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BWW Interview: Elisabeth Moss on HEIDI- 'I Like to Play Characters That are Heroic But Flawed and Human'

Screen Actors Guild Foundation and Broadway World have partnered for a filmed Conversations Q&A series to recognize and celebrate the vibrant theatre community in New York City and the actors who aspire to have a career on the stage and screen. Richard Ridge of "Backstage with Richard Ridge" recently sat down with Elisabeth Moss, currently starring in The Heidi Chronicles on Broadway, about her career.

Check out a sneak peek of the interview below in which she discusses what she enjoys the most about playing the role of "Heidi" and the cast and crew. Check back Sunday morning (April 26, 2015) to watch the full interview!

What do you enjoy the most about playing Heidi in The Heidi Chronicles?

I suppose at this point in the process, I'm enjoying finding new things, which is such a strange thing after doing something for three months, and all of a sudden you're looking at another actor on stage that maybe just in that moment, never looked at them in that moment in the play before. And that makes you think something and that makes you do something different, and after, you know, four weeks of rehearsals, a week of tech, three weeks of previews, and sixty-something performances, it's so strange to find new things, you know. So I suppose at this point, that's what I'm enjoying. Also, the confidence that comes with having done a show [for] a little bit, you feel like you know your lines, and so you can try other things, and let it go a little bit. That's what's been fun lately.

I'm sure just finding the pace. You know, you go to rehearsal, you go to tech, you preview, you do press events, you open. There are so many other things you have to do besides just doing the show, right?

Yeah! I often just wish I cold just do eight shows a week. That would be relaxing!

How familiar were you with the play before you were offered the role?

Shamefully, I had not read the play. I was familiar with it as sort of an "epic play" and as a prolific event, but I had not actually read it and I certainly hadn't seen it. So I sort of, I honestly, practically just said "yes" hearing what is was just because it was one of those things where you're like "oh, yes! This is something I should do." And then after I read it and met with Pam [MacKinnon] of course it was a definite yes. But yeah, I wasn't even as familiar with the play after reading it as I am now, you know what I mean?

Yeah. So what attracted you to the role and how do you describe Heidi? Such a beautifully written role.

Yeah! It is just beautifully written. I like the fact that she is complex; I like to play characters that are heroic but flawed and human. And I like the fact that she is, that you sort of believe in her and want her to succeed, but you also [know] she makes bad decisions and wrong choices and is sad. And then, you know, at one point is kind of sad for a lame reason. And that's what attracts me and attracted me to Heidi. I enjoy playing with, you know, how strong she can be and how weak she can be and how that changes sort of every show.

You know, because she's a character with so many flaws, I'd think that would be the best kind of character to play.

Yeah! And it's also one of the things I was really excited about was the journey through time. I've never really played a character that spans that many years. She goes from seventeen or sixteen to I think it's like her late thirties, early forties. And we're not doing anything to really play to particularly be like "now she's sixteen" or "now she's forty." It's very much in the text, but I did want to show the emotional journey and wanted to show someone sort of growing up in a way. That for me was the challenge that I really haven't done before.

Yeah, and it's all in the text, isn't it? It's a beautifully written play.

Yeah, it really is! In the first scene, well the prologue, the first scene is in 1965 and she's sixteen, me and Ally On, who plays Susan, kept getting notes to not be so young. And what we kind of realized eventually was that we didn't have to play young, it's all in the text. If you just say the lines and follow the story they come off younger, you don't actually have to play it. And that happens in every scene. The next scene is three years later, and the text just, she is a little bit older, you don't have to play it a little bit older necessarily. You just have to follow it.

She grows in the play herself.


I love that you got notes on that early on too!

Yeah, not so early on, later as well. [Laughs] But it's so easy to be like "I'm sixteen!" and now I'm going to play sixteen; you don't need to do that when it's good writing.

You're like "now play sixteen." I love that. This is such a dialogue-heavy play. How did you learn it? Were you off-book right away or how did you learn her?

No. [Laughs] I'm a procrastinator. I very much identify with something Heidi says; she has a four-page monologue and she talks about how she waits until the desperation point to complete, or rather start, her homework. And I very much identify with that. I didn't learn that four-page monologue until, like, maybe a week before we went to the theater just because I didn't want to. I was like "this is really scary and I don't want to learn it." And then we started doing runs in the room, and I was like "oh shit, I'm going to have to learn it because people are watching. I can't have the pages, this is embarrassing." So I did learn it; I'm good at memorizing things. I have a good memory for lines, so it's not the end of the world for me to wait until the last minute. But no, I procrastinate 'til the very end.

Tell me about working with director Pam MacKinnon and what makes her such a great director.

She really is wonderful. She's one of those people that just says one thing, like one line, one sentence about something, and you kind of, about your character or about your scene, and you kind of go like "really? Is that what you think?" I remember at one point Jason [Biggs] was like "can you tell me every line in the play?" Can you just talk about every line of mine in the play?" She just has this incredible ability to put things into words, which is pretty great for a director. She has a great way of explaining things and a great way of painting something for you without telling you exactly how to do it, something I think would be very difficult. I don't know if I could be a director because I find that very hard. She's very in tune with the text, she's very, she's also one of those directors, and I've experienced this with every great director, [who] know when to say they don't know about something, and know when to say they don't have the answer. And she does that, you know, we would ask a question in the rehearsal room and she'd say, "I don't know." And we'd go back to the script, look at it, and we'd talk about it. Or she would ask a question and she'd be like "I don't know the answer. Just throwing that out there." And to me, that's a very, very good trait to have as a director.

Brilliant cast! And you mentioned Jason Biggs, Bryce Pinkham. Tell me about working with your two leading men.

I am very, very lucky. I knew I was lucky from the very beginning. I saw Bryce in Gentlemen's Guide [to Love and Murder]; I was sort of sent to go see him. And, he blew my mind. You know, just as soon as the curtain went up and as soon as he started singing, I was like "Yes! Yes we should cast him. He is perfect." And then I met him afterwards and he is so nice. And then Jason, I thought, was a spectacular choice for it. And Pam had read with him and auditioned him and she was like, "he did such incredible things in the room." And we all got together for a drink back in December, and it was kind of, immediately just perfect. And Jason was kind of, a little bit like Scoop and Bryce was a little Peter and it was the perfect kind of triangle. And they've been so professional, so nice. They're good men, good, kind men. And brilliant on stage, I think!

Make sure to check back on Sunday to see the full interview!

Elisabeth Moss stars as 'Peggy Olson' on the award-winning series Mad Men, which is currently airing its final seven episodes. In addition to the series' numerous honors, Moss has received five Emmy Award nominations, a Golden Globe nomination, and two Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for her performance on the show and has joined with the cast to win the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble in a Drama Series three consecutive years. Additionally, Moss's performance in Jane Campion's highly-acclaimed seven-part miniseries Top of the Lake earned her numerous accolades and prizes, including the Golden Globe and Critics Choice TV Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Movie or Miniseries as well as Emmy and SAG Award nominations in the same category. Prior to Mad Men, Moss played 'Zoey Bartlett,' daughter to Martin Sheen's president, for seven seasons on Aaron Sorkin's critically praised and award-winning drama, The West Wing.

On the big screen, Moss has completed production on four films: High-Rise, a film directed by Ben Wheatley also starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller and Jeremy Irons; the dramaMeadowland, directed by Reed Morano and starring Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson, which will make its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival; Queen of the Earth , the psychological thriller written and directed by Alex Ross Perry and premiered to stellar reviews at the Berlin International Film Festival; and Truth, in which she stars opposite Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett in the political drama about the scandal that erupted after Dan Rather reported on 60 Minutes II that George W. Bush had gotten preferential treatment that put him in the National Guard to avoid the Vietnam War draft.

Moss's additional film credits include The One I Love, in which she starred with Mark Duplass (Sundance Film Festival 2014); Listen up Philip, directed by Alex Ross Perry and starring Jason Schwartzman (Sundance Film Festival 2014); Walter Salles's adaptation of the classic Jack Kerouac novel On the Road, Get Him to the Greek , The Missing Girl Interrupted ,Mumford, A Thousand Acres, and Virgin, for which she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress.

Moss is currently starring in The Heidi Chronicles, a Broadway revival of Wendy Wassterstein's Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play in which Moss plays the title character. Her additional theater credits include The Children's Hour in London's West End opposite Keira Knightley, the Broadway revival of David Mamet's Speed the Plow opposite William H Macy and her New York theater debut at the Atlantic Theater Company in Franny's Way.

Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos

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