Elisabeth Moss Survived an Earthquake to Make Her New Show


It turns out that Elisabeth Moss is a great celebrity to weather your first Los Angeles earthquake with. I learned this back in February, as she calmly informed me that the hotel meeting room where we were speaking was shaking not because of a large truck driving past the window or a low-flying airplane, but because there was a sudden release of energy in the lithosphere, creating seismic waves.

Actually, what she said was, “Oh, this is an earthquake,” while very coolly bracing herself on the velvet couch across from me, where she was sitting alongside executive producer Denise Di Nova of their new FX series The Veil. “I’m pretty sure.”

As the ground beneath us violently trembled, the walls rattled, and the phalanx of agents and publicists screamed in terror while ducking for cover—OK, perhaps more realistically there was some light, though definitely noticeable, quivering—the Emmy winner sensed what must have the look of sheer panic in my face.

She nodded at me knowingly. “Is this really happening?” I asked. “Oh, yeah,” she said. “I thought it was a car or a garage or something. But it’s 100 percent an earthquake.” I explained that it was my first. “Congratulations!” she said, as the room still shook and catering glasses clinked unsettlingly. “You’re going to be alright. Don’t worry.” We both started giggling, and she added, “This is a real milestone for you!”

Di Nova and the publicists started pulling out their earthquake apps to figure out if it was an aftershock from somewhere else or if we were at the epicenter. “We’ve been through every kind of earthquake,” Di Nova said assuredly. “I grew up in LA, so you’re in good hands,” Moss added. “If it gets worse we might move you from under the chandelier.” I looked up to see a massive spike of crystal daggers suspended and swaying over my head. “But you’re fine for now.”

Moss and Di Nova were at the Television Critics Association winter press conference to talk with journalists about The Veil. The series, which launched this week, stars Moss as Imogen, a British MI6 operative tasked with locating and detaining “the most wanted woman in the world,” a female alleged ISIS commander named Adilah (Yumna Marwan).

It’s a spy thriller by way of Thelma & Louise, as Imogen goes rogue from the American and French intelligence agencies that are butting heads trying to wrangle her—and secure Adilah. The pair journeys through Europe, from the frigid mountaintop refugee camp on the Syria/Turkey border where Imogen and Adliah first meet, through Istanbul, Paris, and London. Along the way, they engage in a dizzying, manipulative dance between bonding and deceiving, sharing personal stories as often as they lie about who they are and what they want from each other.

That an earthquake interrupted our conversation about the globe-trotting series was quite fitting, considering the myriad challenges that shook the ambitious production. The first episode was filmed on a mountain in Turkey where no crew had tried to shoot before, and was greeted by a polar vortex and—yep—an earthquake. Final shooting days in Paris, Di Novi said, were interrupted by “smoke bombs and protests.”

“Now that it’s finished, the main thing I would say is, it was worth it,” Di Novi told me.

With a brief interlude to address unignorable seismic activity, Moss and Di Novi spoke with The Daily Beast’s Obsessed about the show’s complicated central dynamic, subverting the spy thriller genre, and how The Veil may be the one production Moss has done that measured up to the difficulty of The Handmaid’s Tale.

A preview of The Veil that was published this week called it “part espionage thriller, part Thelma & Louise.”

Di Nova: People are picking up on that!

Moss: Oh, really? That’s so funny. Very cool.

How do you feel about that description and how it fits the show?

Di Nova: What’s not to like about that? It’s one of the greatest movies ever made.

The start to this show is interesting. The audience is meeting these two mysterious women and trying to figure out who they are at the same time that the characters themselves are meeting and sussing each other out. How do you pull that off?

Moss: That was interesting for us as well in working on the show: not getting too far ahead of the audience. Staying with them. Every single episode of the show gives you more. So what happens in Episode 4, you would never guess in Episode 1 or Episode 2. Each episode totally changes the game. So it was really important to us to continue to modulate that throughout the season and have the two characters discover those things about each other in parallel with the audience.

Di Nova: In terms of Lizzie [Moss], I hope people recognize and appreciate how complicated it is to play a character where you have to sense the truth of who that character is while she’s playing someone who is playing a character. And trying to both deceive the other person she’s playing against, but also connect to them and get them to connect to her. It’s incredibly complicated, but she makes it look easy.

There are so many layers to that: being an actor playing a character who is pretending to be someone else. Can you talk more about that challenge?

Moss: It was one of the No. 1 things that attracted me to the show and why I wanted to do it. It was just this idea of, like, normally you approach a character and you’re just playing a single character. And that can be challenging enough, hopefully. But this was having to approach a character playing a character, who is then playing a character, who then changes and then goes in this different direction.

By Episode 4, 5, or 6, she might be in a completely different place that she didn’t even know she was going to be in. That was gold. I didn’t really intend on doing a TV show in my hiatus from a TV show [Handmaid’s Tale]. But when I got these scripts, I was like, this is the best material I’ve ever seen. This is the best I’m seeing right now. Like, why wouldn’t I do this role?

A photo including Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu

I wanted to ask about what it’s like to be on your break from work, then go to a location that looked very cold on screen, learn different accents, and dive into a really difficult part. How did you wrap your head around that?

Moss: It’s crazy, because Handmaid’s is so challenging for different reasons. It’s a longer run. [Executive producer] Warren Littlefield always calls it a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long journey, Handmaid’s, but it is in one location. This was a sprint. I thought [Handmaid’s] was the most challenging work that I usually do. Right?

Di Nova: It’s a sprint for her. For me, it felt like three movies.

Moss: It’s because it was in three different countries. And so many different cities within those countries. Like you said, it was going from the mountain, which was legitimately freezing—and a mountain that people don’t usually go up, and certainly not a film crew goes up—to Paris. But then three different cities all around the U.K. in a very, very short amount of time, including London. So it was jampacked and very challenging. The fighting, the stunt training, the accent work, with a couple different languages here and there peppered in? It was a lot for sure. I didn’t think we could beat Handmaid’s, and I think we may have done it.

I read that things were a little catastrophic: a polar vortex, threats in Paris were happening. In hindsight, given how important it was for you to shoot in these places, how do you feel about what you had to surmount to make that happen?

Di Nova: Now that it’s finished, the main thing I would say is, it was worth it. Because I feel this show has epic scale. And I think the world is global now—not only our business, but people really look at the world in a global way now, for so many obvious reasons. But I think it’s great that this show takes you into these places, and not in a touristic way. You see what these places are really like. You see the luxury aspect of them and then you see the underworld aspect of them. And I just think it was so worth it, because it gives it a reality and a groundedness.

I can’t imagine it any other way. Because it would have been very simple to do the show mostly on a stage with five days in Paris and five days in Istanbul. There was really a [simpler] way to do that. And I commend FX for allowing us to really do it this way. People are going to see places that have never been on television.

I think espionage and spy games are such a popular genre because sometimes, to us normal people, it can seem so romantic and almost intangible. But this show brings that back down to reality through the relationship between these two women. Did you see that relationship as a subversion of the genre?

Moss: That’s a good term, subversion. I like that. I’m gonna steal that. What [show creator Steven Knight] did that was so brilliant is take something that is so exciting to watch and so intriguing, like the spy thriller genre and the relations between international spy agencies, and then weave in this credibly human, character-driven story of these two women and their relationship. And I think it would be super fun to do a spy thriller that was just a spy thriller. I think it would be super fun to just do Thelma & Louise. But the idea of being able to do both of those together, which is much harder to do, is what brought us here and we know what brought me here.

What was it about Elisabeth Moss’ work in the past that made you think, Denise, that she was right for this…

[At this point, all hell breaks loose—as in I freak out—as an earthquake begins. Once everything is settled, Moss tells a publicist, who is now concerned about time after the delay, “We’re going to continue.”]

A still including Elisabeth Moss in the series The Veil on FX

Moss: What were you saying?

Denise was just about to say really nice things about you.

Moss: Well, please, continue! [Laughs]

Di Nova: I think sometimes there are roles where the credibility, the believability of an actor in that role is crucial. Sometimes you want an actor that’s surprising in a role, that’s against type, or that’s not believable as that type of person and you discover it. This is the kind of role where you had to buy in that the actor could be an international spy, and do all the action, and be brilliant. It had to be somewhat inherent in the actor. Lizzie had all those qualities.

I was very excited to see her do something like this. I knew she could do it. But I thought it’d be fun for the audience, and it was fun for me to see her do this kind of character, beat up guys, do action stuff and, and play three different people. It’s like watching a great violinist play pieces that they hadn’t played yet, but you knew they could. You know what I mean? It’s a virtuoso kind of performance. Yeah.

Moss: Wow. Thank you. [Looks at me] Congratulations on your first earthquake. You’re a survivor!



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