TV
03/18/2013 11:14 am ET

'Top Of The Lake': Elisabeth Moss On Working With Jane Campion And Holly Hunter

Sundance Channel's "Top of the Lake," created by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee, premieres March 18 at 9 p.m. ET and features Oscar winner Holly Hunter and "Mad Men's" Elisabeth Moss.

Centered around Robin Griffin (Moss), a troubled detective on the hunt for a missing teenage girl, the atmospheric drama examines the darkest sides of human nature in an unflinching and undeniably compelling way, showcasing an entirely different side of Moss from her "Mad Men" character -- one of many reasons why the actress considered the role "a dream come true."

HuffPost TV sat down with Moss back in January to discuss the appeal of the character, her experience working with Holly Hunter, and how the project challenged her both "physically and emotionally." You can read HuffPost TV critic Maureen Ryan's review of the seven-part miniseries here.

What attracted you to the role?
Jane, obviously, was the first attraction. She's one of those people that you always want to work with in your life and never think that you will. So the first thing I heard was that it was a Jane Campion project and I was like "I'm in." And then I read the first three episodes and was just blown away by the caliber of the scripts and the uniqueness of them and the world that I'd never seen before. And then obviously the character, it's something that I've never done before, it's so different from Peggy and I really was like, "Well, yeah, I'd love to do it, but I don't know if they're gonna cast me."

It was one of those things where it was literally a dream come true -- but a dream that you didn't even have, that's so special that you never could've dreamt it. I remember I was on the phone with Jane when she told me that I was going to be getting it, she said, "You're going to have such an adventure," and I'll never forget her saying that, and she was right. I was like, "I can't believe I'm going to New Zealand for five months. This is crazy!"

It's such an emotionally fraught role, I'd imagine you really had to lay yourself bare for it.
Yeah, it was something that was emotionally and physically challenging. Literally having to do things physically and emotionally that I've never done before. We shot completely out of order, so we'd do Episode 1 and then move to Episode 4 and then back to 2, moving back and forth between Jane directing and Garth directing. Jane would have the first half of the day and then you'd move on to Garth for the second half.

And for me, I felt like I gained so much strength as an employee in a way; learning what I needed; learning how to balance all of that; learning how to take care of myself and learning how to go from a scene where you're just talking on the phone and nothing's happening to running down the street for 20 minutes to crying on the phone to getting beaten up or beating someone else up ... It was like the acting Olympics, and it was incredibly challenging. Before I started, I remember calling my mom and saying, "I don't know if I can do this. I don't know how to do this. I've never felt like this. I don't know what I'm doing!" And Jane just held my hand and Garth held the other one and we learned how to do it.

How was it working with Holly Hunter? She's such a strong presence on screen.
That character is so unique and when I read it in the scripts, I was like, "God, how is that gonna work? What is that, who is that person?" And then, when I found out that they'd cast Holly, I was like, "OK, we're good. We're fine in that area. She's got it." And then I met her and she's just the coolest woman, and so frank and down-to-earth and nice.

It was cool because we shot her stuff at the beginning, so all of the women's camp stuff was shot in the first two or three weeks, which was great for me, because I got to really actually ease into the character, because I'm not in the women's camp as much. I got to have this nice little easing in. But it was also great to start out with Holly because she's such a pro. She's so professional and ... she does demand so much of you and she demands that you bring it and she demands this caliber of performance and you know how good she is and so, you have to at least try to be as good. It was a great place for us to start as a production, I think it got us out on the right foot.

And also, her having worked with Jane before, it felt like it was a little bit of a passing of the torch from her to me -- there was this great relationship between Holly and Jane, so I was able to see that as an example for myself and then take that into developing my own relationship with Jane. I saw how well they worked together, I saw the friendship, I saw the camaraderie and so it felt like a safe place to start for everyone. I don't think anyone else could've done this role, and I don't think anyone else could've written it.

In terms of the new season of "Mad Men," what can you say about how Peggy's changed and where we'll find her emotionally in Season 6?
For me, this season definitely feels like she is becoming the person that she's going to be for the rest of her life. She's grown so much and she's grown up so much and she's changed so much. I think there's always that thing of comparing her to Don and that she is Don and she's going to be like Don, and I think that you see that, but I think, at the same time, we're interested in the fact that she will always be Peggy.

She will never be Don, she has her own integrity, she has her own personality, and I think that developing that has been really cool and playing with that ... I think I spent so much of the show being hit by things and set off by things and being on the back foot and always reactive, and I think in Season 4 you start to see it, in Season 5 you definitely see it, and hopefully you'll see more of it [in Season 6] that she's really starting to become strong.

"Top of the Lake" premieres March 18 at 9 p.m. ET on Sundance Channel. "Mad Men" returns April 7 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

"Mad Men" Season 6 and 7

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