There was a time when Mad Men‘s Joan Holloway, played by Christina Hendricks, was but the pneumatic head secretary at Sterling Cooper. Someone to be marveled at for her beauty and occasionally respected for her smarts, and yet ultimately dismissed in keeping with the sexism of the times.
Jump to now and she’s come a long way, baby.
In the wake of a season-ending salvo of episodes that firmly redefined Joan’s role at SCDP and in doing so gave Hendricks winning material, TVLine invited the actress to reflect on her character’s “amazing” arc, consider Mad Men‘s one too-hot-to-handle hook-up and explain why the cast’s lack of Emmy love is perhaps not such a bad thing.
TVLINE | Whose heart broke more – yours, saying goodbye to Jared Harris, or Joan’s, saying goodbye to Lane?
Thankfully I will see Jared in my life, because he’s a wonderful friend. But I do have to say, I cried when I heard the news [about Lane being killed off] for the first time.
TVLINE | Joan and Lane had a bit of a connection.
And Jared is such a wonderful actor and a great person. It’s difficult to know you don’t get to work with someone you enjoy so very, very much. But he and [series creator] Matt [Weiner] certainly had a long discussion about it, and it was for the benefit of the storytelling for the show. It was quite an amazing episode.
TVLINE | You’ve already spoken about getting wind of Joan’s unorthodox track to partnership. But at what point did Matt give you an idea that Joan would have the arc that she would, career-wise? When did you know that she was destined for bigger things?
I could be wrong, but I don’t think it was until I got the script for that episode. We had discussed this scenario before, but at the time I don’t think he told me “…and then she will be made partner.”
TVLINE | I ask because it’s been such an incredible arc over these years.
It has been pretty amazing, I have to say. John Slattery and I were just talking the other night, he said, “This is my favorite season so far.” It’s amazing how Matt and the writers can continue to have this caliber of writing every season.
TVLINE | I can’t imagine you predicted back in the day that Joan, given who she was at the start of the series, would be surveying an office space expansion as a partner.
It’s true, all of these characters have grown and changed so much. And that moment in the finale, I just love. It’s such a strong image to have all those people standing in a line — and there’s Joan amongst them!
TVLINE | Do you think Joan is happy right now? Is she happy with herself?
[Pauses to think] That’s interesting…. I think she has a tremendous amount of struggle, and quite a lot to be dealing with in her life. I mean, she’s just left her husband, she has this baby, and this mother, and the politics at work…. So to just say that she’s “happy,” I think, would be pretty hard. It’s a very trying time for her. And yet, I do think she is proud of the decisions she’s been making for herself. To get rid of her husband and be a single mother was a pretty bold move.
TVLINE | We ran a poll asking which of the partners people were most upset with in “The Other Woman,” where Joan slept with the auto dealership bigwig. Roger led with 58 percent of the vote.
Ooooh…. That makes sense. He doesn’t stick up for her. That was one of my reactions when I first read the script: “[Gasps] Roger!” He actually addressed that question in the finale, saying that they are in a very rocky position in their relationship, plus she’s a big girl who is going to do what she’s going to do, regardless of what he says.
TVLINE | I wanted to talk about the recent Joan and Don scenes, at the Jaguar dealership and then going out for drinks…. There was such an electricity to them, almost as if we were watching Superman with Wonder Woman.The alpha male with the alpha female. What was it like doing those scene?
It was great. Jon [Hamm] is such a fine actor, and it’s really fun to do a scene where you just get to look at each other and just have that wonderful dialogue. It’s not about moving around and choreography, you get to just sit there and act this beautiful scene out. And my mom was an extra on set during those scenes, so that was also fun!
TVLINE | It feels like Joan and Don can really be themselves with each other. There’s no veneer.
We don’t see it that often, just the two of them together, but when we have, it’s always been very kind and full of mutual respect. They really understand each other, and there’s no hidden agenda with either of them.
TVLINE | How did you interpret the closing scene of the Season 5 finale? Don walking away from Megan on the set, the pause before he answers that gal at the bar….
I just watched it for the first time, and it was so good. To me it kind of felt like we had come full circle, “Here we are at square one again.” Like, here is the Don we knew, the one we started out in Season 1 with, and you just know something naughty is about to happen. [Laughs]
TVLINE | What would you do if in Season 6 or the probable Season 7 you cracked open a script and saw that, for whatever reasons and under whatever circumstances, Joan and Don were going to sleep together?
I don’t think that would ever happen. I would be surprised immediately. And then maybe I’d feel doom. [Laughs] Like, “Oh no, this can’t happen!” I know there’s been some sort of talk about that with some of the people who watch the show, but I don’t see those two characters doing that. I could be wrong, but….
TVLINE | It’s almost a beauty of Mad Men, and a testament to Matt’s restraint, that they haven’t done that, paired the most libidinous characters on the show.
Yeah, they’re almost too similar in that way. They’ve already got each other’s number, so the “game” of that is taken away, to a certain extent.
TVLINE | In our latest episode of Spoiler Alert!, we ruminated over how mind-boggling it is that no one on Mad Men has won an acting Emmy. [Hendricks was nominated for Supporting Actress in 2010 and 2011.] What would it mean to you to be the one to break that streak?
Oh! We all still think of ourselves as a unit, and we’ve been lucky enough to win the SAG Award for ensemble casting a couple of times. I think our viewers look at us as a whole, and that’s a great thing. It’s nice that everyone is doing the best job that they can do, and it’s not about picking out individuals. But of course, you’re going to be completely flattered if you even get nominated. I’d be so honored and so proud.