Some years ago, a journalist noted about Elisabeth Moss: “She is excellent at portraying very reserved characters, with deep wounds, who repress their feelings.” The work you’ve done since then seems designed to prove that statement wrong. He took cocaine, had outbursts of rage and spilled blood in Her Smell (2018); he used a pair of scissors to draw a grimace on his own face in Nosotros (2019); he fought his way through the danger of stabbing and shooting in The Invisible Man (2020). And now Shirley arrives.
In a claustrophobic chamber piece, Moss is horror novelist Shirley Jackson, a grumpy antisocial agoraphobic. She saw a lot of herself in the writer. “I’m pretty lonely,” says the 38-year-old actress over a light green smoothie. “For me the quarantine was a breath of fresh air because I have no problem staying at home for very, very long periods of time; I have no problem not seeing anyone. And I bury myself at work. “
Moss speaks on Zoom from his home in New York. The actress has said that she keeps her awards on the shelves, but in the crowded lines behind her there are no signs of her two Golden Globes (for Top of the Lake and The Handmaid’s Tale), her Emmy (also for The story …) and the Screen Actors Guild for Mad Men.
Shirley marks the first time in a three-decade career that Moss has played a real-life person, though the story takes delightful lines regarding Jackson’s life. Erasing his four children and inventing an infatuation with a young married woman, he is more concerned with capturing the complex spirit of the writer than with sticking to the facts. In the film she is seen for the first time surrounded by dust and debris, deeply thrown into what her husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) calls one of her “shoots.” The arrival of new neighbors Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rose Nemser (Odessa Young), to whom Shirley is somehow attracted, breathes new life into her.
Moss considered the character liberating. “I think there is a lot of Shirley in us,” she says. “We tend to doubt whether to say certain things because we don’t want to sound screwed up and we don’t want to sound difficult, and we bite our tongues and even almost have to speak in a different way than men do. What I loved about Shirley is that she said exactly what she was thinking, what she had in mind, and she didn’t give a damn that she looked like a bitch. “
In one scene, trapped at a party she no longer wants to be in, Shirley spills red wine all over the homeowner’s couch just for the fun of it. “How many times did we want to do something like that?” Says Moss. “You just mean, ‘Fuck this party, I don’t want to talk to this weird guy who’s talking too close to me.’ We were all there ”.
If Moss sounds a bit misanthropic, his demeanor is just the opposite. Plainly dressed, with her Zoom name declaring her as “Lizzie Moss,” she is energetic and conspiratorial, taking quick breaths of air and speaking as if she were always on the verge of laughing. He disdains the idea that acting has to be a grueling artistic process. “My work is terrific,” he says, taking a script from beside him and shaking it in front of the camera. “I have these scripts that are written and I have to simulate and imagine. It’s ridiculous work, and I make money on it and feel invigorated by it. I never felt that it was a dark place, I always felt it as something bright ”.
Not that the work you do can be described that way. The Handmaid’s Tale is so brutal in its portrayal of a misogynistic and totalitarian society that it gave a Telegraph critic an anxiety attack. Moss was going through the filming of the first season when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, and suddenly the idea of eliminating women’s rights did not seem so far-fetched. Just as Peggy Olson from Mad Men became a feminist icon – even those who did not see the series recognize the image of Peggy bragging at work, with sunglasses and a cigarette in her mouth -, Offred became a symbol of suffering and female survival.
Being at the forefront of a feminist movement has never been easy. The actress says it was “a mistake” to say in a public interview that the show was a human story and not a feminist story. As a member of the Church of Scientology – born in Los Angeles, the self-described “valley girl” was raised in that religion by her musician parents – she has had to defend herself against charges of hypocrisy. When a fan pointed out on Instagram that “both Gilead and Scientology believe that every outside source (the news) is wrong or evil,” Moss responded, “That is not really true of Scientology.” Your religion is one of the few things you don’t like to talk about in interviews. “I understand the fascination, but you have to have a right to privacy.”
Today Moss has no problem framing her work through feminist lenses. He says that The Invisible Man, the horror movie in which a woman, Cecilia, escapes from her abusive partner only to be harassed by his invisible presence, was “a gigantic analogy” of abuse and toxic relationships. “The invisible man can be your ex-boyfriend, ex-friend, ex-boss, whatever makes you feel threatened by any kind of cycle of abuse,” says the actress. “It’s what we wanted it to be. That feeling of ‘I have to get over this, I have to fight this presence that won’t go away, this trauma that won’t go away.’ It is the story we were trying to tell, like a Trojan Horse in the packaging of a horror movie ”.
You never actually see the abuse Cecilia is running from, but you don’t need it either. Every cringe, scream, and shudder betrays the depth of his character’s trauma. Although she is able to capture every subtlety, she is not that kind of actress with a single tear rolling down her cheek; his crying is with convulsions of his whole body. Countless women wrote to them after the premiere – one of the last major releases before the pandemic, which grossed $ 134 million at the box office – to tell them how identified they had felt with the story. “Friends who I did not know had gone through such an experience could appear to tell me that watching the film had been cathartic,” he says. “I think we all have experiences in which we feel that we are drowned, that they take advantage of us or tell us that we are crazy to believe or feel something. That history of abuse is not something that has emerged in the last five years. It is not a car that just anyone gets on now. It is a story as old as time ”.
Moss feels a deep responsibility to tell women’s stories well; She has been playing complex female characters since she was a teenager, when she was one of the victims – along with Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder – of Inocencia Interrupted, or as the sparkling daughter of the President in all seven seasons of The West Wing. “Women can be wonderful and have flaws, they can be good and bad and complicated; for me it’s all about telling an honest story, ”he says. “It is not about telling the story of someone perfect or that it is a moral lesson, just telling stories of women with honesty. That is the guiding principle. “
Then he points to his favorite line on Shirley: Stanley is questioning his wife’s fascination with a missing woman, a student whom he does not know but with whom he feels a bond. “And she says, ‘Don’t tell me I don’t know this girl,'” says Moss. “I feel like this is very true for many of us. We all have common experience as women, either in feeling alone or in feeling that you cannot talk about something, or feeling that if you do, they will tell you that you are crazy, or that you are hysterical or difficult. We have that common experience, and I loved that line of dialogue because I loved the idea of her looking at this man and saying, ‘Don’t tell me I don’t know what it feels like. You have no idea how I feel. ‘
That is why she feels so relieved since, thanks to the #MeToo movement, women are increasingly sharing their experiences with each other. “I’ve had more conversations in the last few years than I’ve had all the time before,” he says. “It is important for us to talk about this. Even in things like being in a meeting and a man interrupting a woman, that is something that is now noticed. Now you can say, in the wonderful words of (Democratic vice presidential candidate) Kamala Harris, ‘I’m talking. It is not to say that it does not keep happening, but there is a greater recognition that it should not be done. And that is already a good thing ”.
Moss also tries to set an example for the younger generation. When I see that someone I’m working with has an opinion and speaks it, I think it’s important to say ‘Thank you for doing that. I hear you. It’s exactly what you have to do. ‘ It’s okay to have an opinion. It’s okay to say it. ” And she smiles: “No one is going to think you’re a bitch.”