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Elisabeth Moss on ‘Her Smell’ and Why She Won’t Do a ‘Mad Men’ Reboot

Elisabeth Moss puts it all out there as the strung-out rock star at the center of “Her Smell.”

The Alex Ross Perry drama earned raves for the Emmy winner when it screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, with many critics noting that the drug-addled, hard-partying singer is a change of pace role for Moss who tends to portray more outwardly composed characters in shows such as “Mad Men.” Moss learned to play the guitar and does her own singing in the film, a stretch that she found alternately terrifying and exhilarating.

Her Smell” is Moss’s third collaboration with Perry — the two previously worked together on “Listen Up Philip” and “Queen of Earth.” On the eve of the film’s Toronto debut, Moss spoke with Variety about drawing on Axl Rose for inspiration, the feminist side of punk rock, and why she thinks her Hulu hit “The Handmaid’s Tale” has resonated with audiences.

What’s behind your frequent collaborations with Alex?

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It’s simple. He writes really good scripts, and ‘Her Smell’ had an incredible female lead that most people wouldn’t have thought of me for. We also have a good yin and yang. He’s good at things I’m not good at and vice versa. I’d make six more movies with him if I could.

Why did you want to play Becky Something in ‘Her Smell’?

She’s larger than life. She’s volatile, emotional, sensitive, and she has this terrible toxic combination of extreme confidence and very high self-esteem. When she’s at her best, she’s so fun and you want to be around her, and when she’s bad, she’s the worst demon to deal with.

What kind of research did you do to play the role?

I read a lot about that era of punk music. In the ’80s and ’90s, there were actually a bunch of incredible female punk artists and bands as part of this riot girl movement. I didn’t try to emulate any one person, but Alex says there’s a lot of Axl Rose in her and that he’s an inspiration.

She’s an addict, so I spoke to a few people who will remain anonymous about what it’s like to be addicted to drugs. You can look on YouTube to see how you behave if you take a particular drug, but the most interesting thing that someone told me was this idea that the drugs stop working at some point. You’re always chasing a high, and you can’t take enough to get to the same place, so you just take more and more.

Did you sing and play the guitar for the film or did you lip synch and play along to pre-recorded tracks?

It’s me. I started learning the guitar in the middle of Season 2 [of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’]. I remember telling my instructor, I’m not here to have a career change. I just need to learn these songs. Alex told me that I didn’t have to learn to play, I could fake it. But in order to fake playing the guitar believably, you have to learn to play it. There’s no in-between.

Will you keep performing music?

It was just for the role, but it was such a rush to pretend to be a rock star. It’s one of those crazy, cool things you get to do when you’re an actor. It’s so validating to get up in front of all these people and sing and play. They’re are all these extras that are hired to cheer and scream and make you feel like you’re amazing.

Why do you think fans have embraced ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’?

The material is incredibly relevant. It’s tapping into a feeling of anxiety and frustration that’s really out there right now in this political moment.

Would you do another season of ‘Top of the Lake’?

In a heartbeat. [Creator] Jane Campion could make me fly to New Zealand and read the telephone book. It’s not up to me, but I love that character. She’s so challenging and exciting to play, but we have to have the right idea. The last season wrapped things up well, so we have to have a good reason to come back.

From “Murphy Brown” to “Will & Grace,” there are lots of television revivals right now. Would you want to revive “Mad Men”?

I’d love to do anything that [creator] Matt Weiner writes, but it would be a different show. That series was about this group of people living in a very specific era. I guess never say never, but I think the show ended pretty well. Sometimes it’s best to leave the party before everybody wants to kick you out.

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