Emmys 2013

Emmys 2013: Elisabeth Moss on Peggy’s Best ‘Mad Men’ Moments

Emmy nominated Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss curates her favorite scenes from the hit AMC show.

Jaimie Trueblood/AMC

Peggy Olson has enjoyed a wondrous, emotional ride on AMC’s acclaimed Mad Men. Starting out as Don Draper's secretary and then his protégée, she watches her career blossom until she has become his potential replacement. Over the course of the show, no one changes more than Peggy. Elisabeth Moss, who received a Best Actress Emmy nomination for her performance, her fifth consecutive nomination for the role, discusses her favorite Peggy moments from the past six seasons.

Peggy Discovers Her True Calling During the Belle Jolie Lipstick Panel

Season 1, Episode 6: ‘Babylon’

I love the scene where she comes up with the Belle Jolie lipstick line. She’s doing that lipstick panel and she’s just one of the girls, one of the secretaries. And we go into slow-mo and there’s that amazing, raking shot across the women and they’re all trying lipstick on, and you see Peggy turn and look at the other ladies. Then there’s that great slo-mo shot of a girl throwing the tissue with the lipstick blotting into the trash can, and that’s how she gets the idea. For me, that was the beginning of her having higher aspirations than being a secretary. I think that Peggy’s career is based on the fact that she has good ideas. And it’s her first good one: it’s very simple and it’s a great piece of copy. Thanks to Freddy Rumsen, someone notices and that’s it. It’s a cool scene, and it’s the beginning of her career.

Peggy Tells Pete She Secretly Had His Baby

Season 2, Episode 13: ‘Meditations in an Emergency’

It’s when I tell Vinny—Vincent Kartheiser— I don’t love him anymore and that I’ve moved on, and that I had a baby and gave it away. That was such a fun scene to film. It almost felt like a play, because it was a long scene, we both just sat on the couch, neither of us really moved and we did maybe three shots. It’s very simple, and we didn’t get a lot of notes for direction (Matt [Weiner] was directing). It was a beautifully written scene with a beautiful speech about what it’s like when you love somebody and then you just move on and you don’t feel it anymore. Also, just the way that she said, “I had your baby, and I gave it away.” How else was she going to say it? It’s great. And Vinny’s so brilliant and so magical to work with. I really love working with him. That was my favorite scene for a long time.

Peggy and Don Finally Talk About the Baby She Gave Up

Season 4, Episode 7: ‘The Suitcase’

It’s hard to pick a scene from that episode because they were all really special to me. But I love the scene in the bar, when they finally talk about what happened with the baby and him visiting her in the hospital. They kind of talk around it, but they talk about it more than they ever have. He says, “Do you ever think about it?” and she says, “Playgrounds.” I just love that line, and it was such a simple way of summing up exactly where she is on having a child and giving it away. It’s also the kind of moment you can only get after four seasons, which is something I love about doing a TV series. That scene means nothing without four seasons of buildup. It’s a great payoff for the characters and the audience.

Peggy and Joan Bond After Don Announces His Engagement to Megan

Season 4, Episode 13: ‘Tomorrowland’

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There’s a lot of scenes I love between Christina and me, Joan and Peggy. It’s tough to pick one because they’re all great and they’re rare. But the one that really stands out for me was after Megan and Don get engaged, and she goes into Joan’s office and slams the door and lights a cigarette, and they have this real girl moment where they talk about how fucked up this is. She says, “I landed a big campaign and it’s still not as important as someone getting married.” And Peggy’s last line is “That’s bullshit!” I just loved that. It was a real coworker/colleague moment between two women at that time commenting upon the fact that this is kind of fucked-up. The two of them have such a long arc, and she’s constantly being schooled by Joan, and rightly so, because Joan is always right! But it was a moment of equality, and they became on equal footing in that scene.

Roger Asks Peggy to Write a Campaign for Him on the Sly

Season 5, Episode 4: ‘Mystery Date’

This is a little different. I love the scene with [John] Slattery when he comes in, and I’ve got my feet on the desk, and we have this His Girl Friday banter that’s very funny and quick. It was the first time that Peggy was really funny, and not because she was doing something stupid. She meant to be funny! She asks him for all his money, and he can’t believe that she’s asking for that, and she says, “Do you want me to take your watch?” It’s so sassy and I love working with Slattery, I think he’s so brilliant. I actually was trying to be Roger Sterling in that scene, and do that kind of comedy that he can pull off. It’s very different, not a dramatic scene, but I loved it.

Peggy Tells Don She Is Leaving Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce

Season 5, Episode 11: ‘The Other Woman’

That for me was a perfectly written moment. It was exactly how it would happen. She’s not going in there crying, she’s not leaving in an angry way, it’s not a fight. He has mentored her and made her into this person who is strong enough to walk in and say, “I’m going to see what else is out there, and thank you so much for everything that you’ve given me.” There also were a lot of parallels in the scene for me, because obviously Jon Hamm has been a mentor, not only professionally but personally he’s been a very good friend. So for me to be able to have that moment and say some of those things to him, it was all a little bit close to home! And also leaving SCDP and not being entirely sure in what capacity I was going to be coming back. I knew I was coming back to Mad Men, but I wasn’t sure in what form or capacity, so it was all very emotional. But I love how eloquently and succinctly she says, “Thank you and I’m moving on.”

Peggy Finds Herself Stuck Between Don and Ted

Season 6, Episode 9: ‘The Better Half’

Abe breaks up with her, and she goes to Ted and thinks she’s going to find some comfort there and he shuts her down. Then she’s literally, physically stuck between Don and Ted’s offices. That was just an amazing way of visually telling the story in a way that no words could. It really summed up her arc for the season, and how she had gotten herself into a possibly even worse situation than she was in before, at the hands of these three different men. I love doing silent-film moments, where you can say a lot with the blocking and the angle and the shot. And it was also a chance for me to look really fucked-up, and not have my hair and makeup perfect and look disheveled, which is always fun for an actor, and rare for Peggy.

Ted Tells Peggy He Is Staying With His Wife

Season 6, Episode 13: ‘In Care Of’

I love when she says to Ted, “Well, aren’t you lucky to have decisions!” When I read that line I got chills, because that to me sums up her entire arc for the show. And for her to finally be able to vocalize it in this very simple way, it sums up exactly what women like her were going through at that time: “Well, how wonderful for you to be able to decide which way this is going to go! I actually don’t get that choice and you have no idea what that’s like.” That, for me, was a great summary of six seasons of her battle, and finally being able to say it.

As told to Jason Lynch. On Wednesday, Moss will discuss her other Emmy-nominated performance this year, in the Sundance miniseries Top of the Lake.