Q&A: Elisabeth Moss

Actress puts the 'Mad Men' in their place

For all the attention heaped on Jon Hamm and the male cast of "Mad Men," which begins its third season Sunday, Elisabeth Moss is arguably the heart of the show. Now an Emmy nominee for the first time, the Los Angeles native and former ballerina worked steadily as a child actor before breaking through as the First Daughter on NBC's "The West Wing." "Mad" creator Matthew Weiner picked her to play Peggy Olson after auditioning Moss and January Jones (who ended up cast as Betty Draper).

The Hollywood Reporter: Matt Weiner's negotiation for a new deal with Lionsgate and AMC got pretty heated last fall. Was there a point where you and the cast thought you might have a new boss this season?

Elisabeth Moss: We were standing on the sidelines. We all talked about it, as you'd speculate on whether you're going to have a job. We were unanimous in feeling that this was Matt's show and we wanted him to get what he wanted, but at the same time, we wanted to go back and make more (episodes). I think we all would have followed Matt wherever he went, but we also love working with AMC. I am just happy it worked out.

THR: The gossip magazines recently published a photo from the set of the Drapers holding a baby, which must have really ticked off Weiner. How tight is his grip on plot details?

Moss: It is so important to Matt, and to the way the story is told, that things remain secret if possible. But I can say that (this season) Peggy starts becoming more of Don's protege and moves up in that world. She goes down paths that are wrong for her, but she is just trying to figure out what it means to be in her position in that man's world. I don't honestly know if she is going to figure it out. Does she have to be like Don, or can she be her own person?

THR: Despite all the Emmy attention and media coverage, ratings remain relatively small. Is that frustrating for you?

Moss: I want the show to go as long as possible, so of course I want more people to watch it. But the success so far is way beyond what a lot of us expected, so it's hard to complain. I'm sure the network and studio want more ratings, but I can't believe that the show even happened.

THR: For all the acclaim, some have suggested that the show could grow its audience if it didn't unfold at such a deliberate pace. Have you noticed any changes this season?

Moss: We have our way of doing things. We like to not give people what they want right away, and it makes us what we are. It seems to have worked so far, so I think we'll keep going.

THR: Matt is said to be demanding with the cast. True?

Moss: He's the creator of the show, it's his vision and he is very particular, so detail-oriented. And that's what makes the show so great. Every single cast member would sing his praises. He has it in his head how he wants it to look, but he's willing to work with your ideas.

THR: You're following this season with a role in the Judd Apatow-produced comedy "Get Him to the Greek." What's the strategy for picking roles?

Moss: I don't have any big strategy or master plan. It's just a matter of what I believe in and what seems like a good project. I did a romantic comedy (with Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant) called "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" which seemed kind of fun, because I like to do things that are different from "Mad Men," to stretch different muscles.

THR: And you did "Speed-the-Plow" on Broadway and got great reviews.

Moss: Theater is a very different experience than doing anything else. You spend six months doing one project over and over. On "Mad Men," you do six scenes a day for seven days; then you're done, you never see it again. But I don't really prefer one over the other.

THR: Many were debating whether you or Jones would get the Emmy nom. Did you submit the last episode of the season, where Peggy finally told Pete she'd had his baby?

Moss: I think so. Our characters, and we as actors, had done all of the work that was required to get to that moment over two seasons. It felt as climactic for us as actors as it did, hopefully, for the audience. Usually on a TV show, that might be revealed early, but we dragged it out over 13 episodes.