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From Working Actors to Fast Friends: How Nicole Kidman and Elisabeth Moss Bonded on 'Top Of The Lake'
July 31, 2017  | By Alex Strachan

BEVERLY HILLS, CA -- Judging from early reviews in the UK, Top of the Lake: China Girl, New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion’s follow-up to her eerie, heartbreaking Top of the Lake, wrings an almost cinematic beauty out of Sydney, Australia’s seedy cityscape. 

Elisabeth Moss (below) reprises her role of hard-luck, small-town police detective Robin Griffin, now investigating a big-city case involving prostitution and sex trafficking, and once again she’s confronted by misogyny

The Guardian’s San Wollaston judged Moss’ performance in Top of the Lake: China Girl to be  “mesmerizing,” and noted that the 35-year-old Los Angeles native who turned heads as driven, ambitious, would-be ad writer Peggy Olson in Mad Men is now overlapping herself as the lead in “the two most absorbing dramas currently on television.”

Moss’s performance as Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale has earned her nominations for both an Emmy Award and a Television Critics Association Award — an award, for individual achievement in drama, that will be announced Saturday at the semi-annual meeting of the critics’ association in Beverly Hills, Calif.

When Moss appeared this weekend alongside fellow Top of the Lake actors Nicole Kidman (top), Gwendoline Christie, and Alice Englert, Campion’s real-life daughter who plays Moss’ 17-year-old daughter in China Girl, it was perhaps inevitable that the spotlight would fall on the 35-year-old ingenue and 50-year-old doyenne.

If anyone were looking for the proverbial handing off of the torch from Kidman to Moss, however, they would have been disappointed. Instead, the actors proved once again that acting is a profession, as practiced by professionals. Every so often, while Moss was talking, Kidman would allow herself a knowing smile and occasional maternal glance in Moss’ direction. 

Only Kidman will know if she sees a younger side of herself in Moss, but it’s not hard to imagine the Academy Award winner for 2002’s The Hours seeing at least a glimmer of herself in the 2010 Screen Actors Guild Award winner for Mad Men.

The truth is that the material in China Girl is grim:  Kidman herself plays Englert’s (both left) adoptive mother, who’s now estranged from the teenager she raised from a baby. The teenager has reached out to her birth mother for advice and life lessons, but the gulf between them is vast.

Actors either respect each other and get along when performing grim material, or else the experience becomes a living hell. For everyone.

“I’m always looking to play characters,” Kidman explained. “I consider myself a character actor. So when a director gives me a chance to really find, physically and emotionally, a character, I’m just thrilled. I’ve known Jane since I was 14, and I’ve known Alice since she was born. So I have incredible trust in her.

“When we started this, we already knew this was sort of the place we were going. I really wanted to be in the series. I wanted to work with these incredible women. I wanted to be a part of an ensemble and contribute. I always feel fortunate when directors see me in a different light and give me the opportunity to explore different characters and beings.”

Motherhood is the running theme throughout China Girl, The Guardian’s Wollaston reports — “motherhood that has hitherto been denied but that can maybe now be caught up on; motherhood that will never be, the madness and pain of missing out; non-biological motherhood, surrogate motherhood.”

Kidman’s character, Wollaston writes, is “academic, fiercely clever, infuriating, especially to her (adopted) daughter; any kind of mother-daughter relationship, it seems, is not an easy one.” As for Kidman herself, The Guardian judged her performance as “fabulous, and very real.”

Moss needed to feel both safe and respected to go the places she felt she needed to go to reprise her role as Robin Griffin. Kidman and Campion both gave her that respect, and breathing room.

“I feel one of the wonderful, unique qualities Jane (Campion) has as a filmmaker is she doesn’t judge any of her characters. It’s true of her in life, too. She’s very generous in spirit.  She portrays these different situations, these different walks of life, the different choices that people have made and choices that they haven't made, in a way that is very non-judgmental. She sheds light on aspects of life that are ugly and horrific at times, but in a way that is never judgmental. It's just honest.

“It was one of the things I was most attracted to about these scripts. These are things we don’t discuss as often as we should. And they are very, very present in our world. They are very important to pay attention to.  We tend to brush them under the rug sometimes.  I felt it was very important to shed some light on some of these subjects.”

Three episodes have aired on BBC2 in the UK; China Lake will make its US debut Sept. 10 as a three-night event on Sundance TV.

“I need comfort as an actor,” Kidman confessed. “There are times when I go, ‘No, I actually need some stability and some comfort because I feel out of control and I’m not quite sure who I am or what I am right now.’ I struggle with that. That’s not always easy for me, and I just sort of hold on. I hold on tight to certain people in my life. I’ve built up a pretty good group of people for protection as well, because it is dangerous territory sometimes psychologically that you move into, and you go, ‘Oh, I'm not quite sure where I am or who I am or how to control myself in this.’ And it does penetrate.  It penetrates the dreamscape and certainly penetrates my body in ways that I don’t necessarily want. Artistically, though, that’s what we’re committed to. That’s the drive. That’s just the path.

“It’s lovely to be what I call a ‘Campion woman.’ There’s a truth to it. There’s an honesty. It’s not a presentation of a female. It is a female, and all the different aspects to it. I met her when I was a teenager. So she encountered me with all of my insecurities and my hopes and my desires. She really knows me, and I feel unbelievably safe in her hands. I’ve shared probably the deepest, most intimate secrets I have with her as a friend. It’s very freeing.”

Acting in television is like being in a repertory theater company, Kidman insisted.

“To go from Celeste to Julia was such a great thing to do, but I loved it. I love that for the two series that I've done on TV, I’m sitting with women up here. That means the roles are here. The roles are in television. That’s really exciting. As an actor, you go where the great roles are. As an actor, it’s exciting to be part of different directors’ visions, the way they work, and having to change and mold myself each time and find the character. I love doing it. Would I love to do more TV? Absolutely. Is it in the future? I don’t know.”

For her part, Moss is delighted just to be working. She has never felt comfortable in the role of A-list celebrity. Much like Kidman, she considers herself a working actor, first and foremost. No more, no less.

“I’ve just tried to pick the best material I can find,” Moss said quietly. “That’s what it comes down to.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time. Since I was a little girl, in fact. And I’ve had many, many years of being unemployed and broke and wanting to get a job  and not getting it. I’ve not gotten roles far more than I have in my career. So just to be in a place where I know I have a job, honestly, as an actor, as any actor can attest — that's the holy grail. You just want to know that you have a job to go to, and you get to continue doing this. So, for me, the fact, that I get to continue doing what I love — what else could you ask for? I’m constantly pinching myself. I never get used to it. The fact that anybody wants to give me a job, I'm always grateful. I have to tell myself to stop; I can't take everything. Because I do want to take everything. Because I’m, like, ‘Thank you so much. Thank you for wanting me.’ ”

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