'Mad Men' star Elisabeth Moss has been a fan and critic favorite as ambitious Peggy since the show began; as the Emmy-winning drama heads into its third season on Aug. 16, Moss returns to her role with a Lead Actress Emmy nomination of her own.
The actress, who was best known as First Daughter Zoey Bartlet on 'The West Wing' before she jumped back in time to the '60s, talks to AOL TV about her Emmy nod, what's ahead for career gal Peggy in season 3 -- and Moss' upcoming wedding to 'Saturday Night Live' star Fred Armisen. -- By Kimberly Potts Does it feel like TV is the place to go for strong female characters right now?
Yes, I really do think that. I mean, I think it's possible in film as well, but I think more than ever this time is a real high point for television and for women in television. I mean, look at that category. These women ... Glenn Close, Sally Field ... and it's the same in the male category as well, but I think that it's very noticeable in the female category that there are roles there that have never been possible before.
Peggy is still a perplexing character to a lot of viewers ... how well do you think you know her?
Pretty well, I'd say. And I feel like I've known her pretty well from the beginning, and I actually really, really like her as a character. I love playing her. Even if I'm just sitting there, and not saying anything, I just really like her. She's been through so many changes, and so many things have happened to her, and I think that she's -- and it's weird speaking about her -- but I'm proud of her and I'm so protective of her. I want good things for her.
Peggy had the great speech to Pete at the end of season 2, where she lets him know about the baby and that she isn't interested in him anymore. How'd you feel about that episode?
I think it was the kindest thing she possibly could have done to him. I can't really speak for [Pete, Vincent Kartheiser's character], but I think maybe Pete did love Peggy. Or maybe he just ended up loving what she represents. But it wasn't going to work out, and he wasn't going to be happy, and I think that her being honest with him and having that kind of clarity about how she felt was kind. A lot of people also think that moment is just about the baby, and it's not. It's so much more about her love for him. She truly did love him. That speech for me was a dream come true, to say those lines and to work with an actor like Vinnie. He's always so extraordinary, and whatever recognition I get for that scene, I have to give him half of it, because he's so talented and so good.
Congratulations on the Emmy nomination! Where were you when you found out?
Aw, thank you so much. I was in bed, actually. I slept late and my fiancé woke me at about 11:30 and told me. It was very nice ... it couldn't have been nicer. And I was very surprised and very excited. I mean, to be perfectly honest, it was completely unexpected to be nominated at all, and then hearing about the 15 other nominations [for 'Mad Men'] and both Jon [Hamm] and John [Slattery] being nominated ... I'm so proud of them and of all the writing nominations. All of these people are friends of mine. So it's very exciting for that reason, and on a personal level. And to be nominated along with all these strong and brilliant women ... I'm 26 years old, and I know it sounds cheesy, but I do feel like I already won.
In season 1, viewers were coming up with all kinds of theories about Peggy's weight gain, but you knew from the beginning where the story was going. How tough was it to keep that secret, especially since you were wearing prosthetics?
It was hard, because there was a really weird period of not being able to say anything. I did know from the very beginning, from before we started filming. ['Mad Men' creator Matt Weiner] had told me, because I had to do all those fittings. So there was that weird period when I was wearing the padding but couldn't say anything about the pregnancy. And I would do interviews and people would ask me like, "So, the clothes aren't very flattering are they?" Or, "Oh, you know, it's really great that you women are representing such real women's bodies," and I would be like, "Yeah, totally, it's awesome." I would have to just basically lie and agree with them, because I couldn't say anything about what was really happening. I wanted to be like, "No, no, no, I'm not gaining weight," but I had to sort of bite my tongue and say that the clothes weren't flattering.
You and Jon Hamm have great chemistry as Peggy and her boss, Don. How do you pull that off, especially since they're not in a romantic relationship?
Yes, that's one of the cool things about the show, and something that really represents the sort of show it is, that Don and Peggy never fall into a [romance]. That would have been really easy to do, to go there, and we have never gone anywhere near it. That's a testament to the show, and it's made their relationship far more interesting and meaningful. And you'll see even more in season 3. It goes even deeper into that -- this is a very special relationship that they have and far more interesting than if they were just romantically involved.
Can you talk about Peggy in the new season? Is she going to continue to become a stronger woman, a stronger career woman?
Absolutely, absolutely. I think the theme for Peggy in season 3 is that she's just trying to figure out who she is. I was just speaking to Matt yesterday about this on the phone, and Peggy really is just trying to figure ... what her role is in the office, what her role is as a woman in the 1960s. She's changing, for sure, and she makes some mistakes, but she's just trying to figure it out.
Because of the costumes and styling, you look so much different on the show than you do in "real life." What kind of reactions do you get when people see you outside of your Peggy role?
[Laughs] A lot of people say, "Oh, you look so different, oh you look smaller." But I like that I look so different on the show. To me, I'm an actor first, so I like to embody a character, and I like to look different with hair and clothes. I like it when people say, "Oh my God, you look different!" I'm like, great, I've achieved what I set out to achieve. So it's always a compliment for me. It means I'm doing my job.
You worked as a child actress but have avoided the negative career and personal paths that a lot of former child actors end up taking. To what do you attribute being able to steer clear of those things?
I don't know what makes people take the paths they do, but I was lucky, because I had a very well-rounded life. I have a great family, and I was dancing at the same time I was acting, for about 10 years, from ages 5 to 15. So I didn't place the importance on just one thing. Whether or not I got a movie was not the end of the world, because I had ballet class to go to. You know, I was concerned about getting a job, getting the right part in 'The Nutcracker,' school ... so I had a great balance that allowed me to not place too much importance on the wrong thing. I also didn't have a crazy amount of success at 10 or 12 years old, so I had the chance to work on my craft and develop it, to grow into the person and the actress that I am now, at 26. I feel like I'm in a strong place, and I can handle [success] now.
You announced your engagement to 'Saturday Night Live' star Fred Armisen earlier this year ... any wedding plans for the near future?
Yes, we have set a date, and it's not too far off, so we're definitely in wedding planning mode. I love the wedding magazines, and I love looking online at stuff ... to me, it's just the most fun thing in the world. We're planning this really cool, fun day, and we're kind of deep into it. We're having a nice time with it.