Why Offred from The Handmaid's Tale looks so familiar

Elisabeth Moss has been dubbed the queen of peak TV thanks to her head-turning role as Offred on Hulu's hit drama series The Handmaid's Tale. Just one season of the drama was enough to earn Moss a Golden Globe and two Emmys, and it's likely that she'll continue to dominate the awards season conversation for many years to come thanks to her chilling and memorable turn as the lead character.

For those who aren't familiar with the show, Moss' Offred lives in the fictional land of Gilead, a dystopia in which many women find themselves no longer able to conceive and carry children. Because of that, women like Offred are recruited to be handmaidens, forced to become impregnated by men called commanders.  

The Handmaid's Tale, which is based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, is definitely must-see TV, and Moss' performance is a huge part of the show's success. But chances are you've seen the actress before, as she's appeared in indie films, award-winning TV series, and more throughout her long career. 

Escape to Witch Mountain (1995)

If you were a '90s kid, you very likely spotted a young Moss in the ABC TV movie Escape to Witch Mountain, a remake of the 1975 film of the same name. The movie featured Moss as Anna, a young girl, who reunites with her brother Danny (Erik von Detten), from whom she was separated at birth. When the pair get back together, they realize that they have unexplained supernatural abilities, which make them the target of nefarious power-seekers looking to activate the mysterious Witch Mountain. 

Although the 1975 version of the film remains slightly more popular, the 1995 version is likely a favorite for many millennials, airing as part of ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney programming, which also brought us such classics as the Brandy-starring Cinderella, Lindsay Lohan's Life-Size, and Justin Timberlake's Model Behavior. (Anyone else feeling like a #tbt marathon right now?) Of course an actress as talented as Moss started out by becoming a fundamental part of our childhoods.

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

When most people think of the 1999 hit Girl, Interrupted, they think of Winona Ryder's chilling turn in the lead role of psychiatric hospital patient Susanna Kaysen, or of Angelina Jolie's star-making turn as her sociopathic frenemy Lisa, a part which earned the future A-lister her first Oscar win. However, many might not realize that Moss also had a small role in the movie as Polly, a burn victim in the institution. 

The part put Moss in heavy prosthetics to fit with her character's burned face and dyed her brown hair red, so it's easy to see why people might not remember her. Still, Moss was impressive playing Polly throughout the film, and she managed to stand out even when surrounded by so many other stars. Although the film received mixed reviews upon release, it has gone on to become a classic, and it's worth revisiting for Moss' role alone.

The West Wing (1999-2006)

Before she went to Gilead, Moss was part of a very different system — Aaron Sorkin's fast-talking government on The West Wing. On the series, Moss played Zoey Bartlet, the youngest daughter of President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen). Moss appeared in a recurring capacity throughout the show's seven season run, starring in 25 episodes total. Zoey's main storyline concerned her relationship with Bartlet's personal aide Charlie Young (Dule Hill), and the ramifications their interracial romance had for his administration.

Moss earned a Young Artist Award for Best Guest Performance in a TV Drama Series for her work on the show, which she later said was basically her acting "classroom" thanks to the huge amount of talent assembled on set. "I was doing the words of Aaron Sorkin, working with all these great directors, and then with these incredible theater actors … people who knew so much more than I did," she said. "So for me, that was my classroom." It looks like it certainly taught her well.

Virgin (2003)

Like many young actresses, Moss' early career involved appearances in a lot of small, indie flicks. For Moss, that included 2003's Virgin, also starring Robin Wright. The movie featured Moss as Jessie, a teenager who is date raped by her crush, leaving her pregnant. However, she has no memory of their encounter and believes herself to still be a virgin, ultimately pushing her back to her religious upbringing and leading her to believe she is carrying God's child. 

Virgin dealt heavily in religious themes, although many critics ultimately said that it didn't look at them deeply enough, instead showing Jessie being quickly ostracized by her small town. The movie wound up receiving mostly negative reviews from critics, sitting at a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, though, Moss' performance received some praise, with Variety's Robert Koehler writing that she gives Jessie a "complex characterization" that gives the movie "an atmosphere of unease and imbalance." 

Guest-starring roles

Like many a young actress, Moss also made the guest starring rounds early on in her career. This, of course, included appearances in the Law and Order franchise, a must for practically everyone in Hollywood. Moss' time with the franchise included a 2005 appearance on the short-lived Law and Order: Trial By Jury and a 2006 appearance on the much more robust Criminal Intent.

During her child acting days, Moss appeared on the TV shows Lucky Chances, Anything But Love, Johnny Bago, and Picket Fences. Moss' other adult guest starring roles included a recurring role on the ABC sci-fi series Invasion. She also made a stop by David E. Kelley's The Practice in 2003, followed by a 2007 role on Shonda Rhimes' hit Grey's Anatomy. That same year, she appeared in episodes of Medium and Ghost Whisperer. In 2009, she appeared on an episode of NBC's Mercy, while in 2013, she lent her voice to an episode of The Simpsons.

Mad Men (2007-2015)

Moss' many years of hard work finally paid off in 2007 when she landed the breakout role of Peggy Olson on the AMC series Mad Men. Moss' Peggy started out as Don Draper's (Jon Hamm) secretary, but she quickly rose through the ranks of advertising agency Sterling Cooper and made a name for herself thanks to her smarts and quick thinking. Moss stuck with the series for the entirety of its seven season run. 

The actress earned quite a few awards for her work. She earned her first Golden Globe nomination in 2011, though she lost out to Sons of Anarchy's Katey Sagal. She also earned a total of six Emmy nominations for her work, but she tragically never took home the trophy. (That would later be remedied thanks to her excellent work on The Handmaid's Tale, though.)

Moss said that she brought some parts of Peggy to her part as Offred, telling Vox that she always viewed Peggy as an "accidental feminist." "It's that fantastic stubbornness, that fantastic naiveté almost, that is exemplary of so many women of that time," she said, adding that she sees the "same thing" in Offred. 

"She is not meant to be a heroine," she explained. "I think the great lesson she learns is there's a heroine in all of us, that we all actually do have the power to change things. That's something she has to learn."

Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009)

Moss made her first notable venture into comedy with the action rom com Did You Hear About the Morgans? in 2009. The film starred Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as a recently divorced couple who have to relocate from NYC to Wyoming when they're forced into witness protection after seeing a murder. 

In the film, Moss played Jackie, the assistant to Parker's Meryl, who falls in love with Adam (Jessie Liebman), the assistant to Grant's Paul. Jackie unknowingly gets roped into the murderer's (Michael Kelly) attempts to find her missing boss, but it ends up working out for her in the end. 

Unfortunately for Moss, though, the film wasn't exactly a rollicking success. It was trashed by critics, amassing a whopping 12% on Rotten Tomatoes, and didn't do so hot at the box office either — it brought in just $85.2 million worldwide, including $29.5 million domestic, against a $58 million production budget. Even with a flop on her resume, though, we think Moss is still doing fine.

Get Him to the Greek (2010)

Moss' adventures in big screen comedies continued with 2010's Get Him to the Greek, a spin-off of Forgetting Sarah Marshall following the exploits of Russell Brand's rock star character Aldous Snow. Moss played the girlfriend of Jonah Hill's Aaron Green, a put-upon record company employee tasked with getting Snow to the Greek Theater to play a tenth anniversary show.

Moss told SheKnows that she was "terrified" when going into the film's audition, especially considering the amount of improv involved in the role. However, she said that she had been a fan of Brand and Hill's work for a long time and was excited at the idea of working on a comedy, even if it didn't necessarily mesh with her past roles. Fortunately, like its predecessor, Get Him to the Greek wound up being both a critical and financial success, earning a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes and pulling in $91.2 million worldwide. 

Top of the Lake (2013-2017)

Moss' two best known TV series are Mad Men and The Handmaid's Tale, but that's only because many people are sleeping on her excellent anthology drama Top of the Lake. The show features Moss as Robin Griffin, a detective who deals mostly in cases involving sexual assault. The first season, which premiered on SundanceTV in 2013, featured her looking into the pregnancy and disappearance of a 12-year-old girl. 

The first season earned Moss a lot of awards attention, including an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe win. Although the 2017 second season, Top of the Lake: China Girl, didn't get quite as much critical acclaim, it still did very well, earning a 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. If the series' twisty plots weren't enough to get you on board, the fact that Moss does the whole role in a (heavily criticize) Australian accent should be enough to make you ready for a binge.

The One I Love (2014)

Elisabeth Moss started her rein as the queen of independent film in 2014 with the creepy sci-fi tinged drama The One I Love. The film, which our sister site Looper named one of the most under-appreciated rom coms you need to watch, starred Moss and Mark Duplass as a couple who come across something strange while on a retreat at a sheltered guesthouse. The film features both characters exploring their relationship as they deal with the beings who inhabit the mysterious home.

Thanks to its creepy atmosphere and intriguing plot, the film was a hit with critics, earning an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. It also made the film festival circuit, debuting at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and also screening at the Tribeca Film Festival. While it only received a limited release in theaters, earning $513,447 total at the domestic box office, it later became popular when it was released on VOD, earning at least an additional $500,000, according to the distributor.

Listen Up Philip (2014) and Queen of Earth (2015)

Moss' other notable indie work in the mid-2010s was marked by her collaborations with writer-director Alex Ross Perry, who cast the actress in his 2014 film Listen Up Philip and in his 2015 follow-up Queen of Earth. Listen Up Philip featured Moss, whom Perry had met while the TV star was searching for film projects after Mad Men, in a supporting role as the girlfriend of Jason Schwartzman's title character, a writer who retreats to the summer home of his hero (Jonathan Pryce) while waiting for his second novel to be published.

Queen of Earth, meanwhile, put Moss front and center as Catherine Hewitt, a woman who starts to experience a mental breakdown while at the lake house belonging to her estranged friend, played by actress Katherine Waterston. Although neither film was a hit at the box office, both were well received by critics. The films earned an 84% and a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively. 

Truth (2015)

Moss took on a real-life controversy in 2015 with her appearance in the docudrama Truth, written and directed by The Amazing Spider-Man's James Vanderbilt. The film dealt with the Killian documents controversy, when CBS's 60 Minutes Wednesday aired a report on documents involving President George W. Bush's Air National Guard service, only to later realize that the documents were forgeries.

The movie featured Cate Blanchett playing producer Mary Mapes and Robert Redford playing news anchor Dan Rather, both of whom had to resign following the scandal. Moss, meanwhile, played Lucy Scott, one of the 60 Minutes associate producers and a journalism professor. Unfortunately, the film wasn't a huge box office or critical hit, earning a middling 62% on Rotten Tomatoes and taking in just $2.5 million throughout its run. However, for Moss, the film was still a dream come true, giving her the chance to work with her "idol" Blanchett. 

The Square (2017)

Following her debut as Offred in The Handmaid's Tale in 2017, Elisabeth Moss appeared in an Oscar-nominated film, although it may not be one you've heard of. The actress had a part in the Swedish picture The Square, which earned a nod for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Academy Awards. In the film, Moss played Anne, an eccentric journalist who develops a relationship with Claes Bang's museum curator Christian.

The Square started getting a lot of buzz when it won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and Moss' scenes were particularly memorable. (Her character is probably best remembered for having a monkey for a roommate, something which no one in the film ever actually mentions out loud.)

Although the role was definitely different than anything Moss had done before, she got high praise from director Ruben Östlund, who said she was "the most intelligent actor I have ever been working with."