Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss on Peggy Olson, the ‘Ultimate Feminist’

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Mad Men's Peggy Olson has had quite a year, between an affair with a corporate rival, a brutal lesson in (un)equal pay, and a brief flirtation with marijuana. On last night's episode, Peggy found inspiration in her colleague Paul Kinsey's hung-over brain-freeze, and once again pulled together an ad campaign out of thin air. Vulture spoke with Elisabeth Moss about the uncertain future of Sterling Cooper and one of its most underappreciated stars.

The Brits are putting Sterling Cooper up for sale. Do you anticipate another John Deere incident?
We’re done with the tractors, I think it’s safe to say. But I can’t say anything else. [Laughs] I’m sorry!

And now Betty knows Don’s real identity. Next up: JFK’s assassination. These appear to be the three things that frame the rest of the season.
Those are the big story lines and they’ve been a long time coming. This season is all about change.

What will it take for Peggy to leave for one of the more cutting-edge agencies in town?
I have to be abstract here, but we’re about to come into a very heavy time in the sixties, and it has an impact on all these characters. Peggy wants to be appreciated and Don has been so cruel to her this season — I think she’s looking for somebody like Duck to ask her to be there.

That might explain her terrible taste in men: Pete. That college boy she picks up in the bar. Now Duck.
Right before that scene between Peggy and Duck in that hotel room, Don yells at her, and pushes her out of the office. Duck says exactly what she wants to hear: “There’s a place for you here.” What’s attracting Peggy to Duck is his respect for her. She’s definitely an oddball and a loner, and that affects her choices.

Peggy is constantly surprising us. She smokes pot. She belches into a Dictaphone!
That was totally dubbed. I can’t do that on cue, so I’ll let the secret out that that was not me.

Who was it?
[Laughs] I don’t know.

Best line of the season: “My name is Peggy Olson and I would like to smoke some marijuana.” Even completely baked, she never stops working.
She becomes oddly even more courageous and more delusionally happy with herself. That scene with [her secretary] Olive, when she says “I’m going to be okay! Don’t worry about me,” and “I have a secretary and that’s you,” is one of my favorite scenes ever.

What are Peggy’s best ad campaigns?
The Popsicle campaign from season two, with the mother holding Popsicles out to her two kids like she’s giving communion. And the Western Union campaign, from tonight’s episode. I can’t remember what the slogan was.

“You can’t frame a phone call.”
I thought that was genius.

Peggy protects Paul, who comes into an ideas meeting empty handed and hung-over, from Don’s wrath.
It’s one of the first times Peggy’s really acted as a woman, like an older sister: She assesses the situation, sees it’s going to be okay, and handles it with grace and warmth. She’s not trying to get ahead. She’s not being harsh. She’s not being stupid. And she ends up being completely right. Don understands what happened, and they end up coming up with a great idea.

Do you think of Peggy as a feminist?
Absolutely. That’s what I love about playing her. These women weren’t trying to change everyone’s lives; they just wanted to get their chance to do their job, and in that way she’s the ultimate feminist. I think she has a lot to learn about having confidence in herself. She relies too much on Don’s approval. But she’s getting there.

Is being engaged to a comedian the antidote to working on one of TV’s darkest dramas?
[Laughs] Everyone on our show is funny. Jon Hamm can quote sketches from SNL from way back! Rich [Sommer] has been on The Office. Jenna Fischer’s a good friend of mine and Fred [Armisen]’s. You’d think we’d be hanging out with everyone from HBO, but we’re much more likely to hang out with the 30 Rock crowd. One thing that makes Mad Men such a smart show is that it is actually funny sometimes. We’ve had read-throughs this season where we’re just like, Is this a comedy now?

Related: Mad Men: The Downward Spiral