Looking Back: ‘Mad Men’s’ Elisabeth Moss Dances Her Way into Variety

Elisabeth moss First Time in Variety
Caroline Andrieu for Variety Magazine

Elisabeth Moss has racked up five Emmy nominations playing complex, career-driven Peggy Olson on “Mad Men.” But just as Peggy has transformed over the course of seven seasons, Moss, 31, has virtually grown up onscreen, thanks to roles like President Bartlet’s daughter Zoey on “The West Wing.” She credits her first Variety mention, at age 11 — as Baby Louise in CBS’s 1993 adaptation of “Gypsy” — with setting her on her career path.

What do you remember most about your role in “Gypsy”?

I look back on that as a sign in my career that I got the part of baby Louise. I was never baby June — I was always baby Louise. You can go even to “Mad Men” — I’m not Joan. I’m Peggy. It was a very good part for me to get, and it was very right for me. I liked that I got to play the more serious role. I liked that I had the more acting role.

What was this project like?
I was a huge fan of Bette Midler’s, even at that age. I loved her and I loved her voice, so I was very scared to meet her. I remember it got tough because we had these strobe lights going, and at one point I got really tired. But, I was a kid getting to dress up in costumes and run around, and dance and sing with Bette Midler!

Were you friends with a lot of child actors back then?
I was in ballet — I wasn’t really friends with any actors. I wasn’t really in that kind of world, which I think was a good thing.

When did acting start being a career?
I always took it seriously. Being a ballet dancer, you take things really seriously at a young age. By 11 years old, you’re thinking about what company you want to get into and where you’re going to spend the rest of your life.

You’ve worked with child actors in “Mad Men” and also in last year’s Sundance miniseries “Top of the Lake.”
I do sort of feel a bit of kinship. I remember being a kid and working with older actors, and it was either intimidating or annoying. I remember wanting to be taken seriously and not talked down to. I think all kids are like that. They want to be treated like adults.

Do you still dance?
I haven’t had much free time. I carry my ballet stuff wherever I go in the hopes that I’ll go to class. In L.A., you see all these people taking these “ballet barre” classes and I say, ‘I can’t do that, I’m a real dancer.’ It never really leaves you when you’re that serious.