“Mad Men” may be named for the guys, but the women rule the roost.
Take Christina Hendricks‘ savvy office manager Joan Harris (nee Holloway), a glamour girl who choreographs her every move with the precision of a five-star general drawing up battle plans. Or how about January Jones’ frustrated housewife Betty Draper, whose icy veneer masks a woman constantly on the verge of coming undone? And of course, there’s up-and-comer Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), a gifted copywriter finding her voice during the upheaval of the series’ 1960s-era setting.
As the critically acclaimed AMC series begins its fourth season, the Emmy-nominated trio chatted about auditioning, typecasting, and being women in a world of “Men.”
WHAT WAS YOUR “MAD MEN” AUDITION PROCESS LIKE?
Christina Hendricks: It was pilot season. It’s that crazy time of year when we all go nuts. I had already auditioned for a bunch of stuff, and I was feeling depleted. I had gotten the script, and I was super excited and went to work on the audition with my best friend. I remember breaking down and crying because I was so tired. I was like, “I’m not doing anything with this role; I don’t know what I’m doing.” She helped me so much, so I had every word down and went in and enjoyed myself and had a really good audition. They brought me back to read the Midge role: the bohemian lover of Don Draper. At the time, they hadn’t decided which characters were going to be regulars on the show and which were going to be guest stars. I said, “I’ll take whatever one stays!” The women’s roles were so beautiful.
HOW DID YOU APPROACH THESE ROLES?
Hendricks: As I was reading the lines for Joan, I thought, “Oh, this is that kind of person that we all know that needs to be acknowledged, needs to be thanked. She needs a lot of attention.” I based that off her being kind of a know-it-all. I found out later that Matt had a different idea — I think she was a little more conservative and pinched and uptight, and I interpreted it in a different way. Thank God he liked it. After I did that, he started to write for her in that vein.
WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING THING FOR YOU TO PLAY ON THE SHOW?
Hendricks: The reason this job is so fun is it’s always challenging. You never just show up to work and walk through it. Every day, it’s like, “Oh gosh, I get to do this.” Even the moments where you’re watching and listening are meaty.
THESE CHARACTERS ARE SO ICONIC. HAVE YOU FOUND YOURSELVES DEALING WITH ANY TYPECASTING?
Hendricks: It’s actually opened doors for characters for me. Before I played Joan, people thought that I was maybe a little too soft or sweet or vulnerable to play tougher characters. Now I play one of the toughest characters there is, so I’ve been reading scripts and being offered roles that are these really strong, aggressive women, which no one ever thought I could do before.
YOU’VE ALL BEEN ACTING FOR A LONG TIME. DO YOU HAVE ROLES YOU CONSIDER BREAKTHROUGHS?
Hendricks: I landed the lead role in a pilot of John Wells’ called “The Big Time,” which was actually another period piece. It was set in the ’40s. It was one of those jobs where you work a 17-hour day, and at the end of the day you’re like, “Wait, I have to go home?” I think that proved to me that I had the chops and the stamina to go in and play a lead role and fully immerse myself into a character.
I remember, I went in to test for it, and there was a room of people testing, and John Wells walked in the room, and he was like, “I understand that this process isn’t human. I’m sorry for you guys because you’re all amazing. When you walk into the room to audition, please make yourself comfortable, take your time, don’t rush, make sure you give the best audition you can give.” I thought that was the nicest thing someone could come out and say, because you’re racked with nerves. Your palms are sweating, and you feel like you’re gonna throw up, and you’re looking at your competition sitting in the chair next to you. I remember walking into the audition room, setting down my bag. And they were like, “Wow, you really are taking your time.” I’m like, “John Wells said I could!”
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SPECTRUM, WOULD YOU MIND SHARING A WORST AUDITION STORY?
Hendricks: I remember one in particular. It was pilot season, and it was a procedural kind of show, and I went in to play the wife of a cop. I had to break down and cry and all these things. I left so confident. I was like, “I killed that.” There are so few moments as an actor where you feel like in an audition you were truly there, you were so present and you really felt it. I got a call from my agent a couple hours later: “What were you wearing? The casting director was so offended by what you were wearing.”
Now, let me tell you what I was wearing: gray dress pants from Banana Republic and a navy-blue silk top from Donna Karan, which was the nicest thing I owned. It was a little low-cut, because most things are; I just happen to be bustier than a lot of people. It was very classy and very nice, and the casting director was so offended by my breasts that she called my agent and said, “I couldn’t even hear her audition because of what she was wearing.” I was like, “You pathetic woman. I just killed that audition so hard, and you’re so distracted by what I’m wearing that you didn’t see my acting. And I put on my nicest duds for you!”
If you want to read January Jones’ and Elisabeth Moss’ answers you can go to the source.