Interview: Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia in The Invisible Man
The 2020 horror-thriller, produced by Jason Blum and written and directed by Leigh Whannell, follows Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), a smart, strong woman who has been traumatised beyond recognition by her relationship with her abusive ex, Adrian. She manages to escape from him with her life, and shortly afterwards discovers that he committed suicide after she left him.
He may be dead, but Cecilia’s relationship with Adrian has affected her view of herself and her world. She’s anxious, paranoid and fearful.
So when she starts to suspect that Adrian is somehow invisibly stalking her, her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and her best friend James (Aldis Hodge) struggle to believe her. As Cecilia seems to unravel, the bonds of her relationships with her family and friends are tested.
What we don’t know is whether her belief that Adrian is still alive is real … or just in her imagination.
When Whannell finished the script for The Invisible Man, now streaming on Showmax, he knew he required an extraordinary actress to pull off Cecilia, and together, he and Elisabeth Moss united in their vision for the film and her role.
“Lizzie would push me to keep examining the dialogue and the script,” Whannell says. “And I would push her to be more physical. She was doing a lot of things that were pretty miserable.” That included shooting in the middle of winter, at 3am, with rain machines flooding. Moss would be soaking wet, while everybody else was wearing thick jackets standing under tents.
“We both pushed each other,” Whannell says. “We were a true partnership on this. When you call action, Lizzie is 100 percent.”
Moss believes this has been the most challenging role of her career. “It took me 10 minutes to understand Leigh’s take and how modern and relevant this film could be,” Moss says. “I love how he upended the idea of The Invisible Man. It was one of those scripts that you read and think, ‘I wish I’d thought of that…’ It’s a great metaphor and completely relevant to our time…as well as to my time as a woman in this society.”
“The idea of seeing something that nobody else can see, that’s my bread and butter. It’s what I do every day for a living.”
Moss is often on screen alone for entire scenes, playing against someone she can’t see.
“There was a whole section of the film where no one was there,” Moss says. “I would turn to Leigh and say, ‘Where do you think he is?’ Whether or not my character knew where the Invisible Man was would change depending on the scene. Sometimes, I would have no idea Adrian was there; others, at some points, I would feel a presence or hear a noise or something and then would turn.
“There’s a certain point where Cecilia is convinced that Adrian’s always in the room,” Moss continues. “It’s like I developed a sixth sense for where he was…but nothing was ever there. We would make it up, and we’d say he’s in this corner or coming out of that room. I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve never been in that position where that was possible. Still, the idea of seeing something that nobody else can see, that’s my bread and butter. It’s what I do every day for a living.”
“You can be strong and scared at the same time. And you can be strong and weak at the same time. You can be a feminist and still lose your voice. That’s important to remember and important to be able to see.”
Lensing The Invisible Man allowed Moss to reflect on the types of relationships that can be abusive or toxic. “It was important to Leigh and me that we made the space for a relationship that was not only physically abusive, but was also emotionally and psychologically abusive,” Moss says. “Those types of relationships can be just as damaging. I hope that this film gives some voice and strength to people who have been through that. As women, we feel like there’s a sense of empowerment, that we’re this generation that speaks up, but I think we sometimes still judge others for staying in relationships that they shouldn’t be in.”
Moss concludes: “I think it’s important to give space for women to be weak. You can be strong and scared at the same time. And you can be strong and weak at the same time. You can be a feminist and still lose your voice. That’s important to remember and important to be able to see.”