday. And it just went on from there.
JH: I know you said you liked sad musicals, but most of those old-timey movies, while they did have an emotional core and a second-act downbeat, usually had a happy ending. What I know about you is that you are a resoundingly positive and happy person. Would you agree with that?
EM: I think that’s a really good assessment. You would probably know better than I would, but yes, I absolutely agree.
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JH: To that end—and I did not write this question; it was on the list I was given to ask you—what makes you happiest?
EM: I don’t know if this is the best answer, but working really makes me happy. I have been lucky to work with really great people. I haven’t had many scarring experiences at work.
JH: Bad news.
EM: I just haven’t. I’ve had hard times; that’s for sure. Not everyone I’ve worked with has been a f***ing angel, but I am happiest when I’m at work. I know what I’m doing. Regardless of what else is happening in my life, I can go to work and things are okay.
JH: Be in control of the situation. Know what you’re going to put into it and get out of it.
JH: All right, these are questions that are a little more esoteric....
EM: My favorite color is blue.
JH: Okay, blue.
EM: Favorite food is spaghetti.
JH: Spaghetti. Oh you should’ve gotten the lobster spaghetti.
JH: Are there any actors you would like to work with? Any talent crushes? Not just actors, but filmmakers, producers, writers, dancers, or singers.
EM: Magicians? [Laughs]
JH: Magicians, auto mechanics.
EM: Oh, auto mechanics, that’s a long list, we don’t have time. I think as far as actors, my girl crush is Marion Cotillard. She would definitely top my list. As for filmmakers, I would kill to work with the Coen Brothers. And Spike Jonze. And then there are your big guns, whom everyone would like to work with, like Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann.
JH: We’ll cut the killing part out, because if we have a fact checker, they’ll have a record.
EM: Oh my God! So starting again...
JH: If you were to give a dinner party, who would you want at the table? Living or dead, past or present?
EM: That’s so hard.
JH: We’ll skip that one.
EM: Let me try. Charlie Chaplin, because I love his work. But also because you never got to hear him talk much. I would also say Edward Hopper [the painter]. Marion Cotillard, to add some beauty to the dinner. And you.
JH: And me? Aw, that’s very sweet. We’ve had dinner before.
EM: Yes, we have. I thought we were having dinner right now.
JH: Well, yes. The food hasn’t come yet. By the way, I should mention that all three of those people are joining us.
EM: I’m so excited!
JH: Marion is coming. I texted her earlier. She’s in town and loves Olive Garden.... Just sort of wrapping up, are there charities and causes you’re involved with?
EM: You introduced me to one—St. Jude’s. You’ve been a supporter for a long time. I think it’s one of those causes that you can’t imagine not supporting. It’s an incredible organization that really has solid, forward movement in its field.
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