Elisabeth Moss on ‘Her Smell’: “I turned it up to 11 and then realized I had to go even higher”

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In the film Her Smell, The Handmaid’s Tale star Elisabeth Moss portrays Becky Something, a no-longer-successful punk rock musician struggling with her personal issues. The film was written and directed by Alex Ross Perry, whom she had previously worked with for the films Listen Up Philip (2014) and Queen of the Earthmovers (2015).

Speaking about the film with NPR, Moss spoke about portraying the wild Becky and pushing herself to get a wild performance while still holding true to the script.

Though Moss’ performance as Becky seems random and erratic, she reveals that everything was scripted, saying, “There’s pretty much zero improv or ad-lib in the movie. That’s kind of one of the things that Alex did, was he wrote this character who spoke in this stream of consciousness … [it]was my job to make it sound like I was making it up. It was the hardest dialogue I’ve ever had to learn — and I’ve done [David] Mamet and Aaron Sorkin. It was by far the most difficult because if you change a word, or if you flip two sentences, it actually really doesn’t make sense.”

One thing Moss needed to learn for the role was how to appear competent playing the guitar. She reveals, “I practiced for about four or five months, I guess. We said from the very beginning, you know, I was not going to become a guitarist. It’s far too difficult and I have far too much respect for musicians — but I just needed to learn how to look like I was playing these songs, to understand what they were and to be able to play something very basic.”

Learning to play guitar and carefully performing to the script were two things Moss did to bring authenticity to her performance. She explains, “I wanted to do the script justice. The script was so beautiful and it was such an incredible role. I just didn’t want to finish it thinking, Oh I could have gone further, or I could have done more. I just did it and just went as big as I could, and… threw it all at the wall knowing that the only mistake we could make was not going far enough. I turned it up to 11 and then realized I had to go even higher.”

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