Elisabeth Moss: From Mad Men to The Handmaid's Tale
On November 9, while the world was nursing its US Election Day hangover, Elisabeth Moss was up at 6:00am to shoot an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, the dystopian — and eerily prescient — fable of patriarchy run rampant, and one of the most anticipated TV events of the year. “Obviously, it was a unique experience going to work a few hours after… certain events happened,” the 34-year-old actress says. “I don’t necessarily want to call it a good one.”
Based on Margaret Atwood’s seminal 1985 bestseller, the series introduces a United States that’s been seized by religious authoritarians who use a staged terrorist attack to impose strict martial law. The regime also strips women of their names and rights, reducing them to procreative playthings for the upper class. It’s a thrilling shock to the system delivered in hour-long installments — and, frankly, a premise that would have felt a little overwrought had America found itself pledging allegiance to its first female president this year, shortly after the UK’s second female PM assumed control across the pond.
But our current political climate being what it is, Atwood’s book soared to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list within hours of the trailer’s television debut at the Super Bowl. “I think people are feeling like they can relate to it,” Moss says, “which is unfortunate.” Then her tone becomes serious. “But at the same time, there are infringements upon the Constitution and our human rights that need to be looked at. If this book added some light to that area, then I’m happy to bring it to life.”
A scene from the dystopian drama, The Handmaid's Tale
The actress thought she’d take a break from TV after her career-defining role as Mad Men’s secretary-turned-copywriter-turned-badass Peggy Olson and her follow-up as a gritty small-town detective on Top of the Lake. Then this script came along with the offer to play Offred, the free-thinking narrator who helps plot the handmaids’ resistance in the hope of being reunited with her daughter. “I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone else doing it,” she says. “You get asked to play Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale and you’re kind of an idiot if you don’t say yes.”
But Moss, a lighthearted self-professed “Valley girl,” insists that her highbrow résumé is just a natural by-product of seeking out complicated roles. “I don’t set out looking for stuff like that. I just think it’s interesting to show the strengths and vulnerabilities of being a woman. Maybe one day I’ll play a girl from the Valley,” she says, laughing. Then again, “I feel like that’d be kind of boring.” And in this day and age, there’s no time for boring.
The Handmaid’s Tale is out now on Hulu