Elisabeth Moss welcomed spending six months in New Zealand while filming "Top of the Lake" for many reasons, including the abundance of fresh, locally grown produce. "It was great for me, because I didn't feel like I had to eat McDonald's every day." The shooting location was inside a national park, and the production "did everything we could do to make sure we were as sensitive as possible to the environment," says executive producer Iain Canning.

In the Sundance Channel series, which premieres March 18 with the first two of seven episodes, Moss plays a detective investigating the disappearance of a pregnant teenager, and she relished the chance to portray a contemporary character dramatically different from the one with which she's most identified, Peggy Olson in "Mad Men."

"It was so awesome for me to be able to put on jeans and a t-shirt and a hoodie and boots to go to work and not have to wear pantyhose. It was a dream," she raves, calling her character, Robin Griffin, "super badass. I got to run and jump in lakes and shoot guns. I got to learn how to play darts, fish, chop wood, and interact with a horse."

Admittedly, all that was a culture shock for the self-described city girl who shoots "Mad Men" indoors on soundstages. "It was very cold sometimes, or snowing, and then it was hot. New Zealand is famous for having four seasons in one day," notes Moss, who spent January to June 2102 there, often filming parts of different episodes at the same time. "It was like the acting Olympics," she says. "I learned so much about what I need as an actor and who I am as an actor. Jane [Campion, director] taught me this sense of freedom and openness, and that's the greatest gift you can be given as an actor."

Returning to the comfort and familiarity of "Mad Men" after her "massive adventure" on "Top of the Lake" was "like going home," says the actress. The Emmy-winning drama's sixth season begins April 7 with a two-hour episode. "The common complaint of anyone on a TV show for five, six, seven years is that you're doing the same thing over and over, but Peggy has changed so much, starting out as secretary and moving up to copywriter. She's had a chance to grow and become a woman, and it feels like she's still growing. That keeps me excited."

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Elisabeth Moss loves sustainable New Zealand
'Mad Men' star turns contemporary detective in 'Top of the Lake'.