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In the hit series, "Mad Men", Peggy, the secretary turned ad executive played by Elisabeth Moss, is a character from the 1960s who somehow still speaks to our own time.
I always try to be honest.
She's hugely flawed, very insecure, also very smart. Develops a great sense of humor. Really good at her job. Horrible at her personal life.
What do you want me to say?
That you give a damn.
She's, there's a lot of us in her, you know? And I think that people identify with that."
People seem to be identifying a lot with Elisabeth Moss these days: the 32-year-old actress is on a major career roll…
And now she's on Broadway, playing another smart and strong, flawed and insecure woman: Heidi Holland… in the first Broadway revival of Wendy Wasserstein's 1989 Pulitzer Prize winning play, "The Heidi Chronicles".
The play takes us through various episodes in the life of one woman, from the 1960s through the '80s…as she makes her way through the political and social upheavals of the times — sexual liberation and the rise of feminism, the devastation of aids, and more.
I mean, I practically said yes before I even read the play, which I hadn't read.
Well, I was wondering, did you know it before?
No, I knew of it, but I hadn't read it because I didn't go to drama school or anything. I didn't go to college, which is where you tend to read that kind of thing.
You didn't go to drama school. You didn't go to college.
What were you doing?
"The West Wing" (laughter) No joke.
Playing the president's daughter on "The West Wing" wasn't the first TV gig for the then-17-year-old actress, who was born in Los Angeles.
I don't mind being woken up.
Moss has been growing up on screen, appearing in film and television since the age of eight — early roles included 'Baby Louise' in a 1993 television version of the musical "Gypsy."
Sing out Louise!
As well as 'Polly', the burn victim in the 1999 film, "Girl, Interrupted."
I feel very musical today.
Peter, you need a girlfriend.
In 'Heidi', Moss says, she's latched onto another 'everywoman'.
I think there's a lot of me in her. I think a lot of women can see themselves in her. She's not perfect. She's complicated. Very self-aware, very self-deprecating. And sad a lot of the time.
'The Heidi Chronicles' originally opened off-Broadway in 1988 with actress Joan Allen in the title role. It quickly moved to Broadway where it went on to win the Tony Award for 'Best Play.'
It's continued to be a popular production on regional and college stages for its honest discussion about whether women can 'have it all' as they struggle to navigate personal relationships, professional aspirations, and motherhood.
Julie Salamon is author of "Wendy and the Lost Boys", a biography of playwright Wendy Wasserstein, who died in 2006.
Everything that happens in that play was so close to what was going on in Wendy Wasserstein's life, which happened to reflect what was going on with a whole generation of women.
Susie, do you ever feel that what makes you a person is also what keeps you from being a person?
Can a woman have it all, career, family, children, marriage, etc.?
Right. Well, somebody once said to me, "You may be able to have it all, but not all at the same time." And I think at the time Wendy was writing this, you know, the women's movement had gone from, say in the '70s, where women were supposed to be very focused on their careers and jobs and equality, and then all of a sudden it flipped in the mid-80s. It's like, 'Yes, you're supposed to do all that and raise perfect children who go to the best schools and are fantastic." And I think those were the things that Wendy Wasserstein was grappling with.
I don't blame any of us. We're all concerned, intelligent, good women.
Elisabeth Moss says it was a big speech in the second act — when Heidi Holland has been asked to speak at her high school alma mater that helped her find her way into the character…it's a speech questioning whether or not she made the right decisions in her personal and professional life.
I thought the point was, we were all in this together.
It's a beautiful speech. I think that this feeling of — and especially of this generation of that 'I thought we were having this thing together. I thought we were not making choices together. And so I did that. And now, I'm alone." And she feels, as she says, she feels stranded.
Moss, from a later generation, says the 'have it all' issue still resonates for her.
I mean, the thing that I find most interesting about that phrase is that men are never asked it. And because men are never questioned whether they can have it all, they just can.
And yet you don't, do you think things have changed that much, or not so much?
I don't think it's that black and white. I think it's very gray, as all things are. There's just so many more ways that you can go or not go, which is how I think we've definitely improved. But obviously there are still things that resonate. There is still a clock that starts ticking as a woman, when you get to a certain age. There nothing anyone can do about that. There is still tremendous problems with equal pay for women.
Those same issues, of course, have played out in Moss' character, Peggy Olson, in "Mad Men."
What the hell do I know about being a mom? I just turned 30, Don.
Do you see a connection between Peggy and– and Heidi?
Absolutely. Absolutely. But I see a connection between both of them, and– and all women, and myself, you know? I always thought Peggy was the everywoman.
I always thought that she was the one who is– you could identify with, you know, as a woman of any age. And I think that Heidi is the same way in that sense. They're very different people though.
Have you ever thought about what would have happened to her through time?
It would be difficult to say without — saying things that I can't say about the last season. Speculating about what happened to her is like– well, we know what happened to those women, you know? They continued to work. And sometimes they got married. And sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they had kids. Sometimes they didn't.
And– they became the women who were our bosses. They became the women who forged the path for all the other ladies in advertising now.
See, this is why I don't like working with women — you have no sense of humor.
And where does Elisabeth Moss hope to see herself, post-Peggy Olson?
OK. I'll go apologize.
No. Get your things.
I would like to just be able to keep working and keep working with people that I admire. I love film, television and theater. So I would love to do all three. If I could just keep doing that, that would be a pretty good life.
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