Peggy Olson’s personal life is still a mess, but could she be on her way to replacing Don Draper at Sterling Cooper & Partners as we head toward Mad Men’s seventh and final season? Series boss Matthew Weiner would never tell, of course, but it certainly seems like a possibility after that final shot of Peggy, contentedly working on a holiday, staring out at the Manhattan skyline from Don’s office. Vulture got ahold of Elisabeth Moss to talk about that Godfather-esque finale, to see where she thinks things stand between Peggy and Don, and to find out what she suspects would happen if and when she learns about his past.
Do you think Peggy is on track to become Don?
You know, she’s sitting behind Don’s desk in his office — there’s literally nothing I can say about it without being more obvious! [Laughs.] It is what it is.
That shot of Peggy was similar to the end of The Godfather, right? Sitting in her predecessor’s chair …
I thought it was so fucking cool. It’s very precious to me, Peggy’s story, and what is going to happen, and where she’s going to go. That’s why I get so hesitant to talk about it — because I don’t want to learn anything. It’s not like I don’t want to ruin anything, because I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it seems so delicate to me. Like, “Let’s just see what happens, you guys!” I just feel very protective of it. But, when I read that scene I thought it was awesome. It’s been a long road for her and what’s cool about it for me is that I’ve spent a lot of time in Don’s office. I remember my first scenes were there, giving Don aspirin when he wakes up from his nap. I’ve had a lot of moments and a lot of great scenes in there, so to have come all of this way? It’s very, very cool.
Our fashion blog, the Cut, just put up an amazing video documenting Peggy’s journey, starting with that scene of her waking Don up. Her rise has been as incredible as Don’s fall.
That was actually sent to me! I haven’t watched the video yet, but I read the article and it was very, very nice. And I feel the same way, him going down and her going up. It feels like the show has become very much about Don’s journey versus Peggy’s journey. She’s changed so much, and he’s changed, and the way they interact with each other and the way they are on their own — they’re sort of polar opposites and yet so similar. It makes for a really complex relationship.
But do you think she’ll end up more like Don, or more like Ted, the more supportive mentor who is now also the jerk who broke her heart?
I think she’s going to be not like either of them. That was a big part of her story this year. In the beginning, she’s trying to be like Don as a boss. She’s really curt and bossy and mean to her underlings, and she thinks that’s how she’s supposed to be because she’s never had any other examples. Then she kind of falls in love with Chaough and thinks, Oh, this is a great management style! And she tries to emulate him a little more and become more of a team member because she’s got a lot of admiration for him. And then he breaks her heart. As women, we tend to put a lot of stock in what a man thinks and how they are and what they think of us and how we should be, but I like this idea of Peggy’s journey getting to a place — and I hope to see it in season seven — I hope to see her get to a place where she is her own person with her own style, not copying a man.
Peggy called Don a monster in a recent episode, but it seems like their relationship can survive that. On the other hand, she’s now one of the few main characters who doesn’t know about his past. Do you think if and when she learns about it that it will change the way she thinks about Don?
I never thought about that, but it’s interesting. I think she loves him. He’s family. And she already knows some pretty harsh things. He’s thrown money at her! He’s done things to her that are far worse than what she would find out about his past. Throwing money at her face, giving accounts away, threatening to tell the client that she’s having an affair with her married boss, and then giving away credit for her creative idea — that’s far worse than anything he could ever [reveal]. You know how important that is to Peggy. There’s nothing more important than ownership over her creative ideas because that’s all she has as a woman in that workplace. All she has are her ideas, and he takes that away from her. That’s why she calls him a monster. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still love there. I will say this about their relationship: It’s very special and it’s very common in the sense that it’s very familial between the two of them. It’s like brother/sister, father/daughter, best friends, boss/employee. It’s everything but romantic. You love your father even if you hate him sometimes. You’ll call your brother a monster, but there’s love there that will never change. Frankly, finding out about his past, I don’t know if that’s something that would break the bank. [Laughs.]
You knew after the end of last season that you weren’t being written off the show. But what did you think when you read that the firms were merging? Were you worried for Peggy, career-wise?
Yeah! But, I mean, I loved it. For Peggy, I thought it was very dramatically cool that she got out and then was sort of dragged back in, Godfather-style. But, personally, as Elisabeth, those are my boys! Jay, Ben, Aaron, Rich, Jon, and Slattery, those are my guys and I’ve worked with them for years, so I like being back with them and working with them. Kevin [Ted] is one of my new favorite people. I adore him. He’s the sweetest man, literally, alive. So that I got to take him with me and work with all my other boys, it was great for me.
You don’t get that many scenes with women on the show, so watching Peggy and Joan, both now in positions of power, arguing about Avon, was pretty spectacular.
For sure! Because there’s no reason for Betty and Peggy to interact, when Christina [Hendricks] and I have something, it’s always really cool. We’ve had so many things happen to us, and we don’t interact all the time now, so there’s a special kind of magic that happens. The thing that I really enjoy about doing a TV series is you feel like you live these moments right alongside the characters. Three years ago, I did a scene with her, and we lived that moment … Three years later, we’re doing a different scene, and we’ve both grown, and our characters have grown. It feels like there’s history there, as opposed to shooting a movie where you have to fabricate a friend you’ve known for six years in a three-month period of time. I actually have known Christina for seven years. That’s what I love about doing a series. It mirrors your life.
One of the moments that made me cringe was when Pete’s mom inadvertently brought up Pete and Peggy’s baby. Awkward! Do you think that their baby will ever become a part of her life again?
I don’t think so. She gave that baby away. That baby, I think, is living a lovely life somewhere. But I love the card we hold on to! It’s such an elephant in the room — it’s awesome. When you bring it up, it’s such a big deal, and when I read that scene — and this might be the only time in Mad Men that this has happened to me — I was reading that scene and my jaw like actually dropped. It’s never happened to me before, but when I read the line that Pete’s mom says, I literally gasped.
How did you and the costume designer Janie Bryant settle on Peggy’s date dress? Were there other contenders?
My boobs looked the best in that one. I haven’t seen the finale yet, but I was there so I saw them then [laughs]. Yeah, it was all about the cleavage, and that was the one that the girls looked the best in. And it was also the one that was sexy and short. Everything was perfect about it. And it still had that pink bow, which made it very Peggy.
The reaction from the men in the office was hilarious.
It was awesome. The first time I did it, the camera was on me; unfortunately, it wasn’t on them. They hadn’t seen me in the dress before so the first time I actually did walk into the room, their jaws, like, all actually dropped. Unfortunately, the camera wasn’t on them. It was like, damn.
Earlier this year, my colleague Jada Yuan asked you how it felt to act so “un-Peggy like” in Top of the Lake, where your character stabs a guy with a broken beer bottle. But then Peggy went on to stab Abe!
[Laughs.] I know. I went on a bit of a rampage. The boys better watch out. I just like stabbing people. Peggy’s was accidental though, so …
There’s only one season left. What do you want for Peggy? Do you want her to find love? Do you envision a happy ending for her?
I’m not gonna say anything. I do have an idea of what I want, but I’m not going to jeopardize it by talking about it. It’s one of those things where, if I talk about what I want to happen, it won’t happen because if it gets out there and becomes a story, or becomes big in the press — “Oooh, Elisabeth Moss thinks this is going to happen!” — then Matt won’t do it [laughs].
Well, I want it to end nicely for her. Which is not to say that needs to happen.
Yeah, I think there’s what would be nice for Peggy, personally, and there’s what’s gonna be good dramatically for the show. I think Peggy’s first love is her work and always will be, and that can create problems in your personal life. As an actress, I love that about her. I’m sure Peggy doesn’t like it very much [laughs].