Elisabeth Moss on Why Doing Back-to-Back Dark TV Shows Was ‘A Helpful Thing’

'Top of the Lake: China Girl'
Efren Landaos/Variety/REX/Shutte

When Jane Campion‘s series “Top of the Lake” debuted in 2013, it was initially presented as a one-and-done series about a detective, played by Elisabeth Moss, investigating the kidnapping of a pregnant teenager. At Thursday night’s New York premiere of the second installment of the series, “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” which was held at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, Moss told Variety that she always believed there was still some gas in the tank.

“We started talking about it near the end of the first one, almost as a joke, like, ‘What would it be?,’ because we were having so much fun, we didn’t want it to end,” Moss said. “I kept checking in with Jane. ‘How’s it going? What do you think?'”

The second series finds Moss’ character investigating the murder of a prostitute whose body, shoved into a suitcase, washes ashore on the beach, while she also grapples with being reunited with a child she put up for adoption. The premiere, which was also attended by new cast member Gwendoline Christie as well as Sundance co-founder Robert Redford, was held as part of Lincoln Center’s career retrospective of Campion’s work, which continues through Sept. 17.

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Elisabeth Moss as Detective Robin Griffin - Top Of The Lake: China Girl _ Season 2, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Sally Bongers/See-Saw Films/SundanceTV

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Moss said it was important for everyone, especially Campion and co-writer Gerard Lee, to not be perceived as though they were milking the award-winning success of the first season, “and that’s why it took so long to come together. Jane and Gerard wanted to make sure we had a story to tell. They wanted to make sure we had a reason to come back,” she said. “I thought there was more to do, but I’m not a writer. They had to figure it out.”

Moss filmed the series after “Mad Men” ended but before she began work on Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Even given today’s political climate, she insists that working back-to-back on exceedingly dark projects that explore rape culture and misogyny doesn’t wear on her.

“I find such solace in my work, it’s such an outlet for me and my feelings,” she said. “For me, it’s nothing but a joy. It’s a helpful thing to be doing. It’s never something to be weighed down by.”

Lee said that when it was announced that he and Campion were going to do another series, “one of my friends rang up; he was disgusted in me that I was trying to milk a good idea.” Lee continued, “We were scared that it was going to look like we were milking our idea, milking our souls. But the place we come from, we write about things that really worry us,” he said, adding that as co-writer, “I’m there to explore the male misogyny. Jane gets my stuff and cuts around the edges of it. If I were to write nice male characters, she would just go, ‘no.'”

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