The actress talks to Joey Moser about the film’s structure and working with director Alex Ross Perry.
If you haven’t seen Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell, do yourself a favor and seek it out. It’s a down and dirty behind-the-scenes look at the deterioration of the relationships between the members of girl band Something She. The cause of this destruction comes in the form of Elisabeth Moss’s Becky Something. While Moss is having a fantastic year, her turn in Her Smell is one of the best, and most underrated, performances of the year.
Told in five vignettes, we are immediately addicted to the backstage lifestyle, but we are mostly drawn to the tornado of Moss’s Becky. She scampers across the room as if her stream of consciousness popped Adderall, but you can’t tell whether she’s on the verge of laughing in your face or if you are the next target of her wrath.
The second half of the film changes gears entirely (seriously watch this film), and the performance switches to something quieter and more intimate. The hunt for acceptance can be dangerously twisted into Becky’s need for attention, and she must reconcile that by the film’s end. Becky Something will scare you, but her journey will also break your heart.
Awards Daily: How do you feel the structure of the film helped shape your performance? Was it shot in sequence?
Elizabeth Moss: No, not really. We did Act 1, 5, and then 3, 2, and 4. So, no, not at all. It helped in the sense that each act is one scene. It had a certain flow in that way, and we didn’t have to jump to do certain scenes. If you’re doing one act, you were pretty much concentrated on that for a few days.
AD: You once stated that the dialogue in Her Smell was the hardest that you ever had to learn. Is that because it’s all on top of another or because of the rhythm? What made it so challenging?
EM: What specifically made it challenging was not just the fact that it was fast—because that was definitely one of the things that made it hard. It had to be fast. She goes to so many different places, and she’s really quite intelligent. The things that she does say may not make sense to you and you may not be able to keep up with her, but they do make sense. If you said it wrong or differently or left out a word, you really couldn’t follow it. It became really messy. That sort of controlled chaos was one of the hardest parts. She’s not actually all over the place and she’s not stupid. Becky is in complete control of what she’s saying and what she’s doing.
AD: I really got the impression that she is very fiercely intelligent.
EM: Exactly. That’s something that Alex and I talked about—her references, her memory, the brutal way she’s able to break something down.
AD: You and Alex have worked times several times now. What draws you to working with him?
EM: We discovered it on Listen Up Phillip. He had written this little scene after I break up with Jason Schwartzman’s character, and I can’t remember the specifics but it was something like he goes through all these emotions and experiences so many things. I loved it so much and I loved doing it. He saw me do what he had written, and we were off to the races at this point. It became this game of ‘What can I write for her that is really hard and see if she can do it?’ It became the same for me where I was like, ‘What can you write for me that I would find really difficult?’
AD: That’s not a relationship I’ve heard any collaborators describe before. You’re trying to make each other better.
EM: Yeah, totally.
AD: Ali has a line to the Akergirls where she says, ‘Please love each other.’ Do you have a moment where the other girls in the Something She felt unloved?
EM: It all kind of goes down in Act 2. Becky has turned on a lot of people around her, but she hasn’t turned on her bandmates yet. They’ve dealt with her shit, but she hasn’t turned on them specifically. That all changes in the recording studio. Becky turns on Ali and she leaves, but with Marielle, she really has that moment on screen where she goes too far and is talking about how the band is all her. Of course, Marielle has contributed, but it’s all Becky. She keeps pushing and pushing these buttons. I don’t think Becky even believes that, but she knows it will piss her off. That’s when it really breaks down, and that love has been lost.
AD: I didn’t know how sad the movie was going to be. Right before I watched it, people were telling me that I needed to strap in for a roller coaster, but I wasn’t expecting to cry like an idiot by the end.
EM: That’s so awesome. Thank you!
AD: I have never seen a movie about addiction in such a way where each act finishes a moment and there aren’t a bunch of cliched scenes that we’ve seen before. Towards the end, when everyone was looking for you, I felt awful because we clearly see how people don’t trust addicts. What responsibility did you have to those types of stories?
EM: I’d never played an addict before. I never had the experience of it. I spoke to people in recovery who were very generous with their stories. I learned a lot. I did feel like I wanted to be as honest as possible and truthful and not sugar-coat things. I didn’t want to be cliched about anything. I wanted to honor what that experience is and how fragile it is to be in recovery. That was very important to me, to not fuck that up.
AD: You took three months of guitar lessons, and someone pointed out to me that you were in Gypsy.
EM: Oh, yeah.
AD: I didn’t know you could sing with such rawness. How vulnerable did you feel in those private moments? Not necessarily when Becky is on stage, but like when she plays the piano for her daughter.
EM: That was terrifying.
EM: It was really, really scary. The band stuff was scary, but obviously, you can take comfort in not being alone. The ‘Heaven’ scene really scared me; I could feel my heart pounding, and it took me a few takes to get over that and perform the song and the scene. I think what’s in the movie is take six. That was the one where everything came together and did everything that we wanted it to do. What was really scary was that I can sing, but I’m definitely not a trained singer. I only learned how to play that one song on the piano. I can’t really play the guitar, so it’s not my area. But, in a way, acting is just bullshitting all the time anyway. You are pretending, so I thought I would just pretend that I was a rock star.
AD: Well, I bought it!
EM: Thank you!
AD: There are moments where we hear the crowd just demanding for Becky to come on stage or the show to start. Could you feel the difference between when Becky is in the throws of her addiction versus when she is performing at the concert at the end?
EM: For sure. It was a big part of who Becky is—that need of attention and the gratification from the audience. The feeling of being wanted is addictive. We did a couple of songs on stage with the band and when we did ‘Another Girl, Another Planet,’ we were so scared before we did it. After it was over, we ran offstage and it was like, ‘Oh my God—that was so amazing!’ The background people are hired to yell and scream and act like they are excited to see you. You get why this is so intoxicating. You can understand being addicted to that feeling. It’s very heady.
AD: I’ve performed on stage, and I can relate to that feeling of applause. You automatically don’t want it to end, and you hunt for how you can get more.
EM: Yeah! It’s a feeling that’s very intense.
AD: Do you think Becky is okay now?
EM: I do. One of the things we wanted to be honest about was that she is going to falter many times. That’s probably not her first trip to rehab. That’s not the first time she uses again. She probably goes back six or seven times in her journey, but I would like to believe that she could be something other than Becky Something. She can be a mother and that would be something and have meaning and give herself meaning in her life. That’s a role she could play. I do think that she became a good mother. I don’t think she became perfectly sane without her faults and her demons.
AD: You need to believe that.
EM: You do. You need to believe that she can find something better.
Her Smell is available to rent and own on Amazon.