She navigated a 1960s advertising agency boys club on “Mad Men,” leads the charge against a totalitarian regime on “The Handmaid’s Tale” and fought back against an abusive partner in the 2020 movie “The Invisible Man.” Based on her career choices, it makes sense to want to seek out Elisabeth Moss if things go south.
“That’s a big compliment,” said Moss recently of the notion that she’s desirable for a fantasy foxhole. “With the characters I play, it’s always my intention to show how badass an everyday person can be. I want people to feel like, ‘Oh, I could be that person. I would do that.’ Or, ‘I would hope I would react in that way.’ I like the idea of playing everyday superheroes because I think that we all have kind of a superhero inside of us.”
Battling the bad guy isn’t easy, though. In her new series “Shining Girls” for Apple TV+, Moss has her work cut out for her. She plays Kirby, a newspaper archivist in 1990s Chicago who is haunted and taunted by a serial killer (Jamie Bell) named Harper, who is always steps ahead of his victims and the authorities. Part of what makes the show gripping to watch is that it seems impossible to stop him.
Moss, who is an executive producer on the series and also directed two episodes, said of Bell, “I know I’m probably biased, but I really think this is the best thing he’s ever done. He astounded us every day. ”
Harper is so confident that he approaches his prey with swagger. Moss says it’s that charisma that sells the character.
“Our intention was to find somebody who was not mustache-twirling, who was not your classic villain. This is romantic. That approach is far scarier than playing something straight-up creepy.”
Bell says he was drawn to the project because it gave him both the opportunity to play someone different from his past roles (“Billy Elliott”, “Rocketman”) and work with Moss, who he describes as “the best actress working today.”
For Moss, the scripts made it impossible for her to say no.
“I wasn’t looking for another TV role but it was one of those things where I was like, ‘I don’t think I can not do this.’ I try to find things that I feel like I can’t not do.”
The real challenge, says Moss, was the disorientation of filming a series that constantly shifts its reality. Kirby is so traumatized by Harper that she’s disoriented about time and always playing catch-up in her own life.
“I had to definitely remind myself of what I knew and what I didn’t know in the story at that point. It was about 100 times more complicated to shoot this out of order than anything else I’ve ever done.”
At the end of a work day Moss opts to watch lighter fare, “I don’t come home from filming and watch super-serious stuff. I don’t think that would be a good idea.” But don’t expect Moss to sign up for a rom-com or straight up comedy anytime soon.
“As an actor and a director, I’m much more interested in drama. I have more fun doing drama.”