Zoey Bartlet. Peggy Olson. Robin. All of these ladies are characters that Elisabeth Moss has brought to life and left an impression on viewers of The West Wing, Mad Men, and Top of the Lake. She has also stood out in films like The One I Love and Queen of Earth. With her new Hulu TV show The Handmaid’s Tale based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel debuting at the end of April, I want you to see why Elisabeth Moss is one of my lady crushes.
I discovered Miss Moss when I watched Aaron Sorkin’s political drama The West Wing. The show chronicled Martin Sheen as President Bartlet and his administration. Elisabeth played his daughter Zoey. Her part was not a large one but every time she was on camera she demanded your attention with her toughness and intelligence. When she began a relationship with one of her dad’s staff members, Charlie Young (Dule Hill), I fell in love with him and rooted for their relationship because of her.
I didn’t watch Mad Men along with the rest of America on AMC when it aired from 2007-2015. I binged it the summer of 2015 and kicked myself for waiting so long. Jon Hamm is the dreamy but kind of an asshole Don Draper, Christina Hendricks is the gorgeous and standoffish Joan Harris, and Elisabeth Moss is our every girl Peggy Olson. We watch Peggy start at the bottom of ad agency Sterling Cooper as Don’s secretary. By the time we say goodbye to her at the end of the show it is the beginning of the 1970s, Peggy is a well respected ad executive and she finally admits to herself that she is in love with Stan (Jay R. Ferguson). Moss made Peggy a woman that we could relate to but also admired. When she stumbled we cringed but understood when she made the wrong choices. When she stood up in a room full of men and made her voice heard, I wanted to pump my fist in the air. When I first tried to watch the show when it aired, I couldn’t get past how Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) talked to Peggy in the first episode. His chauvinism made my skin crawl. I now know that Peggy only put up with that for so long and showed him how fierce she could be.
In Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, Elisabeth plays Robin. She is a police detective who has come home to take care of her sick mother. The show is set in New Zealand and Moss nails the subtlety of the accent. The story is a dark affair with her getting involved on the case of a missing pregnant teen. Robin’s personal life is crumbling around her so she does what she shouldn’t: She ignores her estranged fiance and falls back into the arms of her ex, Johnno (Thomas M. Wright, unrecognizable from his role on The Bridge), fights with her mom, and takes on the local family of criminals who are connected to the missing girl. Robin’s face disguises everything she is feeling but her eyes can’t hide the pain she is enduring. Top of the Lake is a showcase for the actress and she gifts us with a performance that even outshines fellow cast member Oscar winner Holly Hunter.
Two movies of Elisabeth’s that have flown under the radar are The One I Love and Queen of Earth. The One I Love is about a married couple having problems and getting away to a cabin at the recommendation of their therapist (Ted Danson). Elisabeth plays Sophie and is married to Ethan (Mark Duplass). What happens shortly after they arrive at the cabin would give away the twist so I will just say that the story has stayed with me since I saw it last year. Moss’s Sophie is hurting and reacts by being bitchy and pushing Ethan away. Anybody that has been in a long term relationship can relate to the moments these two endure. Queen of Earth I found on many best of lists and decided to give it a try after seeing that it had a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. When I saw that it had a 1 star rating by a user on Netflix, I realized this wasn’t going to be a fun weekend with best friends kind of movie. And that is an understatement. Elisabeth and Katherine Waterston play Catherine and Virginia. Their friendship is toxic. Their conversations are mostly them hurling insults or calling each other out on bad behavior. Catherine has just lost her father to a car accident and her boyfriend has dumped her. Virginia’s family is never fully explained except that they are not good people. Catherine looks like a doll with a shaggy blonde bob, crystal blue eyes, and a small eagle nose. She is cute and sexy. Virginia is her opposite. She is tall and thin with straight long brown hair. She gives ominous stares that remind you of Samara from The Ring. They are at Virginia’s family’s cabin. The aesthetic has a 70s glow but it is meant to unnerve, not comfort. It is reminiscent of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. The film follows Catherine’s breakdown and begs more questions than answers. Moss’s performance is what kept me watching as the film can be tedious and sometimes painful to watch. Nobody is likeable (even co-star Patrick Fugit, who I still adore from Almost Famous). I know all of this isn’t a ringing endorsement for the movie but I can honestly say I experienced it because of Elisabeth.
Elisabeth Moss has gone from Zoey Bartlet to her new role as Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale over the past 18 years. She can play sexy, smart, bitchy, quiet, etc. All of these women have one characteristic in common: They are all powerful. I can’t wait for April 26th to watch her bring to life the main character from one of my all time favorite books. And I hope this makes you want to check out at least one of her many roles.
*All of these shows and both movies are available on Netflix