For a young actress from a happy family, Elisabeth Moss has had her fair share of drama.
In her role as the US President's daughter Zoey in political series The West Wing, Moss was drugged (by her boyfriend, no less) and kidnapped.
Alongside Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted, she played a young mentally ill woman with a horrific facial scar - the result of deliberately setting herself alight.
And, as well as contending with rampant sexual harassment, her character in Mad Men, Peggy Olson, secretly delivered a child fathered by a co-worker while apparently in quarantine suffering from tuberculosis.
But that's all a proverbial walk in the park compared with the dark and difficult places she was forced to go playing an Australian detective investigating the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old girl in Jane Campion's much-anticipated miniseries Top of the Lake.
The 30-year-old says it's impossible to compare her breakthrough role in Mad Men with the bleak world she inhabited for several months last year.
"There are things that are far worse than sexual harassment in the workplace going on," she explained after a long day of shooting in picturesque Queenstown, New Zealand.
"Top of the Lake deals with different elements of people's psyches and evil and it's a bit darker than the ass grabbing we've done on Mad Men."
Moss' Griffin is a Sydney-based detective (she had to work hard on the accent) who is visiting her sick mother in a fictional town called Laketop.
"She gets involved in the case of a 12-year-old girl who turns out to be pregnant," Moss explains.
"And the girl disappears and it becomes the search for the girl, Tui. There are a lot of parallels between the search for the girl and the search for herself and diving into her own past; diving into our little fictional world we've created."
There are myriad parallel storylines, including a bizarre women's camp led by a guru played by Holly Hunter and her power struggle with Tui's father and town thug Matt Mitcham, played by Peter Mullan of War Horse fame.
Detective Griffin has to do battle with Laketop cop Al Parker, played by David Wenham, while reacquainting herself with her childhood sweetheart, Matt's tattooed son and Thai jailbird Johnno (Thomas M. Wright).
Moss says it's more than a search tale but something "detailed and interesting, coupled with a much more dark and emotional and psychological drama. It also has this strange touch, which I think Jane is so good at - this touch of things being slightly off but in a beautiful way."
Already a veteran of groundbreaking television shows, Moss says she embraces the freedom the small screen permits.
"This is a six-hour production and it's a long story and if we were to tell it in a film, we'd have to compress it and you'd lose a lot of the elements that make it interesting, that make it unique," she says.
Audiences, too, have embraced the new era of clever TV programming.
"When we started The West Wing, the predominant theory was that no one was going to get it, that it was going to be way too smart, way too fast," Moss recalls.
For her part, Campion is approaching the project as though it's one long movie (with the budget to boot).
"In film, standards are really high," she says. "I think we're doing well for probably anything."
While the Oscar-winning director is grateful for the funding that's flowed from the BBC, she laments the withdrawal of ABC funding (in protest at her decision to cast Moss over an Australian). "I was disappointed for the ABC viewers," she says - only Foxtel subscribers will see the show.
Moss pursued the role doggedly, determined to show her range as an actress and to work with Campion, one of her idols.
"She really challenges me. She's got a great way of making you question yourself and making you challenge yourself . . . but at the same time she's given me a tremendous belief in myself and my own instincts."
There's also talk Moss had another life-changing encounter on the set of Top of the Lake, falling for cinematographer Adam Arkapaw. The pair attended the Emmy Awards in September and have been photographed together in his hometown of Sydney enjoying what's reportedly her first serious relationship since breaking up with comedian husband Fred Armisen.
When Today met Moss in Queenstown, she shut down any discussion about her private life, rebuking one reporter's suggestion she was "awkward and uptight" when it comes to media.
"I don't think I'm that awkward. Anyone who gets misrepresented in the press or on the street doesn't like it.
"If I were to sit here and say, 'Tell me about your last break-up', you'd say, 'Absolutely not, who the f... do you think you are?' Imagine if that was then going to be printed for millions to see and then picked up online. So it puts you on your backfoot and makes you really conscious of your words."
But Moss was happy to talk about her downtime in the extreme sporting capital of New Zealand. "I've taken the other route with Queenstown - the fine dining, the beach, the tamer things."
She even squeezed in a game of rugby. "They're lovely gentlemen," she says with a broad grin. "Quite strong and strapping."
Top of the Lake starts on Sunday at 5.30pm on UKTV.Amanda Keenan visited New Zealand as a guest of UKTV.
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