Interview: Elisabeth Moss
Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss is starring in Top Of The Lake, a new BBC Two murder mystery set in the sweeping wilderness of New Zealand’s South Island.
What is Top Of The Lake about?
Top Of The Lake is about a detective who returns to her home town and gets involved in the case of a 12-year-old girl who is pregnant and then goes missing. It’s about her search for the girl but she also dives into the world of this town and its secrets and starts unearthing the story of a bunch of characters. It becomes a search for herself as she’s also diving into her own past that she’s been running away from. It’s a detective story, it’s a mystery, it has all these elements about it that are sort of tried and true. But what makes it different is it’s got the Jane Campion touch. So everything is just a lot darker, a lot stranger, a lot more complicated than that.
The lakes and the water in New Zealand here have this quality of becoming like glass on the top – impenetrable, smooth and so beautiful. But you don’t know what’s underneath. This story is about unearthing deep dark secrets and truth and the way that people cover those up. Whether it’s in yourself or in a family or in a community. It’s about finding what’s underneath the top of the lake, what’s in the depths.
Why did you want the role?
I’ve always been a huge fan of Jane Campion, she does such incredible work, so many different kinds of things, but they always have her own sensibility about them. She is the epitome of the actor’s director so getting the opportunity to learn from her and be challenged by her has been such an incredible part of this experience. Robin is one of those incredible female roles that are really rare where you have a character who is strong and feminine, who has a lot to do and who has an incredible emotional journey.
Who is Robin Griffin?
Robin Griffin is a detective who works mainly with children. She is incredibly strong and incredibly fragile. She’s a series of dichotomies - she’s very smart but very naive, she’s strong but very vulnerable, she’s learned a lot but is incredibly damaged, and she comes back to a place in her life she’s been trying to run away from so she has to deal with that.
Jane understands the complexities of people, and she obviously has a gift for female characters that have those complexities, showing that they’re not always right, they’re not always wrong, they’re not always beautiful – they’re often ugly, they’re not always strong but they’re incredibly powerful. So for me it’s sort of a dream role and it’s very different from anything I’ve ever done.
What brought Robin into this line of work is her past and her love and passion for children and for what is right. She believes in finding the truth about a situation no matter what and that’s what sets her apart from quite a few of the characters in this world. There are so many lies and there are so many secrets and there are so many people who are constantly deceiving everyone else, but she just comes in with this blind search for the truth.
What is Robin’s relationship with Johnno?
The major love story of the piece is between Robin and Johnno. They go through an experience together at a young age and then are apart for 15 years and then are thrown back together and it’s not a simple relationship, it’s not easy, it’s incredibly complicated. But they love each other and they need each other and there’s a connection there between them that will always be there. There’s a lot of darkness in this project so I think it’s important to have the other side of that and just portray a bit of romance, a bit of love.
How did you find filming the intimate scenes in the drama series?
There’s definitely more of that kind of thing than I’ve ever had in a project, more love scenes and more taking off of the clothes than I’ve ever done and thank GOD for Tom Wright, thank god for him because he’s just so sensitive and just makes me so comfortable and I don’t know what I would do without him in that scenario. He has a quality that is so honest and open. He’s really been my rock on this project. He’s one of the kindest people I’ve ever met - he has no ego. He’s just always there and he’s one of the most generous actors I’ve ever worked with and I’ve worked with a lot of really great people and I think he’s a really extraordinary person.
How does Robin compare to Peggy (Mad Men)?
On the surface she is very different. Robin’s a modern woman, she’s emotionally and mentally stronger. She is a much harder woman than Peggy is, much tougher. She can handle a gun. But Peggy is often described as a mystery - you never really feel like you know what she’s going to do - and so they have that in common.
Did you have to face any fears on this project?
Yes, I definitely had to systematically face my fears! I’ve never really handled guns before, that was actually a little bit scary and ended up being fun. Eels – terrified of them, don’t like them at all. Not too happy with the water so I had to face that. At one point I had to hold a trout and I don’t even like fish - so I kind of had to conquer my fears as time went on. I had to learn how to throw darts, shoot guns, chop wood, run, go in the lake. Actually the funniest stuff that I’ve done on this is has actually been the cop stuff – the running around with the guns and the hiding and the shooting and all of that kind of thing.
What was it like working with Jacqueline Joe who plays Tui?
Jacqueline is an incredible, incredible find. I remember saying to Jane before I met Jackie - I really hope I like her - what if I don’t like her and then I have to pretend for the next four months that I want to find her and I don’t like her and I don’t want to find her? Then I met Jackie and within two minutes we were best friends. She had on this owl t-shirt and me and my best friend have a thing about owls and we just completely clicked.
We have a big connection because I’m basically a 12-year-old girl, so we like all the same things. Like Katy Perry and The Hunger Games and rugby players, so we get along really well.
How have you spent your time in New Zealand away from the set?
Queenstown is the adventure capital of the world and I am the least adventurous person in the world. So it was kind of funny me coming to a place where there’s like paragliding and parasailing and bungee jumping and all this crazy stuff that I would never do in a million years. So I’ve taken the calmer route of Queenstown which is the lovely restaurants, the wineries, the steam ship. I’ve taken the more “old lady” route. But actually the best thing about this project is that it’s been like a tour of the South Island. So many times we’ll be shooting in the bush or by a lake and it’s just so extraordinarily beautiful. So I’ve been so lucky, I’ve gotten to see a lot that I don’t know if I would have known to go and see because we shoot there.
Top Of The Lake will air on BBC Two later this month.