Elisabeth Moss' career trajectory in television has followed a smooth incline.
A few years as Zoey Bartlet, daughter of the President in "The West Wing," were followed by two acclaimed years playing Peggy Olson in the critically lauded cable series "Mad Men." Her experience in the theatre, however, has been a bit more rocky. Cast in the current Broadway revival of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, she and the production won good reviews and packed houses. But then came December. After her co-star Jeremy Piven abruptly left the show, citing high mercury levels in his bloodstream, the play entered crisis mode. Understudy Jordan Lage covered for Piven for a week before being replaced by emergency cast addition Norbert Leo Butz, who often performed with script in hand. Butz, in turn, will be succeeded on Jan. 13 by William H. Macy, who will close out the limited run. Moss, speaking soon after Butz joined the show, talked to Playbill.com about her Speed-y stage education.
Playbill.com: How has it been working with Norbert Leo Butz so far?
Elisabeth Moss: He's really wonderful. He's obviously a consummate professional and a gifted actor, and he's also actually a great fit for this part. He's really knocking it out of the park.
Playbill.com: So that's three leading men in one month for you. Did you have any idea when you accepted your first Broadway role that it would be such a test?
EM: No. (Laughs) And it's actually great. I've been telling people, when they ask me how it's been working with these different Bobby Goulds, that I feel like I had two great actors to worth with at the beginning and now I have five. Playbill.com: Have you met Bill Macy yet?
EM: Yeah. He came to the show during previews. I did meet him then.
Playbill.com: There's really no chance of not keeping on your toes in this production, is there?
EM: There's no relaxing. There's no getting used to it. Right around now, we would be relaxing and just getting into the groove of it, and instead we're going back into rehearsal next week.
Playbill.com: When Jordan Lage was in the show, there were accounts in the press of an impromptu speech your co-star Raul Esparza gave at the curtain commenting on the extraordinary circumstances of the moment. And the accounts said you were in tears during the speech. Has the experience been very emotional for you?
EM: We were all in tears. There was an account that said I was sobbing, which is not true. We were all a bit emotional and in tears, because it had been quite a week. We got through it together as a team — not just the actors, but the crew and [director] Neil [Pepe]. Everybody became very close. We got through it and we are getting through it. Raul was just expressing what we all felt, which was feeling grateful to Jordan for stepping in and doing it for a week and doing this incredible job. It was lovely. I was very glad he did that.
Playbill.com: Is this the most challenging thing you've done as an actor?
EM: I would say yes. (Laughs) It's a bit like a marathon, emotionally and mentally and physically. It's difficult, but I'm also savoring it at the same time.
|photo by Brigitte Lacombe|
Playbill.com: Do you think there's any kind of parallel between your character in Speed-the-Plow and Peggy Olson, the woman you play in "Mad Men"? Both seem somewhat innocent, but underneath the surface is hidden ambition.
EM: Yeah, I think so. The difference is that Peggy is very quiet and does not express her feelings in words and she believes in being very private, whereas Karen really lays her heart out on the table and is very verbose and outspoken. She says what she feels. They're both sort of guileless. They have something that can be mistaken for naiveté, but it's not. It's just enthusiasm.
Playbill.com: So you don't think your character from Speed-the-Plow is planning something devious from the very beginning?
EM: I don't. But that's something that I leave up to the audience. We live in a cynical world and people are very willing to jump to — "Oh, she was just planning this the whole time." It's much harder to believe that someone was actually moved by something and actually wanted to do something that makes a difference.
Playbill.com: In this, and "Mad Men" and "The West Wing," you seem to play characters who are surrounded by powerful men.
EM: You're right. It does seem to keep happening. I'm always the good girl in the boys' club. It's given me the opportunity to work with some great actors. Those are the kind of actors I've always admired, the women in the man's world — Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. People who were pitted against the boys.
Playbill.com: Has this experience in Speed-the-Plow scared you off Broadway, or would you return?
EM: I would absolutely return. If I could do a season of "Mad Men" and do a play every year in between for the next 20 years, I'd be very happy.