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Elisabeth Moss on her traumatized 'Queen of Earth' role: 'Playing happy characters is boring'

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Is Mad Men actress Elisabeth Moss on a crusade to drive down the value of vacation homes? In the recent movie The One I Love, she and Mark Duplass play a couple whose attempt to mend their relationship during a weekend away goes badly awry. Now, in writer-director Alex Ross Perry‘s new drama Queen of Earth (out in New York and on VOD and iTunes, Aug. 26) she is a grieving, newly single woman named Catherine whose stay at the lakeside house belonging to the family of a friend (Katherine Waterston) also turns out to be a harrowing experience — albeit for very different reasons.

“I think it’s because I don’t ever get a vacation, so I’m bitter and angry,” laughs Moss. “I don’t want anyone else to have a nice vacation either.”

Below, Moss and Perry talk more about The Queen of Earth, which costars Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous, Gone Girl), Kate Lyn Sheil (You’re Next, House of Cards), and Kentucker Audley (The Sacrament).

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You worked together on Alex’s previous film, Listen Up Philip. How did that bloom into this?

ALEX ROSS PERRY: Well, Listen Up Philip has this gimmick in the structure. The movie’s about this one character but then it takes these long diversions into the internal lives of all these people who he interacts with. The first of which is played by Elisabeth, which is the character’s girlfriend, becoming ex-girlfriend. It’s a risky structural decision which wouldn’t have worked had it not been carried off perfectly.

We premiered it, and the response was very positive. I was like, “Yeah, the reason this works is because of the acting. I want to do a movie that you’re not a chapter in. Let’s just double down on that and do something where you’re in every scene, just carrying the whole thing.” Also, I knew your interest as an actor is to gravitate towards things that are fairly different from what you have recently done, or ever done. That was a great way to hook you into doing this, because I’ll just mention that I don’t think you’ve done anything like this.

ELISABETH MOSS: [Laughs] We realized that — as well as we work together — we don’t work together for longer than two weeks. We’re not sure what happens after that. Because my part in Listen Up Philip was two weeks, and we made this in two weeks. So, we’re not sure if we can work together for three weeks. By the third week, it might totally disintegrate.

Alex, I read that prolific filmmaker and Queen of Earth producer Joe Swanberg recommended you make another film as soon as possible after Listen Up PhilipYou realize he probably tells everyone that. He may be telling his mailman that, right now. That guy just loves people making movies!

EM: [Laughs]

ARP: Well, he does. He was like, “Look, you are someone whose movies I like, and they’re interesting, and you’ve got all your collaborators” — which is really the most important thing — “so I’m going to encourage you to do this.” I was like, “I’m thinking it would be great to send to Elisabeth.” And he was like, “Well, just do that, that’s how I get all my actors, I just text them and say, ‘Hey, I think we should make another movie together.’ You’ve earned the ability to not have it be any more complicated than that.”

I watched Swanberg’s new film, Digging for Fire, the other day and after a while I realized that it had almost the entire cast of the recent Poltergeist remake in it.

ARP: When I saw Poltergeist, I texted him the same thing afterwards.

I wondered if he went to the Poltergeist set and just asked, “Who wants to be in my new film?”

EM: Right!

ARP: But that’s interesting. It’s important to remember that, on movies like Queen of Earth, actors are doing them because they have the freedom to come and make a small little thing inbetween whatever your equivalent of [the Poltergiest remake] is.

 

Elisabeth, your character seems to work through every shade of human misery in the course of the film. Was that thrilling? Exhausting? Both?

EM: It was super fun. It was very very cool. You don’t often get to do that — I hate to say “as a female” because I don’t feel you get to do that as a male either. To me, playing happy characters is very boring. I don’t want to play the high points! It would be annoying. [Laughs] To see people succeeding all the time? Who wants that?

I know actors don’t often love watching themselves onscreen. What was it like seeing a film which has so many closeups of yourself? 

EM: I don’t like watching myself. What was interesting about this was, because I had a little bit of a producer capacity, I was able to watch this from a different place. I was able to appreciate it as a film. Which weirdly made me a lot less critical, because I could see things that made sense for the movie. So, I actually really enjoyed watching this way more than I’ve ever enjoyed watching anything else.

I’ve told Alex this in private, but I think it’s the thing I’m most proud of, as far as films go. I’m very excited and proud of this movie. So, weirdly, I didn’t have a huge problem watching it. I mean I still think I look insane [with] the faces that I make but, other than that, I’m okay.

I thought the whole cast was terrific but the actor who surprised me the most was Patrick Fugit. I don’t recall seeing him in too much since Almost Famous and, while he was perfectly fine in Gone Girl, I thought he was really impressive here.

ARP: I hadn’t seen Gone Girl whe we made this. It came out like, two weeks after we wrapped. I’d seen him in a few things, enough to know that I wanted to work with him. He’s such a nice guy, he’s hanging out on set playing guitiar. And I was like, “Let me tell you how truly despicable I think a guy like this could be.” He really listened to what I said, and he came with some ideas, and we tried them, and some of them stuck, and some of them didn’t, and the end result is this smirking, villainous guy. To me, that’s a great way to work with any actor, to let them stretch. Because, when you’re doing Fincher, you’re doing 90 takes of whatever you have to do. On this, he’s doing three and I’m like, “Just do something different each time, just surprise me, and if I see something I love I’ll get you to do it again, and if I see something I hate I’ll ask you not to do it again.”

So, to be clear, you’re saying you’re better than David Fincher.

ARP: No! I’m saying, all actors I’ve met really like doing both. Actors that don’t like doing both, I’ll never meet them, because they don’t want to come do a movie like this. 

You can see the trailer for Queen of Earth below.

 

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