TV - Top of the Lake: China Girl


Jane Campion's acclaimed series Top Of The Lake returns to the BBC soon. Read an interview with its star Elisabeth Moss...

The next instalment - which recently made history as the first television show to premiere at Cannes Film Festival - sees Elisabeth Moss reprise her Golden Globe winning role as Detective Robin Griffin. She will be joined by Nicole Kidman and Gwendoline Christie (Game Of Thrones, Star Wars: The Force Awakens). And, in another first for the series, all six episodes of Top Of The Lake: China Girl will be available to download or stream on BBC iPlayer from Thursday 27 July immediately after it premieres on BBC Two.

Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, says: "It is imperative that we continue to explore and offer a range of ways to watch our dramas and I believe BBC Two and Jane Campion's Top Of The Lake: China Girl is the perfect offering as the next full series to premiere on BBC iPlayer. It's a captivating watch, a six-part movie which takes you into a murky world as Robin follows unexpected leads to solve a darkly disturbing case. I'm thrilled we are able to give the viewers the opportunity to get engrossed into all six episodes at once on BBC iPlayer, or watch week by week on BBC Two."

Jamie Laurenson, Executive Producer for See-Saw Films, added “It’s great that the BBC are offering viewers the chance to watch Top Of The Lake - China Girl in one go. We think the series has all the compulsive qualities that will make watching more than one episode at a time irresistible."

Also joining the cast are David Dencik (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), Alice Englert (Beautiful Creatures, Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell) and Ewen Leslie (The Daughter).

Top Of The Lake: China Girl is a crime mystery story that finds Detective Robin Griffin recently returned to Sydney and trying to rebuild her life. When the body of an Asian girl washes up on Bondi Beach, there appears little hope of finding the killer, until Robin discovers 'China Girl' didn't die alone.

Robin looks to the investigation to restore herself, but her problems are personal. Haunted by a daughter given up at birth, Robin desperately wants to find her, yet dreads revealing the truth of her conception. But her search to discover 'China Girl's' identity will take her into the city's darkest recesses and closer than she could have imagined to the secrets of her own heart.

Here's the interview with Elisabeth Moss.


What are the qualities in Robin that made you want to play her again?

What I love most about Robin is, from the 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 fun.

How did Jane Campion approach you about doing Top Of The Lake?

It came up in conversation over sushi in Queenstown: “What if there was a season two?” There never was supposed to be a season two. And we were all like - oh, that's kind of exciting. Then over a year later I was at the Emmys in LA. Jane and I met for lunch and she said to me: “So, if we did a season two, would you do it? I can't really do it without Robin.”

I said I would love to, but it would need to be more challenging than season one, otherwise there would be no point. I felt we did a good job with the first season, which we were all very proud of it and which people liked. Why do it again if we weren't going to challenge ourselves and make it even more interesting for our audience? I remember saying, “I just want her to be challenged," and thinking, on the way to the Emmys, how Robin could be challenged, what she might be going through.

I left it with Jane, and three years later she did it. It was a complex, much more interesting challenge than you would normally present a character with in a second season.

Were you surprised by how well received it was?

I don't want to say I was surprised, because that sounds like we weren't expecting it. You think it's good, but you just never know if an audience is going to agree with you. And it was so dark and so weird and the tone of Jane Campion is so strange. So you really throw your hands up and go, I don't know if anyone’s going to get this!

The fact that it went over so well is a testament to audiences’ intelligence, which I have experienced before in television. But it was a true honour, because we all worked long hours and in really tough conditions. It was not a glamorous situation - it was for the love of Jane and for the passion of the project. And it's amazing when you put your heart into something and you get all these cherries and honours on top, that's a wonderfully gratifying thing.

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

Where do I begin? There's nobody like Jane. I've had the privilege of working with some very talented and amazing people, both well known and not well known, and there's something about the way that she speaks to you and the way that she guides you on set that isn't like anyone else. She has this very in-tune way of guiding you through a scene. She’ll say something that makes you go, “Oh, I didn't think about it that way,” or she'll say: “this is your playground sweetie. Just have fun.”

We've known each other for over four years, which I guess doesn't sound like that long, but it's been a deep, intense relationship and there's a shorthand now that makes things easy. When you feel like a director trusts you it gives you so much freedom and confidence. She knows me so well as an actor that she knows if I can give something else, or if I've already given it.

And I know her very well as a director, so I know when she's looking for something that she hasn't got yet - and I know when she feels like she's got it but she's just going to keep doing it for fun. We're very honest with each other.


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

Jane does have an incredible gift for finding new talent and I trust her 1,000 percent in that regard. She did it with Garth [Davies, second director on series one] and I believe that she's done it again with Ari. He's this magical creature, with this enthusiastic, youthful quality. And it's interesting with this material, which is so dark and so complex. We're in terrible situations - at a brothel, at a morgue, there's a dead body. It's very dark. And he's just laughing and he's so excited. It's infectious and it makes it so fun to work with him.

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. I was coming to a character that I'd played before so I was, "I know how to do this and you're wrong".

Two things: One, he loves it. He loves to be challenged - just like Jane does frankly. Secondly, after a couple of weeks he would give me a note and I would try it and love it. It would be a great idea. So I started just doing what he said. There's never a right and wrong really, I just found that his notes were pushing me and Jane told me that she told him: “You can push her, you can challenge her.”

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. We're never going to be able to get him back for another season - he's going be on a career path that is unstoppable.

Were you kept informed as the story came together?

I knew quite a bit about season two as it was coming together because Jane would write to me and ask me questions or tell me little things here and there. It was a constant dialogue for three years. So there were big plot points that I knew were coming. But it was all the nuance, all the detail and the strange Campion-esque things that go into something like this that surprised me.

Without spoiling anything, the thing that we reveal in the flashback and some things that have happened over the last four years to Robin have put her in this really, really dark place. She's not had an easy life, this girl. So she starts out in Season 2 in this much darker place, and really messed up, so when I was reading it for the first time I was like, yes, yes, yes, yes!

What are the key themes that season 2 deals with that are different to season 1?

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 16. She's obviously still a child. Tui representing a child, and then the barista ring, the children there. So it was about children in season one.

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. Robin having had a child and giving birth to a child but then not raising it. Nicole’s character having not given birth to the child, but raised her. And then these surrogates, these women who are objectified and put into a position that is not only illegal but incredibly heartbreaking.

This season is about being a mother and a parent, and it's 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 brilliantly subtle way, which is believable. All of these storylines converging and becoming important for an emotional reason and not for a plot-line reason. But also being super interesting and mysterious and awesome and page turning.


What were the biggest developments for you and Robin in season 2?

Because Robin is back in Sydney, she's back on the police force, officially. She was unofficially on the police force in New Zealand, but here she's actually there, she's at the police station, she's carrying a weapon, she has a badge. We shot tons of stuff at the police station. I was sort of a rogue police officer in season one. So this one I really actually had to act like I knew what I was doing. We had a wonderful consultant, Chrissie, with the Newtown Police. And she is the best version of Robin Griffin. She's Robin without all of the hang-ups and without all of the flaws. She is an incredibly strong amazing woman, so inspiring to me honestly, and we became quite close over the past five months.

Then obviously the other one would be my relationship with Mary, my daughter (Alice Englert, above). I loved that part. To play with that was so interesting. One thing Jane and I discussed really early on was, what is that relationship? You've given birth to this person, but you haven't spent any time with her. So, is she your daughter? Just because you gave birth to her doesn't necessarily mean that you feel like you're her mother. Because motherhood isn't just that, as anyone who is not a biological mother would understand.

We wanted to explore the idea that when she meets Mary she has no idea what she's doing, and she doesn't feel like a mum. It was interesting exploring that idea, and Robin's feelings of inadequacy about not feeling like a mother - not feeling anything - and then this incredible arc that was built of her getting to know her daughter and getting to know herself as a mother. What a journey to go on for her to be able to come to terms with that and for her to be able to become a mother in her own way.

And then she has this friendship with Pyke and they start to co-parent accidentally, almost out of necessity. Through that co-parenting and through that love for their daughter, they fall in love themselves, in this very beautiful surprising way. I think that it's exactly what Robin needs. There might be a shade of like a happy ending for Robin, you might just get a hint of "this might actually turn out okay".

And there is another kind of love story for Robin in Season 2, isn’t there?

Yeah, I think it is going to be very surprising for the audience, this yin and yang team of Robin and Miranda. These two people who obviously not only look so different, but act so different. It starts out in this quite humorous place of Miranda being this fan girl of Robin. And then mutates into this terrible argumentative, judgmental, hurtful relationship. And then they have this amazing scene where they have it out and reveal things to each other.

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. Season one I didn't really have that buddy, Robin didn't have that friend. It's been really amazing in season two to have this female relationship. This actress, another woman, to act opposite, it's been a really interesting and special surprise out of this season for me as an actor - and it ends up being the same for Robin as well.

How important is Sydney as the location for Season 2?

New Zealand was so much about the wilderness outside, and this season 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 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.

We did get a chance to show New Zealand to a large part of the world that hasn't been there, and I'm actually very excited to be able to show Sydney to a large part of the world that hasn't had the opportunity to come. I know the city really well now, and it's become a strange second home for me, which is so weird, because I have no reason for Australia to be my home.

The first episode Top Of The Lake: China Girl will broadcast on BBC Two from Thursday 27 July, 9pm and the full series will be available on BBC iPlayer from 10pm.

Images & Info - BBC