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Elisabeth Moss on Mad Men’s Finale and Peggy’s Breakout Season

For Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's heroine Peggy Olson, season four was a year of personal and professional milestones: Increasingly aware of her newfound power, she fired her first underling (for the as-yet-unlabeled offense of sexual harassment); left her traditionalist boyfriend for anti-establishment Abe; abandoned the martini bars of Madison Avenue for Warhol-esque warehouse parties; saw her hard work rewarded with a Clio, albeit one in Don’s name; and landed the account that broke the agency's dry spell. In the finest episode of the season, “The Suitcase,” it became clear that Peggy is the only person in the world who understands Don, and vice versa — a realization that changed nothing and everything. Elisabeth Moss called us from the road in Utah, where she was en route to the set of Lawrence Kasdan’s new film, Darling Companion.

Where are you going?
I’m going to Sundance. I’m doing a film out here in Utah. It’s a Larry Kasdan film. He’s super-cool; it has an amazing cast, too — Kevin Klein, Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard. It’s like ridiculous.

First of all, I loved your clothes in the finale.
Thank you very much. That last dress, that little gray one? It was so cute! I didn't know ... well, I mean, I guess I knew it was cute, 'cause I said to Janey [Katherine Jane Bryant, the show's costume designer], "I want a really great dress for that scene because it’s the end of the season" ... but I thought I looked really cute.

I love the focus on her this season. Is there a moment that surprised you where you felt like you learned something about her you didn’t know?
I’m not one to try to guess where the character is going, where the stories are going — I get asked all the time, “Where do you think Peggy’s going to end up?” “What do you think is going to happen to her?” And I have zero interest in doing that because for me, I’m first of all not a writer: Anything I can come up with isn’t going to be as good as what they’ll come up with. So for me, I’m sometimes surprised by everything. At the same time, I feel a kinship with her as a character and I feel like I know her very well, so there’s nothing that surprises me. I was very happy about the Abe relationship, just really happy that she had some happiness in her personal life and that she could be a young girl rather than always be involved in things that are over her head and complicated. I liked that she got to have a twentysomething relationship, you know? Or whatever it is. And then, "The Suitcase," that episode — I never could have imagined that episode. That entire episode was like a beautiful gift and a beautiful surprise.

Tell me a little about working on that episode, because it was a little unconventional to really zero in on two people, as the show did with Don and Peggy.

I’m a huge fan personally of what they call these bottle episodes, and I’m a big fan of theater, so I like the aspect that it’s like a little play.

I’m sorry, did you call it a bottle episode?
Yes, they’re generally called bottle episodes where you pare it down to two people. It was like existing in a Mad Men bubble for two weeks and it was an experience I will never forget. I worked harder on that episode than I’ve ever worked on the show. I worked more days than Jon did. He does that all the time. He’s there all the time. Every single day, all day long. It was like doing a play for two weeks. So it was a beautiful experience I will never forget and I feel very very lucky. I just think as an audience member and as a fan of the show, I think it was really cool to see these characters be so deeply involved in each other’s lives, almost sort of orbiting each other and never really sitting down and talking about things. Just as a fan of the show, I thought it was so awesome that they sat and talked about the baby. It was not even just great television, but a great writing moment and you only get that kind of thing after you do something for four years.

What do you think is the status of Peggy and Don’s relationship as of the last episode of the season?
I think they’ve definitely grown closer than they’ve ever been. I think that at the same time they have a unique relationship. They’re never going to be best friends, but they love each other. It’s a relationship that is full of dichotomies, and I think that she knows him more than anyone and I think she’s incredibly confused and very much doubting and questioning his choice. And me of course playing Peggy, I agree with her, and I think there’s a whole lot of respect there and he’s her boss, and she’s not going to tell him that he shouldn’t be doing this. So I also think their relationship is sort of what it has always been.

Do you think his sudden engagement undid some of the closeness from "The Suitcase?" There was so much there in Peggy’s reaction, it was so loaded.
I think that they’ve had this series of very personal experiences together and they always step back into a professional relationship. They do it at the end of "The Suitcase," when she wakes up that morning and he’s in his suit and tie and back to work. So I don’t think it undoes anything, I just think there are two faces to their relationship and there’s the professional side and there’s the personal side. And I think on a personal level she’s still just as close to him because she’s one of the only ones who goes, “What are you doing?”

I was really happy to see the scene between Peggy and Joan, because the characters tend not to bond with each other. They tend to be in competition with each other. But Peggy seems more willing to have female friends. Why is that?
I think Peggy’s always been sort of an open, friendly person. She’s kind of a nice person and she has no reason to really not like this person or that. Joan is a very specific relationship, something has developed over the past four years. I think that scene between the two of them, it was such a joy to do and we just love doing it because you want to see that, you want to see them sit down and talk as co-workers, as friends. We watched it together at the finale and we both got teary, because it’s been a long time coming and [Christina Hendricks] and I are friends and it’s just nice to see. But it was a long road getting there. This doesn’t mean they’re going to be best friends, but they have mutual respect right now.

There is something very rewarding to a scene like that. Especially for those of us that have been watching it for four years. And I really like Joyce a lot. What do you think Peggy is getting out of that relationship?
What I love about the whole Joyce-Abe thing is that it’s actually her age group. She’s constantly around people that are older, that are of a different generation. Peggy’s a very sort of progressive person, she’s in a new generation of the sixties, and she has a work life, but I’ve never felt like she had a personal life that really matched who she is. And I think that this is her age group, this is who she should be hanging out with, and I think that Joyce is funny and smart and cool. She respects Peggy, but she’s not like super-impressed by what she does. She’s also a young girl who’s a woman in a man’s world, so they have that in common. I feel like Peggy is getting younger.

Peggy landed that big panty-hose account, but she’s still doing all the accounts for feminine products generally. Do you see her starting to move beyond that? She is a woman in a man’s world, but it’s a man’s world in which women increasingly have more power, and I’m wondering if she realizes that yet?
She is doing far beyond what she should be doing, you know what I mean? She’s definitely not in a place where she can be picking her own accounts and asking for different things, she’s just taking what’s handed to her. She’s also 26, and she has a long career ahead of her. And I think that absolutely she will branch out. We’re not telling a made-up story here, we know what happened to these women. We know what they ended up doing and I think that that’s obviously kind of where she’s headed. Although, it’s Mad Men, so who knows.

Miss Blankenship, before her untimely passing, said everyone in advertising was a sadist or a masochist, and seemed to call Peggy a masochist. Do you think Peggy is a masochist?
I don’t think she’s either. And I think that’s a very funny joke, but I think most people aren’t either. Most people don’t want to inflict punishment or receive it, but it’s a great joke and she, oh my God, kills it. That woman was amazing. I was super-sorry to see her go.

I loved that line, and it did remind me that Peggy was raised Catholic.
She definitely takes a lot of punishment and a lot of shit, but I think masochist implies that you like it and I don’t think she likes it.

What was your favorite Peggy line this season? You had a lot of good ones.
Oh my God, are you crazy? That’s almost impossible. And that’s a good question and I want to answer it. There are so many good lines. Jesus. I’m actually taking this very seriously, can I just think about it and I can send an e-mail?

Editor's Note: A few hours later, Moss replied via e-mail with her favorite line, from "The Suitcase." It's just one word, which Peggy says in reply to Don's question about whether she ever thinks of the baby: "Playgrounds."

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Mad Men’s Megan Speaks!
Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner Explains Last Night’s Finale, Defends Betty Draper
Mad Men Finale Recap: Did Don Disappoint You?
Why Do the Mad Men Writers Make Betty Draper Such a Monster?

Photo: Mike Coppola/FilmMagic