Admiring Christina Hendricks


Christina Hendricks: On “Mad Men”, Sexual Confidence, and Her Early Goth Days

On a bright January afternoon, I meet Christina Hendricks at Dusty’s, a rustic French-American bistro in Silver Lake. It’s one of her favorite spots to eat in Los Angeles, and not far from her home. The 36-year-old actor, dressed in a fetching black dress that clings to her famous curves, strides confidently to the table, seeming supremely comfortable in her body. It’s a body that, thanks to an assembly line of red carpet appearances, provocative magazine spreads, and her standout role as sumptuous secretary Joan Holloway on AMC’s flagship drama, Mad Men, has become a national obsession. It drives men to helpless, testosterone-fueled fantasies, and women to reevaluate traditional Hollywood notions of beauty—maybe the spotlight isn’t only for the thin and waifish after all? But today, Hendricks, whose trademark crimson hair is partially concealed under a snug, black-and-white knit cap, blends in with the rest of the diners, almost. In the dim lighting, her alabaster skin is almost translucent, and as a lighter version of that familiar, breathy voice rolls across the table at me like wisps of smoke, hints of Joan Holloway creep through.

When Mad Men first premiered in 2007, it surprised everybody. HBO passed on the drama that centered around an advertising agency in 1960s Manhattan, laying bare the sexism, homophobia, and racism of the era. The show eventually found a home on upstart network AMC, and turned its relatively unknown cast, including Hendricks, into overnight stars. “Everyone seems the same, which is nice,” says Hendricks of her costars, which include Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss. “If there was a difference from Season 1, it’s that everyone’s on their cell phones a lot more because our managers and publicists are always calling.”

For those who have yet to plunge into Mad Men‘s martini-drenched universe, Joan Holloway is a brassy office manager and den mother to all the other women at Madison Avenue advertising agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and a pro at hypnotizing ad men with a glance of those cerulean eyes or a swivel of those hourglass hips. Over the course of four seasons, we’ve watched as she batted away constant harassment using her own sexuality as ammo, carried on a torrid affair with one of the company’s founders, and finally managed to land a doctor husband, though not before he sexually assaults her in her workplace. (They still managed to make their dinner reservation.) When we last saw her, Holloway had transformed into a homemaker, though a danger-fueled liaison left her pregnant with the child of her former boss.

“The amazing thing about Joan is how confident she is,” Hendricks says, between sips of Sancerre and nibbles on french fries. “I was never that confident. When we shot the pilot I was like, Who is this woman? I’m not friends with people like that.” But today, her self-confidence is brimming. Starring on a hit show might do that to a girl, but Hendricks admits that Joan’s sass was contagious. “She’s living in the ’60s, but she uses sexual innuendo, which is taboo. Because of that—and a very tight green dress—she became a sexual character. She was very openly saying, I have sex, and I don’t care if you judge me. I’m not going to apologize for who I am. Those qualities resonated with people, and have given me confidence.”

She’s a character that, like Hendricks herself, has experienced some of womanhood’s watershed moments in the five years we’ve known her. “Just as I have changed, and as significant things have happened in my life, like getting married and moving into a new home, Joan has gotten married and gotten pregnant,” Hendricks says. All of this has added up to a softer Joan Holloway, who once teased a white colleague for seeing a black woman. “She was a lot bitchier than she is now. She’s mellowed out and wised up. With the more responsibility that she’s gotten at work and in her life, she can’t be as flip as she was. There’s a lot more on her shoulders these days. ”

Growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, Hendricks had no inkling of the Tinseltown success that awaited her. With her mother, a psychologist, and her British father, whose job working for the US Forest Service caused them to move often, Hendricks dotted the country throughout her childhood, spending swathes of her youth in places like Twin Falls, Idaho, and Fairfax, Virginia. In her teens, she acted in community theater and did ballet, experiences that ignited a passion for performance. “I studied pretty much everyday,” says Hendricks of her stint as a dancer. “Then, when I was 15, I realized I wasn’t going to be a professional dancer and I sort of had to readjust. I already knew that performance was something that made me happy,” she says.

Before she discovered acting, Hendricks expressed herself through fashion. “When I was in junior high, I was sewing my own clothes,” she says. “I had these looks. Sometimes they were very tragic. I wore a pair of green, silk, MC Hammer–style pants with the low crotch, Birkenstocks, and my hair in a turban. What that look was, I don’t know, but it was kind of amazing.” In high school, she embraced goth culture, and the black fishnets and makeup that came with it. “I wasn’t one of those sloppy, dirty goths. I thought it was very beautiful and I went out of my way to do it right, in a very high-fashion kind of way.” (Of Mad Men’s influence on her current style, she says, “I now have a section in my closet devoted to pencil skirts.”)

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