“Mad Men” actors, creator loosen up behind the scenes

Dapper Don Draper seemed unfazed by the flash bulbs popping mere inches away from his face while, a heartbeat away, Peggy Olson, resplendent in an ankle-length silver cocktail dress, smiled a smile so bright it lit up everyone around her.

All around, ice clinked in glasses in the stiff chill of a January evening in Southern California. Betty Draper appeared briefly, a thin smile flashing across her face, and then she left just as quickly. Nearby, Roger Sterling and Joan Harris held court, surrounded by eager listeners. The sound of civilized conversation swirled against a backdrop of mojitos and rum, and for a moment there, it was possible to imagine one had stepped back in time, to Hollywood’s classic age when Andy Williams serenaded listeners on AM radio with Can’t Get Used to Losing You, Bobby Darin sang You’re the Reason I’m Living and Eydie Gorme chose to Blame It on the Bossa Nova.

Except of course that this was 2012, not 1963, and that was not Don Draper but rather Jon Hamm, the man who plays Draper on TV in Mad Men. A small banner unfurled across the Viennese Terrace of Pasadena’s Langham Huntington Hotel proclaimed “Envy is back March 25,” with the “envy” and “March” in orange and “back” and “25” in black. Just feet away from Hamm, Elisabeth Moss could not stop smiling: The 29-year-old Emmy nominee was like a teenager again, her voice bubbling over in a frenzy of words while, nearby, John Slattery (who plays Roger) and Christina Hendricks (who plays Joan) held court with a kind of old-world sophistication.

Matthew “Matt” Weiner, Mad Men’s creator, executive producer and head writer, has a reputation for being a controlling and stern taskmaster but on this night he was visibly relaxed — humble even — as he worked the crowd, sparing time for a visiting reporter from Canada.

“I never thought we’d go past the pilot,” Weiner said, in a moment of quiet reflection. “The idea that we’re finishing season five in 48 hours is just . . . it blows my mind. It blows my mind that people know what it is. So, for me, I just want to keep it entertaining, keep it fresh. We’re all pushing ourselves. These incredible actors. I’ve watched this little girl grow up. I’ve watched a lot of my cast grow up. I was bald when I met them, and I’m still bald now, so nothing happened to me — but that’s really where it is. I feel blessed.”

Mad Men has had a strange run at the Emmys — a record-tying haul for outstanding drama series, countless Emmys for writing and directing, and not a single Emmy for a cast of actors the Screen Actors Guild Awards named the best drama series ensemble in television two years in a row. In all, Mad Men has won 15 Emmys — but not a single trophy yet for its actors. Weiner himself has won nine Emmys, dating back to his years as a supervising writer, producer and director on The Sopranos.

“It’s a mystery to me,” Weiner told Postmedia News. “It always seems to be a case of special circumstances. Every year. It is an honour to be nominated. Perhaps they’ll be given awards 25 years from now, when Jon Hamm guest stars on Law & Order: Special Spaceship Unit or whatever. Everyone knows they’re great actors, or they wouldn’t be included in the nominations. But I hear it every time: It’s the special circumstances.”

Weiner glanced toward Moss, enjoying herself in the chilly night and doubled over at a quipster’s offhand remark, and said it was the one thing that weighed on him — this idea that Moss, Hamm, Jones, Hendricks and Slattery have yet to enjoy their solo moment in the Emmy spotlight.

“It is hard for me,” Weiner said, quietly. “Because you are literally talking about people I have had a relationship with, not just creatively but personally, as family. I will go on record as saying I don’t think anybody else’s kids are better looking than my kids. It’s my family; I’m allowed to say that.

“I do think they’ll be recognized eventually. I really do.”

For now, Weiner said, Mad Men has its eyes clearly focused on the future. The new season dawns March 25 on AMC, a new rival to HBO as the home of television’s most influential, trenchant dramas.

Nearby, Hamm leaned back in the shadows, perfectly dapper in a neatly tailored suit and dark tie, and admitted being anxious about the season to come — though he masked his anxiety well. This season’s episodes have already been filmed.

“It’s strange,” Hamm said. “The first four seasons, our show always premiered while we were shooting. We always had instant feedback, this little boost where it comes out and people are excited about it. This is not that. It felt very disjointed, like we were making it, making it, making it . . . but no one was seeing it (and) no one was talking about it. We had to say to ourselves, just make it and live with the fact that it’ll be another month before anybody sees it.”

Now that the premiere is within sight, Hamm is both anxious and relieved. He wants the audience to embrace it, again, but like a bottle of aged scotch, he won’t know until people have had a chance to taste it.

Just steps away, Moss glowed in the California night, radiant, her laughter non-stop.

“Peggy’s growing up, getting older,” Moss said, of her character’s dawning maturity. “She’s becoming more competent at what she does — you’ve seen that — and more proud of the person she’s becoming. I don’t know if I expected that to happen. But I’m really comfortable with that. I’ve had more fun playing her this season than probably any other season.”

Later, much later, as the bar locked away the Disaronno Originale and Sandeman Vinho do Porto, Moss and Hamm joined a group of friends alone on the terrace. Much of the night’s crowd had moved on to the next event. There was a sudden snap in the cold January California night, but they didn’t seem to mind. A strange quiet settled over the palm trees and swimming pool below. A number of hangers-on lit up cigarettes, smoking in the night — very Mad Men-esque. Slattery wandered over with a relaxed, laid-back vibe and Moss beamed, delighted to see him. Quietly, the group hugged, and they all laughed.

In that moment, nothing else mattered.

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