By Andrea Beattie
It might be titled The Invisible Man but this terrifying tale of obsession, violence and control is definitely a one-woman show.
Elisabeth Moss, who found fame playing meek secretary-turned-ad exec Peggy Olson in the 60s-flavoured TV show Mad Men, is magnificentin writer, director and executive producer Leigh Whannell’s modern take on Universal’s classic monster movie.
In a gutsy move, Whannell – co-creator of the terrifying Saw franchise – has flipped H.G. Wells’ 1897 storyline to dispense with the bandages and floating sunglasses of the original Invisible Man.
Instead, Moss is given the platform she needed to excel as the film’s protagonist, Cecilia Kass – a bright architect trapped in an abusive relationship with wealthy and brilliant scientist Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).
Just as she finally summons the courage to escape, she’s plunged into a living nightmare; Adrian commits suicide and leaves her a generous portion of his vast fortune, but like everything in their relationship, it’s conditional.
To collect the cash, Cecilia must not commit a crime or be ruled mentally incompetent.
Suspecting Adrian’s death is a hoax, Cecilia’s sanity unravels as she desperately tries to prove she’s being tormented by someone that nobody can see.
Melbourne-born Whannell says he couldn’t imagine anyone but Moss in the lead role.
“The whole movie is a one-woman show; (Elisabeth is) in every scene but two,” he explains.
“We only had two days when she wasn’t on set. And oftentimes, she’s alone having a conversation with a doorway, and to do that you need an actress like Elisabeth.”
A big fan of Mad Men, Whannell says it was Moss’ eyes that won him over.
“I wanted her for the role because she’s just so talented; she can communicate so much with her eyes,” he says.
“Her two arguably most iconic roles in Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale are both roles where she was restrained from talking a lot, and had to do a lot with her eyes.
“In both those shows, she’s communicating a lot without speaking, and that’s what I wanted for The Invisible Man.”
Moss was definitely put through her paces on set, with Whannell persuading her to trust him in order to get the best performance possible.
“We definitely pushed each other,” Whannell says.
“There were a lot of uncomfortable situations in this film, physically. Like, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning in the middle of winter in Sydney, and there’s rain machines belting down, she’s drenched and I’m making her do take after take.
“I’m not doing it to torture her, but I know that there’s something we have to get at, and I’m like, ‘Trust me.’
“Eventually, she said, ‘All right, I trust you. I know that you’re not making me do these extra takes and keeping me wet and cold and miserable just for fun … you’re doing it because there’s something you need.’
“It was demanding, and I was the one there to keep pushing her when she was getting exhausted. But you know, the proof is in the pudding – she really delivered.”
Working with an almost entirely Australian cast and crew, Whannell says Moss fit right in, an almost honorary Aussie in terms of her chilled-out attitude.
“She’s pretty relaxed, she’s worked in Australia a lot and I was surprised actually by how well she knew Sydney,” he says.
“She doesn’t take stuff home with her and so, in that sense, she is an honorary Aussie because she’s not making a big deal out of this role, or trying to stress everyone around her out because her character is stressed out.
“She is very good at compartmentalising; she can be screaming and crying and in this super dark place and when the day ends, the whistle blows, it’s like ‘time to go’, she is just out of there, back to her normal life.
“I remember one (scene) saying, ‘Okay, everyone just quieten down on set because Lissie’s in a difficult place’ and she said, ‘I don’t need everyone to be quiet. They can just do their regular thing’, and she puts her headphones in and, I was like, ‘Okaaaay,’ you know, so it was interesting watching her work.”
Produced by horror master Jason Blum, The Invisible Man opened in cinemas on February 27. It also stars Harriet Dyer (The InBetween), Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton) and Storm Reid (Euphoria).