Twenty Years With Trinity

Carrie-Anne Moss on creating (and saving) one of Hollywood’s most iconic action characters

CarrieAnne Moss 2021.

Carrie-Anne Moss, 2021.Courtesy of Brian Bowen Smith

We may be living on the cusp of 2022, but our brains are inexorably stuck at the turn of the millennium. Everywhere you look, there’s another lucrative time warp, lulling us back into the pre-social media bliss of 20 years ago: There’s the cast of “Friends,” reuniting on the sets where the show was shot. There’s Michael Gandolfini, acting out Tony Soprano’s origin story in “The Many Saints of Newark.” There’s Sarah Jessica Parker, somehow still in crisis over Mr. Big, returning to her infamous bachelorette pad in the reboot of “Sex and the City.” Our TVs will not let us escape the past.

And there, standing in front of me, is Trinity from “The Matrix.” Actually, it’s Carrie-Anne Moss, the actress who has played Trinity since the franchise began back in 1999, but the woman who genially invites me into her hotel room has such an immutable essence that it’s disorienting. Black tank top, dark-wash jeans, black hair cropped short and swept back, unspoiled Snow-White complexion and gemstone-blue eyes, Moss looks as if she’s been preserved in alien goop in one of those human-harvesting pods made famous in the film.

Moss, who is now 54, is in New York City this week on a whirlwind promotional tour for “The Matrix Resurrections,” the franchise’s fourth installment. This next chapter in the saga—arriving 22 years after the premiere of the original—is the first Matrix film in some 18 years. The project is a massive commercial undertaking and an exercise in global nostalgia that contains a blizzard of fight scenes, absurd conceptual loopholes and winking meta-commentary about the nature of reboot culture. For instance, the movie kicks off with Keanu Reeves as Neo—now back in the Matrix, unaware of the real world—being tasked with developing a new “Matrix” video game by “our beloved parent company, Warner Bros.” (Warner Bros. is the studio behind the film franchise.) “That’s the thing about stories: They never really end,” Neo is told.

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix Resurrections, 2021.Everett Collection / Courtesy of Murray Close for Warner Bros.

In Moss’s room, makeup is strewn all over the table, and the dresser is covered in supplements and tinctures and a special chai tea she brings with her everywhere she goes. This week is all talk-show appearances and Zoom chats, early call times and cast reunions. “I need that coffee,” she says, pointing to the room-service tray. This surprises me, because I’ve been reading the online platform Moss now runs, Annapurna Living, which is focused holistic health and mindfulness. In one post to the site, she swore off coffee.

“One of the things I talk a lot about on Annapurna Living is, you get to change your mind,” Moss says with a smile, sitting down onto the couch and cracking into a hard-boiled egg. “I’m not into dogma!”

I ask Moss what she thinks about this moment of mass-market nostalgia. She doesn’t watch anything (except “Succession,” naturally), but she can’t help but notice the way the past is creeping up on us, and she turns the question back to me. “Why do you think? Is it because it’s comforting for humanity?” she asks. “I don’t know!”

“I remember what was hot when ‘The Matrix’ was out: ‘Friends,’ ‘Sex and the City,’” she continues. “All of us who were watching those things 20 years ago have aged too, so we can feel some comfort in seeing where their lives are now, and looking at where our lives are now and what’s happening with us.”

Moss’s own life has changed enormously—and this hectic week spent in New York is, to use the most obvious possible metaphor, about as far from her typical day-to-day experience as the Matrix is to the real world. Last year, Moss moved her family from Los Angeles to rural New Hampshire, where she spends most of her time taking care of her children, meditating, and sitting by the fire. After the move, while she was unpacking her renovated farmhouse, she started digging through old notebooks, and stumbled through a portal into her past: A journal entry from 22 years ago, written during the making of the original “Matrix” film, at a moment when she was still trying to understand the Trinity character.

“I had written a letter in my journal about my talk with The Oracle,” Moss tells me. While the film took pains to lay out Neo’s backstory as a computer programmer named Thomas Anderson, it gave the audience almost no biographical information about Trinity. We know she had a closet full of impossibly well-fitting latex and leather garments, a killer kung-fu kick, and that she would help Neo embody his powers as The One by falling in love with him. But that was about the extent of the Trinity story.

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix Resurrections, 2021.Everett Collection / Courtesy of Warner Bros.

As an actor, this didn’t give Moss much to work with, so she took the matter of Trinity’s life into her own hands—envisioning some biographical details that she committed to her journal. “What we do know about Trinity, because The Oracle told her, was that she would know who The One was because she would love him,” Moss continues in between sips of chai from a giant thermos she’s brought from home, remembering the journal entry. “So then I was imagining, how old was she when she got pulled out [of The Matrix]? I had decided she was really young, like a child.” Moss recalls that Reeves had done a load of intellectual legwork to prepare for the role of Neo, reading a stack of books recommended to him by “Matrix” creators Lana and Lily Wachowski. She, on the other hand, focused more on instinct and feeling. “I remember the concepts being very difficult for me to comprehend,” she admits. “I know the feeling of a thing more than I know the intellectualizing of the thing.” In person, Moss sounds a lot more like The Oracle than like Trinity.

Simply landing the job had been something of a shock for Moss who, after growing up in Vancouver and modeling in Europe, had moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. She had managed to get regular—if a bit unglamorous—work on minor shows. But as she crept toward 30, she suspected that her chances to do serious film work were dwindling. When her agent explained the role of Trinity, she reacted with resignation. “I was so worn out, from auditioning,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘movie with Keanu Reeves? I’m never going to get it.’” But, of course, she got it. And she became an integral part of a film that changed the idea of what an action-thriller could be—a movie that introduced an entirely new framework for people thinking about their relationship to technology and society. Moss was even immortalized as a Trinity action figure.

Moss could have seized the moment to search for similar work, doing big action films and playing Trinity-esque characters. But she decided she wanted to protect the sanctity of the role. “I didn’t ever want to have anyone else sort of use that. That was a hard line for me. If something smelled, or felt, or had that [Trinity] energy… it was just like, no. It would have felt like an act of betrayal.” Still, after the success of “The Matrix,” Moss was able to take on a handful of ambitious roles. She was cast in Christopher Nolan’s “Memento”—another dark, heady, non-linear thriller—as Natalie, the bartender who helps Leonard Shelby discover the nature of his memory problem. She appeared in “Chocolat” and starred across Val Kilmer in “Red Planet,” and returned to “The Matrix” series for its second and third films.

Then her career grew inexplicably quiet. Surely, someone who’d broken out in such a massive way, leaving a trail of iconography in her wake, would be a blockbuster star for life. She was Trinity! It would take something unusual or sinister to derail her. “Somebody sent me one thing, a video someone had made,” Moss says, chuckling a bit. “What happened to Carrie Anne Moss? Why did Hollywood turn their back on her? Or something like that. I was like, funny!”

The truth about what “happened” to Moss is both sweet and profound, and also more mundane that what might have been imagined online. “I had kids, and I wanted to be with them,” she says. She got pregnant with her first child while filming “The Matrix Reloaded,” and had two more soon after, retreating into a life she describes as “cozy-cozy.” She also became more and more invested in her metaphysical life, training to become a Kundalini practitioner and exploring all the forms of wellness Los Angeles had to offer, long before those practices were swallowed up by a larger wellness-industrial complex. (Moss argues that wellness isn’t about buying things, and on her website, the only things she sells are a few guided meditation mp3s. “I can’t be GOOP all of a sudden. It’s literally a labor of love,” she says. “It’s not a very smart business venture.”)

It wasn’t until 2016 that Moss felt ready to leave the cocoon of maternal life. She’d been cast as Jeri Hogarth in the television adaptation of Marvel’s “Jessica Jones,” which was filming in New York City. As for the particulars of joining the show, Moss says she was given a stipend and left to her own devices to sort out housing and flights. “I had been in this world with small children all the time, and I felt unable to talk to all the grownups,” she remembers. Kysten Ritter, who played the show’s titular character, helped her download necessary apps like Uber onto her phone. Moss rented an economical one-room apartment in SoHo, where she spent a lot of time writing and meditating. By the end of the series’ three seasons, she felt transformed, almost as if she’d time-traveled back to her adventurous youth.

Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix Resurrections, 2021.Everett Collection / Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Over the years, Moss has been content to keep Hollywood at arms’ length, mostly preferring her familial nest. So she was surprised earlier this year when she found herself the subject of a number of non-“Matrix” headlines, after a quote of hers had been cherry-picked from an event she did in New York. She was speaking onstage with her friend Justine Bateman, who’d just written a book about women and aging. As they talked, Moss made a quip about her own career, saying she’d been offered a grandmother role the moment she turned 40. News outlets hungry for a culturally relevant headline ran with it.

“I was making a joke!” Moss tells me. She acknowledges that the casting process “definitely did feel different at 40,” but says, no, she was not literally offered the role of a grandmother. “Of all the great things we talked about [that night], somebody decided that was the most important thing to print.”

There are plenty of negative things to be said about our current moment of reboot mania. A lot of it feels like an attempt to wring every last dollar out of old pieces of intellectual property. It often condescends to audiences by assuming they’d prefer nostalgia over innovation. It makes us all feel sort of old. And yet, no matter how you feel about reboot culture, there’s one less obvious byproduct that can’t be dismissed. There is perhaps no other time when women over the age of 50 have been so prominent on screen, Moss included. “I like seeing women getting older working, and I think we could use more of that,” she says.

Moss recently shot a second season of “Wisting,” a popular Norwegian murder mystery in which she plays an FBI agent. I ask her if “The Matrix Resurrections” has put her back on the radar of casting agents. “I don’t call and check in about that stuff. I never have,” she says. “But it’d be nice to get some great work at this point in my life.”

And yet Moss is one of the very few actors who doesn’t seem bothered by being trapped in the past, and being defined by one very particular role she began playing two decades ago. She’s not trying to escape the legacy of Trinity; instead, her experience working on the film provides grist for her mental and spiritual practices.

“We think about ‘The Matrix’ being these systems of control on humanity, and yet the Matrix of our own minds… that’s what I want to bust through all the time!” she exclaims. “Who am I if not a mother? Who am I if not a wife? Who am I if I’m not an actress? Who am I if not my mother’s daughter?” And finally: “Who am I if not Trinity?”

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