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Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss on the Premiere, Peggy’s New Hairdo, and Her Mysterious New Love Interest

On last night's Mad Men premiere, Peggy Olson, the secretary turned copywriter who'd struggled mightily to break into the boys' club, was in a good place. She had a new co-worker with whom she bantered, she and Pete (whose child she carried, unbeknownst to him, in season one) seemed to be on good terms, and she even had a new boyfriend/fiancé. We spoke with Elisabeth Moss about Peggy's new season, who exactly her new love interest is, and how — thank God! — she finally got rid of those bangs.


So ... what did you think of the first episode?

I was blown away by it. We have a premiere screening every year on set during lunch, and I know I’m biased, but I think it’s our best first episode ever since the pilot. There’s so much built-in drama — we really hit the reset button on the show with the agency, and it feels so exciting! Afterwards, I was walking around with a big smile on my face for like an hour. I felt like a fan, you know what I mean? It’s just so cool. And they walk into the office and that great music is playing, and you see the SCDP sign; it feels like exactly what you want to have happen.

"Who is Don Draper?" What do you think?

Can you think of a greater opening line? And how it’s quiet and then they bring the sound in. My favorite part was the end — the end killed me. But everything about the episode is very much new. It’s a whole new agency, a whole new time period, and everybody is feeling like, okay, who is that and what’s their job here? What’s Peggy doing now? It’s all this stuff you’re trying to piece together to form a picture of what’s going on. And I think the whole season follows that thread — these characters themselves figuring out who they are.

What's up with your new work friend? You clearly already have a comfortable dynamic with him.
I know, you don’t know how long he’s been there, you don’t know who he is. And I think that’s awesome — the first time you see Peggy is with this new character who you’ve never seen before. And of course, in Mad Men style, we don’t bother explaining anything about this, we just let you figure it our yourself.

Do you get it explained to you, at least?
Yeah, we do. We’re allowed to ask questions and get things explained. I found that I asked more questions about the first episode of this season than I ever have in any other season. I called Matt [Weiner] and talked to him about it; What happened with her? How long have she and her boyfriend been together? What’s her dynamic in the office? I feel like there’s the biggest change in her between last season and this one, and I feel like she’s grown the most, so I found myself trying to figure out all that.

How do you think Peggy has changed?

She's way more confident, and a little tougher. I feel like Peggy has the most potential for change anyways, because she’s the youngest. Once you get into your 30s and 40’s, you sort of become the person you’ll be. As far as Peggy, she’s still figuring out the woman she’ll be. And so when I got that script, I saw the change, and that she'd grown up a lot, but I wanted to make sure that I was seeing it right. I didn’t want to do something that went too far.

And were you right in how you saw it?

Yes! Of course, she’s still Peggy, and she’s still naïve and makes mistakes, and is constantly disrespected and has no idea what she’s doing sometimes. And so it’s not all of a sudden like she’s Joan. 

Was it fun to have a lighter story line in the first episode?

Totally. I didn’t even realize it until I saw it at the premiere the second time the other night — it’s very much a comedic episode for me. Sometimes we get so dramatic, so serious, and it was kind of nice to start out on the positive note.


Who's your favorite character on the show?


Oh my god! That’s hard. I feel like every single one of us would say that Slattery, that guy is just such a dream to watch. You give him two lines and he knocks it out of the park. He’s the KING of stealing scenes, and he always gets the best line. And every time I’ve gotten the privilege of working with him — which has been very few times — but every time, we giggle like little girls. 

There was some fan backlash against season three. What did you think of it?

I loved it. I think that our fans are really loyal and smart, and they totally have a right to have an opinion about it. But I think it’s almost an expression of their love for the show — they hold it to high standards. There was a story to tell, the story of the home life and the divorce and Betty, and Matt told it well. We never pander to the audience, we never give things away or do something just because we know you’ll love it. And the fans seem to keep watching!

Some fans held out hope for Pete and Peggy.

Sometimes people don’t know what’s best for them.

In your deepest heart of hearts, you never wanted them to be together?

No! He’s married ... hello! His wife is awesome, and people seem to forget that little fact so easily. I find it amazing that people still want Don and Betty to get back together. It’s not a relationship that should work out, people! They think that just 'cause they're married, they’re totally meant to be, even when he’s, like, cheating on her like every five seconds.

What are your feelings about Betty? Do you hate her as much as everyone else?

People hate her? Really? I’ve never even heard that. I don’t read stuff about the show, though. I tend to stay away from the comments and reviews, because, you know, you never know what you’re going to read! People think she’s a horrible mother, and they hate it, but they love to see it. It's like, they hate Pete, and they love to watch him, too.

Pete sort of redeemed himself last season.

He absolutely did. He’s had an incredible arc, but again, he’s one of the younger characters, which allows for more change. Going from who he was, to then falling in love with Peggy, but it was too late for her, and now he’s just softened and become more of a rounded human being. It’s really interesting.

And he and Peggy seem to have reached a truce of some sort.

It’s just like any relationship — time heals all wounds. After two or three years, they see each other every day, and they don’t talk about it all the time. It’s very true to life, and at the same time, there’s always this great built-in tension, because anytime you say the word “baby” in the same room as the two of them, it’s like a bomb went off.

So, you mentioned before that Peggy has a boyfriend, even though in the premiere, he referred to himself as her fiancé.

Yes, yes, Peggy has found herself a lovely young man. Mark seems like a bit of a safe choice for her at the time in her life, he’s sweet and kind, but not too threatening and challenging. I think it’s appropriate for where she’s at right now. 

And, of course, your hair. It's so much better.

Ah, yes! When I showed up in that hair and makeup trailer for the test, and decided we were going to sweep my bangs to the side, I swear to God I almost burst into tears. I was so excited. I knew I wasn’t going to get rid of the bangs; I couldn’t hope for that much. But the fact that they were going to be swept to the side and not split down the middle anymore — I can’t even express how happy that made me. Let’s all move on from that and forget it ever happened.

Peggy's clothing is improving slightly, too.

I love, love, love my clothes this season. There are some great outfits and dresses coming up that are so cute. I wore black for the first time this season! It’s nice to look a little bit prettier, and little more fashionable; it’s fun. I don’t know if I’m going to be rocking a Joan dress anytime soon, but who would?

Who's going to be the first character to drop LSD?

Oh my Lord, I think the obvious answer would be Peggy, but you never know. Those boys can get adventurous. But I think based on her youth and the time period, that unfortunately might land on Peggy’s shoulders. But not for a very long time. Peggy’s late to the game; just like with the marijuana, she’ll be behind the times.


Photo: Mike Coppola/FilmMagic