With Mad Men’s end approaching, Elisabeth Moss is leaving Peggy Olson behind her. But she’s currently preparing to play a woman who is something of a spiritual sister to the ambitious Sterling Cooper & Partners copy chief: the titular character in a revival of the late Wendy Wasserstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Heidi Chronicles.
“It’s kind of cool to pick up where Peggy leaves off,” Moss told EW. “Heidi is obviously younger than Peggy. She’s another, younger generation, so she’ll be exploring what it is to be a woman in the decades after we leave Peggy. I never intended to play Peggy as someone in the ’60s. I always wanted her to be really identifiable and really modern and I feel the same way about Heidi. Even though it is set in periods, I feel like she’s such a modern woman and she’s so identifiable.”
The Heidi Chronicles follows its protagonist Heidi Holland from 1965 to 1989. Heidi, an art historian, grapples with society’s and her own expectations of how women are supposed to lead their lives and achieve happiness. “That concept of ‘having it all’ is so timeless and it’s something that of course women deal with today everyday, and it’s relevant to women of any age,” Moss said.
The revival, which starts previews in February, features Orange Is the New Black’s Jason Biggs as Scoop Rosenbaum, Heidi’s boisterous and successful sort of love interest, and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’s Bryce Pinkham as Peter Patrone, Heidi’s close friend, a gay pediatrician.
Biggs was aware of The Heidi Chronicles when it premiered because the play’s initial run dovetailed with his own Broadway debut in Herb Gardner’s Conversations with My Father. “Tony Shalhoub, who was in The Heidi Chronicles, left The Heidi Chronicles and came over and did our play,” Biggs said. “I remember being aware of The Heidi Chronicles; I can even picture the marquee.” Joan Allen originated the role of Heidi, but a slew of notable actors appeared in the play during its initial Broadway run.
“I will say that the actors who have played this part before me are acting heroes of mine,” said Pinkham, who has previously only appeared in musicals on Broadway. “David Hyde Pierce played it and Boyd Gaines originate it. So right there those are two actors who are revered in my mind. The fact that they’ve played the part feels like I’m stepping into some good juju, and also initially made me realize, wow, there’s been a high bar set here. It’s terrifying, intimidating, and comforting to know the material supports that.”
According to Biggs, Moss is a natural for the part. ”This is like a role she was born to do,” Biggs said of Moss. “If she was around in ‘89-‘90, she would have been cast in it. Without a doubt.” Moss, for her part, is preparing by reading every work by Wasserstein, who died of cancer at the age of 55. ”It’s a very autobiographical play in a way for her,” Moss said, after describing the stack of Wasserstein on her nightstand. “So I really kind of want to understand her voice as much as possible.” Moss said she considers it her “biggest regret” that she will never be able to meet the playwright.
Though Moss has been on Broadway before, making her debut back in the 2008 production of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, another star of an AMC drama got her thinking about her return to the stage. “I remember I went and saw Bryan Cranston do All the Way last year, and I went backstage and talked to him,” she recalled. “He was talking about how great it was to go and do a play after finishing Breaking Bad. He said it was such a great move he felt personally to go and just really immerse himself in something completely different in a completely different medium. That sort of planted the idea in my head. I was like, that would be good, wouldn’t it? That sounds like a great idea.”
And though a start date hasn’t been set for Mad Men, it will likely air its final episodes while Moss is onstage as Heidi. “It’s kind of amazing we are going to tell the end of Peggy’s story at the same time as I’m telling the story of this other wonderful feminist,” Moss said.