TV

Elisabeth Moss on returning to Top of the Lake and reuniting with Jane Campion

The actress gets candid about season two of the critically adored show: "It was a very complex, much more interesting challenge."

Elisabeth Moss in Top of the Lake

Top of the Lake's haunting narrative, stunning cinematography and talented ensemble cast quickly helped the series gain a loyal viewership when it debuted back in 2013, and now the team behind the cult favourite series are bringing it back to our screens with a highly anticipated second season entitled Top of the Lake: China Girl.

Elisabeth Moss, who anchored the storyline in season one with her nuanced portrayal of Detective Robin Griffin, is back on board for this season, which follows the Kiwi character as she attempts to unravel the mystery behind the body of an Asian girl that washed up on Sydney's Bondi Beach.

We spoke to the actress about what made her return to the show, what it was like teaming up again with director Jane Campion, and what's in store for her character this time around.

What made you want to play Robin again?

What I love most about Robin is, from an actor’s perspective of playing her, not necessarily her best quality. It’s her flaws, her vulnerability. And her ability to be strong when she needs to be and to fight for justice and fight for the truth in her work. So the juxtaposition of that with the complete chaos in her personal life and her inability to get that under control; this season she's so much more messed up than she ever has been before. It's been a challenge to play, but it's also been really fun.

What was it like working with Jane Campion the second time?

There's nobody like Jane... She has this very in-tune way of guiding you through a scene. She’ll say something that you just go “Oh, I didn't think about it that way”. Or she’ll come up to you and say, “This is your playground sweetie. Just have fun.”

There's been a lot more of that in season two because we know each other quite well now; we've known each other for over four years ... it's been a really deep relationship and an intense relationship. There's a lot of trust that's been built from season one. So there's a shorthand now that makes things really easy. When you feel like a director trusts you that just gives you so much freedom and so much confidence.

The actress plays New Zealand-born detective Robin Griffin in *Top of the Lake*.
The actress plays New Zealand-born detective Robin Griffin in Top of the Lake.

How did you feel about a new second director, Ariel Kleiman, being on board?

When you go into working with a director for the first time there's always a little sense of “Do I trust you? Do you know how to direct me? Do I like your notes?” In the beginning I found myself challenging him. And two things: One, he loves it; he loves to be challenged just like Jane does frankly. Loves the questions, loves to be in there in the trenches with you. Secondly, after a couple of weeks he would give me a note and I would say “I'm sorry, okay”. And I would try it and I would love it. It would be a great idea. So after a couple of weeks I started just doing what he said because I was like, “You're right.”

Going to work with him is an absolute joy. I know I'm going to be begging him to put me in whatever he does next.

What are the key themes in Season Two that differ from the Season One?

The themes of season one very much are about children. Robin coming back to her childhood home – revisiting her childhood, her childhood with her mother, her childhood with her father. This horrific experience that happens when she's sixteen.

I feel like season two is about parenthood, and specifically motherhood. The different kinds of motherhood, the different ways that people become a mother, how motherhood doesn't always have to do with being a biological mother. It's really interesting going from that very strong theme of season one to an even stronger theme in season two, with all of these plot lines being connected around this central idea. But done in a subtle a brilliant subtle way, and it's so believable.

*Game of Thrones* star Gwendoline Christie joins the cast for season two.
Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie joins the cast for season two.

Did you and Gwendoline Christie get close through working so closely together?

I don't even know where to begin. She's the love of my life! I thought I would like her, you know, and I'm a fan of hers as an actor, but it's been this really wonderful deep friendship that has happened. Sometimes you meet people and you know that you're going to be friends with them for the rest of your life.

How important is Sydney as the location for Season Two?

Well, New Zealand was so much about the wilderness outside, and this season, season two, is about the wilderness within, and that is very much represented by the story but also very much represented by Sydney. Obviously it's a much more urban landscape. It is much more modern in a lot of ways. But at the same time we have this coastline that we're dealing with and shooting at a lot. And so we've gone from this very still, freezing cold still lake, to this ocean and this coastline and these beaches that are temperamental and change all the time and look different. To me the ocean is the other character as much as Sydney.

Top of the Lake: China Girl premieres August 22 at 9.30 PM on UKTV, SKY Channel 007.