Elisabeth Moss admits it: even though the role of “Mad Men’s” Peggy Olson has turned into a juicy one during her journey to break the glass ceilings of the ‘60s, she would’ve been thrilled to simply have played Don Draper’s secretary for five seasons.
Moss calls Season Five the most fun she’s had yet walking in Peggy’s often sensible shoes, and while she remains mostly mum on what lies ahead, she takes a loving look back on her characters slow march toward liberation in the buttoned down world of Madison Avenue in the 1960s, as we gear up for the third episode (last week's was technically two episodes) of "Mad Men" Sunday.
Peggy has gone through the most changes, probably, than any of the characters on the show. Did you know going into the show that she'd have such an incredible journey?
Absolutely not – I really didn't! I was suspicious that Matt Weiner might've thought so, but no, I really didn't. I can't believe the arc that I've had and the opportunities that I've had and how she's been allowed to grow. I would've been fine being Don's secretary for five years – I really would have! It would've been a great job and a great character to play, but the fact that she's gotten to do what she's done is something that I never could've anticipated.
What do you love about playing Peggy now?
I think the number one thing is probably the writing. I know we always say that, but when you get these lines and these scenes it's a gift to an actor. It makes your job so much easier and so much more enjoyable if you don't have to make something sound good. It already does sound great. I think that's the number one thing, and I more personally about Peggy, I think she's become a really kind of funny person. I think she's developed a really good sense of humor about life and that's been really fun lately to play.
What are some of the challenges that she's going to be facing this season?
I can tell you that I think she's really more and more – and you've seen it over the past couple of seasons – becoming the person that she's going to be in her life. She's growing up, getting older. I think that she's becoming a more…you've seen it so I'm not really blowing anything. She's becoming a more confident person. I'm kind of really proud of the person that she's becoming and I think that I don't know if I expected to that happen, but I've had more fun probably playing her this season than in the other seasons.
Is each season a history lesson for you in a way? Do you learn about the era as you prepare?
Yes, I do because I'm a little bit of a nut. I'm not as educated about the time period as Matt is or other people are. So for me, a lot of what I know about that time period is from the show.
It's such a tumultuous era and a lot of the characters on the show sort of stand at a distance from the historic cultural shift, except for Peggy who's kind of on the frontlines of it. Can you talk about that?
One of the things that I've been really lucky with is just that circumstantially playing a girl who goes from 20 to 26, from 1960 to 1965 that we ended in last year, she's going to go through a lot. She's going to change a lot. I feel so lucky that I get to tell what I think is such an interesting story which is women in the workplace at that time period. I think it's interesting for women. It's interesting for men. I feel like being able to tell that story in a realistic and true way, she's not a bra-burner. She's not out smoking pot at all the parties with Andy Warhol. She's just a regular person, a regular girl, but yet I think she's a true feminist.
Do you feel that in some ways Peggy is the second lead of the show, that she's defining what we're seeing as much as Don Draper?
I mean, I can't really say that, but like I said I never anticipated that she would end being such a big storyteller on the show. I think that given Don and Peggy have so many similarities it's become a really interesting way to tell his story, through her eyes because she really is the younger, sort of newer, less jaded version of him in a lot of ways. So the work is so evenly divided in the show and we all feel it. Everyone knows it. People get great things and then they don't have anything for a while and everybody has done it, everyone has been through it, a season that you're not in that much and then one you're in a lot. So we feel like the work is really evenly divided. I think we all really feel like it's Jon [Hamm] and then everyone else.
Talk about the Peggy/Don dynamic – they've come so far since we met them in the first episode.
I know! For me, it's obviously my favorite thing to play, my favorite part of playing Peggy, my relationship with Don. But I think it's so based on mutual respect. I think that if he didn't respect her he wouldn't give her the time of day. I love that they've never slept with each other. There's never been a romantic attachment. It's never gone there.
And yet she knows him better than anyone.
Exactly, and loves him probably more than anyone. I just think that they have this mutual understanding of each other. She learned in Season Two or Three that he's a very flawed person and he's not perfect. She loves him anyway. I think that relationship is so special and interesting. On a lot of shows I think that they probably would've slept together around Season Two, but we don't do that, and I think it's more interesting the way that we do it.
And being directed by Jon, how was that experience?
It was dreamy. It really was. The cool thing about that was he's there all the time. For four or five seasons he's there the most of any of us, so he knows you as an actor so well because he's seen you scene after scene, take after take. He knows when you're doing well. He knows when you're losing it. He knows when a director is doing a good job or a bad job with you. He watches it take after take. So it's like having that person then be able to direct you. He knows exactly what to say and exactly what to do. My favorite story of him directing is that we were doing a scene, doing a few takes and I think he could tell that I was sort of starting to fall behind and he came out and he just said to me, 'You're doing a great job,' and walked away. I just took a deep breath, went back in, did one more take and he took it and moved on. He just knew that that's what I needed to do. That's what I'm talking about.
What have you fallen in love from that era from working on the show?
Probably, honestly, the furniture. I really do love post-modern furniture, the low couches and the chairs.
Have you stolen anything?
No comment. [Laughs]
Talk to me when the show ends…
Exactly! Believe me, we've all got our eyes on something. There's going to be some pillaging.