A voice for women

Emmy Awardwinning Elisabeth Moss’ (above) new drama is Top Of The Lake: China Girl, where she reprises her role as Sydney detective Robin Griffin.
Emmy Awardwinning Elisabeth Moss’ (above) new drama is Top Of The Lake: China Girl, where she reprises her role as Sydney detective Robin Griffin. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Feminist themes pop up regularly in the work of actress Elisabeth Moss

Elisabeth Moss is the poster child for prestige television, after star turns in one critically acclaimed drama after another: Mad Men (2007 to 2015), Top Of The Lake (2013) and The Handmaid's Tale (2017).

Her unerring taste in projects has even made her a viral star.

When The Handmaid's Tale launched to widespread acclaim in the United States recently - bagging 13 Emmy nominations, including Best Dramatic Actress for her - fans created memes comparing her enslaved Handmaid character Offred with her secretary-turned-copywriter Mad Men character, who also faced rampant sexism.

She says it is no accident that these feminist themes repeatedly pop up in her work.

"I'm a 35-year-old American woman, these are the throughlines of my life. This is what I deal with and I deal with a tiny, tiny bit of it as a white woman in America. I get the good end of the stick. It's what I'm interested in as a person and that's also kind of what you're then interested in as an artist."

The actress looks set to score another critical hit with Top Of The Lake: China Girl, which debuted recently on BBC First (StarHub TV Channel 522) and BBC Player.

It is directed by Oscar-winner Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993) as a follow-up to the highly praised Top Of The Lake, which earned Moss a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Miniseries.

Moss reprises her role as Sydney detective Robin Griffin, who once again confronts rampant sexism and violence against women in her personal and professional lives.

Again, there is a thematic overlap with her work elsewhere. "For me, this is so much about womanhood and motherhood and the different choices you make as a woman - whether to be a mother or not."

This season - all six episodes of which are available on the BBC streaming platforms - Robin investigates the death of a Thai sex worker whose body washes up on a Sydney beach. At the same time, she is trying to build a relationship with Mary (Alice Englert), the teenage daughter she conceived after she was raped and who lives with adoptive parents Julia (Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman) and Pyke (Ewen Leslie).

Moss says: "There are women who put their bodies and families through so much because they want to be a mother and they should have that opportunity. And there are women who don't want to and are forced into motherhood and I'm not even talking about this country, but many other countries.

"So these are important things to look at and this is the focus of this season. I think that could not be more relevant - ownership of your body and what you want to do with it."

The new series also questions the stereotypes surrounding motherhood and what society dictates it should be, in the process raising the still-taboo possibility that women who give birth do not necessarily feel maternal immediately or experience such feelings in the same manner.

"There's this idea that you're supposed to have a child, meet your baby and you start feeling like the Queen Mother all of a sudden and lactate. But with the women I've spoken to, that's not necessarily true all the time," says Moss, who is divorced from comedian Fred Armisen, 50.

Her character in China Girl also discusses what it is like, as a woman, to be labelled as "too much".

Moss says she understands this, but has not experienced it herself because "I never pay very much attention to whether or not anyone thinks I'm 'too much'.

"But I think it's a valid common thing. As women, we're supposed to be quiet, stay in line and not be too vocal. And it's the old thing of, like, if you're outspoken or harsh and aggressive about something, you're called a b***h, whereas a man is called powerful and in control and these other much nicer words.

"But I try to tell my female friends and younger women, who are in their late teens and early 20s and trying to find themselves, that in my experience, every time I've spoken up in a way that was maybe going to pi** somebody off, I have received nothing but respect and kindness .

"I think if you're kind about something, professional and willing to have a conversation, people I have found are mostly very respectful and it's always worked out okay. I think we're just afraid of it."

•The entire season of Top Of The Lake: China Girl is available on BBC First (StarHub TV Channel 522).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2017, with the headline 'A voice for women'. Print Edition | Subscribe