According to in-demand actor Detective Elisabeth Moss, Robin Griffin “had to be really f****d up” in order for her to return to Top of the Lake.
It was her one demand of director Jane Campion in reprising her acclaimed role from the BBC First miniseries which aired in 2013. If a second season was to work, it had to offer her even more as a performer.
“When she asked me if I wanted to do this season I said yes, but it has to be more challenging than the first, otherwise why do it and why watch it?,” Moss explains.
“‘Go deeper, go darker.’ There were a couple of minor things I [might want] more of, but nothing really. The scripts are beautifully formed by Jane and Gerard (Lee, co-writer) from the get-go.”
‘This season is so much more challenging for Robin and for me”
Top of the Lake: China Girl relocates from Queenstown, NZ, to Sydney, beginning with the body of an Asian girl washing up on Bondi Beach. Robin looks to the investigation to restore herself, but haunted by a daughter given up at birth, she dreads revealing the truth of her conception.
“You would think there would be a certain ease to returning to a character you have played before. In a way, I suppose, it was slightly less scary than the first season, but this season is so much more challenging for Robin and for me material-wise, and emotionally,” she explains.
“I didn’t necessarily feel like I was coming in and it would be ‘fine.’ I definitely had to rise to the occasion again. Which is what I wanted and what I asked for quite specifically from Jane.
“But it’s been a dream as well. I’ve been waiting to do this for 3 years since Jane and I first talked about doing it again.”
Joining her in Season 2 is Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie as policewoman Miranda Hilmarson and Nicole Kidman. But Moss remains tight-lipped on Kidman’s role as teacher Julia Edwards.
“I can’t really say what exactly we were doing together, but I definitely had one of those moments on set when I had to remind myself to be professional and not to think ‘Oh my God it’s Nicole Kidman I am acting with!'” she admits.
“She came in really passionate and wanting to do a great job. When you get a big movie star who wants to challenge themselves you’re very grateful for that.”
“Is that because she’s a woman? I don’t know. It’s because she’s a great director.”
With such strong female creatives helming the production, does Moss believe that working with Jane Campion brings a feminine sensibility to the project? Not necessarily.
“I actually feel like I have had a lot of ‘feminine energy’ from male directors and vice versa. I think [Jane] has her own unique perspective and I’m not sure if it’s because she’s a woman or not. She’s an incredibly unique, individual person and that’s why she’s created these worlds that are so unusual,” she continues.
“I suppose she is very in tune to people’s emotions and feelings, and to what is going on in the scene, and with you as an actor. But is that because she’s a woman? I don’t know. It’s because she’s a great director.
“You can fight back with her, you can argue. She actually…respects you more for it. And if you don’t it’s not as fun!
“What’s been great for Season 2 is the trust that’s been established from Season 1. So we challenge each other, but we are more on the same page.”
“I still have to work really hard on it”
Moss, currently wowing audiences the world over in The Handmaid’s Tale, also had to muster her best Australian accent once more, which for any North American performer is a constant challenge.
“I don’t want to say it was easier this time, but it less terrifying. I still have to work really hard on it, but I am also a bit of a perfectionist as well.
“I have been lucky enough to have my Dialect Coach here a lot more than I had her on season one, because we’re in Sydney as opposed to NZ. So she has been with me so much and that’s obviously been a huge help.”
Season One of Top of the Lake won Golden Globes (including for Moss’ performance), AACTA Awards, Critics Choice Awards and a Creative Emmy. Season Two, which also features David Dencik, Alice Englert & Ewen Leslie, is themes around motherhood and parenthood. It will take Robin into the city’s darkest recesses and closer than she could have imagined to the secrets of her own heart.
Moss says Robin’s history and her previous choices will come to the fore in China Girl.
“It forms who she is as a person, and it mostly forms the negative parts. But it also gives her this this part of what she loves, a dedication to justice and the truth.
“So in Season 2 to be able to meet this person who has formed Robin as a character -how does that change her? That’s a meal and a half for an actor. It’s a gift to be able to do that!
“The show has a tone and a mood that is unlike anything else.”
“[Top of the Lake is] a classic example of expecting the audience to be intelligent and not dumbing something down for them, and allowing something to have its own tone. The show has a tone and a mood that is unlike anything else.
“That was fully allowed to bloom in the first season and the audience loved it.”
Top of the Lake: China Girl premieres 8:30pm Sunday on BBC First.