‘No one wants to watch me having brunch on a sunny day in a movie,’ says Elisabeth Moss in a suitably shadowy corner of a Hollywood soundstage. Sure enough, she has become a go-to pick for movies and TV shows with a darker edge – including the new horror adaptation of HG Wells’s ‘The Invisible Man’. Set in San Francisco, it reimagines the villain from Universal Pictures’ old monster movie as a modern-day stalker who torments his ex (Moss) – even after his apparent suicide. Invisible antagonists are a theme of our chat, right down the terrifying spider in her on-set trailer.
On set, is the movie’s unseen monster a tennis ball on a stick? Someone in a green suit?
‘Sometimes it would be [the stunt double] in green suits, sometimes it would be nothing. A lot was just me and my imagination.’
The original ‘Invisible Man’ was bent on chaos, whereas this movie seems to be more about control. That feels very contemporary.
‘Extremely. The balance in this movie is between straight-up entertainment and this extremely complicated emotional character arc. I watched it by myself and I jumped, like, nine times. It’s legitimately gonna fuck people up.’
‘It’s really incredible to be a part of anything where the costume you wear is instantly recognizable’
If you remove this homicidal invisible guy, it’s a movie about abusive relationships, right?
‘Exactly that. When I first read the script, I was so impressed with what Leigh [Whannell, the writer-director] had done. You don’t think: Let’s do “The Invisible Man” and Let’s make it a feminist retelling of the story that’s about gaslighting and abuse but that’s what he did. Everyone has had some sort of experience with this – whether it’s politically or it’s when you’re thinking: This is wrong and everyone is like, “No, it’s fine.”’
Does that familiarity help you with a role?
‘I’m cool either way. Like for [indie drama] “Her Smell” I have zero relation to grunge music and zero relation to being a rock star and I don’t do drugs. So, I’m comfortable going from scratch.’
What movies scare you the most?
‘Jordan [Peele’s] films like “Get Out” and “Us”. He’s really redefining a genre [by making] thoughtful popcorn movies. They’re movies that you’re gonna see in the theatre and get the shit scared out of you, but but at the same time you might talk about them or think about them after you leave. The characters are always interesting in them.’
The red dress in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ has become this powerful protest symbol. How do you feel about that?
‘It’s really incredible, honestly, to be part of anything where the costume that you wear – the uniform that you actually wear at work – becomes an instantly recognisable [symbol] of what you stand for and what side you’re on.’
Does it put more pressure on you?
‘Oh, in the best way. That’s exactly what we want – that is what we’re standing for. It’s not pressure; it’s completely welcome.’
Elisabeth Moss in ‘The Invisible Man’. Photograph: Mark Rogers/Universal Pictures
I’ve read that every actor got to keep something from the ‘Mad Men’ set.
‘We looted the place. It was fucking pillaged. I have my typewriter and my red thermos, which I carried everywhere. [But] the most important thing I have is this cheap ring that I wore in every single episode.’
You’re in the new Wes Anderson movie, ‘The French Dispatch’. How did you get involved with that?
‘Wes actually emailed me and asked me to do it. I was like: “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” Luckily, I had a couple days off [from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’] and was able to go to France. It’s a very small part, but it was really cool. I got to talk baseball with Bill Murray. I immediately texted my mom and was like: “Oh my God, I talked to Bill Murray about the [Chicago] Cubs.”’
You shot ‘The Invisible Man’ in Australia. Any terrifying spider encounters?
‘I stepped on one. It’s called a wolf spider – luckily it was a baby. I was walking back from the bathroom and it was dark, and I was just in my bare feet. I had a picture of the dead spider and I showed it to everybody on set. The job for the day was figuring out what kind of fucking spider it was.’
‘The Invisible Man’ opens Feb 26.