Elisabeth Moss: "Mad Men's" Square Peggy

Elisabeth Moss: "Mad Men's" Square Peggy

There's a scene in Mad Men's season finale in which Peggy Olson, the secretary with the unflattering bangs, gets her big break as a copywriter. She's allowed to cast her own radio ad, but she picks the wrong girl: the younger one, with the weaker voice. As each take descends in quality, Peggy gives the actress increasingly withering notes, then simply fires her--at which point her victim runs from the studio in tears. Peggy coolly instructs her male colleague to repair the damage: "I want you to go after her and console her. And after you make plans, or whatever you need to do, call Rita, the older lady you liked."

That's our Peggy Olson! In any other narrative, she'd be merely an aspirational chick-lit heroine--the underdog who will whip off her glasses someday and win the man and the account. But in Matthew Weiner's sixties melodrama about Madison Avenue's advertising heyday, Peggy's something more perverse and far more interesting. She's an eaglet disguised as a wren, capable of keeping secrets when she needs to, even from herself.

Or at least this is what I tell Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy as a unique mix of canniness and naïveté. The 26-year-old actress has just finished up a whirlwind trip to New York, where she still keeps an apartment in the East Village--one far smaller than Peggy's. ("Peggy's apartment is massive," she marvels. "It's two times the size of mine! When I walked onto the set, my first thought was, Damn, times change.") She's also just finished a whirlwind set of PR events: Her Emmy-nominated series, which begins its second season on AMC on July 27, is so hyped at this point I'm almost afraid to admit I like it, for fear of tipping it into backlash.

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