If an increasingly common sniff test for political candidates is to pick the one you’d want to have a beer with, then “Mad Men‘s” Christina Hendricks is well suited to meeting that standard as an Emmy contender.
Hendricks, sitting for an interview after breezing through a photo shoot, has a natural ease. It’s there in the way she salvages a questioner’s bumbling sally about her girlhood as daughter of a National Forest Service employee with her own spin. “I am still,” she says, with the smallest soupçon of irony, “friends with woodchucks.”
She’s enjoying, without much fuss, her third consecutive supporting actress in a drama nomination for playing Joan Holloway on AMC’s “Mad Men.” What plays for Joan as self-composure sitting atop a steely inner core gives way in conversation with Hendricks to casual, often mirthful grace and, underneath that, an unpretentious braininess.
“What’s been great for me,” says “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner, “is for people to recognize the surprise that, all physical attributes aside, there is a tremendous depth to her portrayals, and you’re getting a real person there — somebody you want to meet, or sometimes don’t want to meet, but she’s a super-intelligent actress.”
Originally called in to read for the part of Midge, mistress to costar Jon Hamm’s Don Draper, Hendricks was upgraded to the then-compact role of Joan as office manager — what Weiner saw as “keeper of the office harem — but we changed her from guest star on the pilot to series regular immediately.”
(New fans of the cultural milestone that “Mad Men” has become, be warned that spoilers start here.) Through the subsequent five seasons — a concluding two seasons will start shooting in October — Joan has survived rape, an adulterous impregnation, a bleak divorce and, late in this spring’s concluding episodes, a forced assignation with a lecherous Jaguar salesman.
“There are no words,” says Weiner, for the look Joan gives the ad agency’s partners when she returns from fulfilling her indecent proposal with a fattened bank account and new role as a partner in the company. Says Hendricks: “There’s a moment where everyone in that room knows what’s happened, and no one’s acknowledging it. Don does for a second, and she does give a look of, ‘It’s done, don’t worry about it, I’m fine and don’t you guys dare judge me — it’s a new day, and I’m in this room from now on.'”
Hendricks has no problem distinguishing her own emotions from those of Joan, and she freely embraces the choices the writers make: “It’s hard for me to even look at it through my own eyes, because in order to play that you have to see it through Joan’s eyes. She’s a survivor and a protector of her family. She’s doing this alone, a single mother making probably very little. And here’s an opportunity to take care of her family. You could judge it either way, but for somebody to take care of their family, most people would consider that noble. That’s what was available to her as a woman at that time.”
One fictional change that did affect Hendricks was the disposition of Jared Harris’ Lane character, with whom she shared an arc “from butting heads to where a friendship blossomed.” If Joan was “truly shocked and saddened” by Lane’s exit, Hendricks could empathize: “I was in the hair and makeup trailer when I found out and I just started crying; Lane was just an amazing character, and he really changed the atmosphere. He’ll be missed, but Matt’s storytelling is incredible, and it really did rattle the audience.”
Hendricks‘ schooling in fleeting friendships began early, as her dad’s work saw the family moving every few years, from her birthplace in Tennessee through stays in Idaho, Virginia and other posts. She’ll agree that such a life preps one for her trade: “You have to observe and find out the best way to fit in, or to lay low. You learn a lot about a different culture very quickly. It really is about observing and mimicking and sliding in and fitting in. So, yes, it’s good people-watching.”
When “Mad Men” goes on hiatus, Hendricks does films — recently a telling if brief role in “Drive” and, coming soon, a thoughtful turn in Sally Potter’s (tentatively titled) “Bomb.”
Six years on, now 37 and blissfully married for three years to “Body of Proof” regular Geoffrey Arend, she’s content. Happy to raise Joan’s baby on camera, she’s got no real urge for one of her own: “I love babies, love working with babies, I appreciate them for being babies, and I do not want one for myself. I really like the way my life is now.”