Her Smell: Ranking Elisabeth Moss’s most phenomenal performances
For lovers of period films and whimsical narratives, there’s a doozy you need to check out out: director Michael Mayer’s big-screen adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull dropped in theaters in May 2018. Starring Annette Bening (American Beauty), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Elisabeth Moss, and Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris), the film focuses on eight people all stuck in a lovesick frenzy over the course of a summer weekend in the country.
Set in 17th-century Russia, The Seagull is a heartbreaking and amusing story of what happens when falling in love with the wrong person, containing heavy doses of lust, infatuation, and upper-class narcissism.
The cast is packed full of powerful actors, including Elisabeth Moss, whose mere presence is described as “a guarantee of quality” by The Guardian. While she’s received plaudits for her previous performances, we’re excited to see her acting chops stretched within a role that tackles love and heartbreak within a period setting.
Speaking of Elisabeth Moss: to celebrate her coterie of epic performances, here’s everything she’s ruled in that you need to watch asap.
Her Smell (2019)
Elisabeth Moss is the riot-grrrl rock diva of our dreams. When we first meet her in this ambitious movie, she seems to be hell-bent on drinking and overreacting herself to death. Moss is the standout performer in this less-than- perfect movie, but it’s worth the price of admission alone.
Elisabeth Moss delivers a totally intoxicating performance, showing us the sordid workings of the mind of an artist clawing for redemption. “Enough of this jibber-jabber. Let’s rock.”
The Free World (2016)
After being released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Mohamed Lundy (Boyd Holbrook) goes on the run with a woman (Moss) who’s suspected of killing her abusive husband. Definitely not one of the finer moments in Moss’s career, The Free World was described as a “mess of a movie” that builds up to a “tone-deaf climax”. Nevertheless, Moss did what she could with the poorly written role.
The West Wing (1999 – 2006)
Moss starred in the White House drama The West Wing as Zoey Bartlet – the daughter of the president. While this was early on in her acting career, Moss was already showing serious potential.
Ben Wheatley’s social-surrealist mind-bender – an adaptation of J.G. Ballard‘s dystopian cult novel – looks at life for the residents of a tower block as it begins to run out of control. Moss plays the estranged, heavily pregnant wife of Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), performing masterfully in a relatively underused role.
The One I Love (2014)
A romcom with a deliciously dark twist, The One I Love centers on a troubled couple (one half played by Mark Duplass) as they vacate to a beautiful getaway, only for the bizarre circumstances to further complicate their relationship. Moss as the other half of the couple is a complex and unusual role, but one that the actor passes with conviction.
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Squeezed into a bursting cast of big names, Moss looks barely recognisable as the burn victim Polly “Torch” Clark in James Mangold’s Oscar-winning drama based on Susanna Kaysen’s 1993 memoir of the same name. Playing a childlike character, she represents a commentary on the idea that while many of these women might escape the institution, some may never be able to fully heal from their pasts.
Listen Up Philip (2014)
In this bleak comedy by Alex Ross Perry, a struggling and obnoxious writer leaves his Brooklyn home to reside in the country home of his idol Ike Zimmerman so he can finally get peace and concentrate on his favorite subject – himself. Starring alongside the ever-wonderful Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited), Moss carries her character as the deflated girlfriend of the self-centered writer with an utterly believable delivery.
Top of the Lake (2013 – )
Obsessed with the disappearance of a 12-year-old pregnant girl near a lake in New Zealand, Moss plays a brave detective who finds herself up against small-town secrets and a side of herself that was previously hidden. Moss gives a compelling performance, proving her dexterity with dialects with a decent Kiwi accent.
Queen of Earth (2015)
Moss stars alongside Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice) in Alex Ross Perry’s thriller about two childhood friends who discover they have drifted apart when they retreat to a lake house together. Filled with paranoia and unsettling misery, Moss gives a stunning performance as a woman who descends into a psychological breakdown, one which led critic Brian Tallerico to proclaim, “this is the best work of her career.”
Mad Men (2007 – 2015)
Spanning seven series, Matthew Weiner’s satirical drama set in the cutthroat world of an early 60s ad agency, assistant-turned-writer Peggy Olson proves to be the true hero of this malecentric environment. He mannerisms and delivery are second to none, never once letting her quality slip throughout the entire eight years of air time. As BFI put it, “If the job of an actor is to elicit the most emotional and empathetic response from viewers, Moss triumphs with Peggy.”
The Handmaid’s Tale (2017 – )
In this award-winning adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, Moss plays a handmaid named June (or Offred as she’s know in the totalitarian new world of Gilead). Forced to live as a concubine for an oppressive Commander and his wife, Moss’s character secretly seeks to reclaim her independence and break out of the violently managed State.
Moss’s standout performance holds the entire show up; her brilliantly quiet presence says it all in a world where handmaids are not to speak unless spoken to, using subtle facial movements to display her inner voice and the torment she’s suffering within.