Stepping into the fictional Sterling Cooper offices on the Mad Men set, we feel as if we’ve stepped into an old magazine rather than a live set for one Emmy’s biggest nominees.
What’s Mad Men you say? It is only the coolest show to hit television in years. Mad Men is also this year’s surprise Emmy nomination stealer and the hottest show of the summer season.
Here on the Mad Men set, there are no false walls or fancy tricks, or at least, not that you notice at first. Of course, there’s no ceiling. The lighting has to come from somewhere. But it really feels as though we’ve stumbled into the days before cubicles. And our guide for the day is the woman who would CEO…if we weren’t talking about the 1960s!
Tour guide: Christina Hendricks
Christina Hendricks leads our tour of the Sterling offices and talks about the politics and wardrobe of playing a woman in the 1960s.
“I could never be Joan,” Christina Hendricks declares, referring to the sexy, no-nonsense office manager she plays on Mad Men. “If I were organizing this sea of women, making sure everything’s going right in each office, knowing everything that’s going on and covering up everyone’s affairs, and no one gave me credit, I would go bonkers.”
As long as she keeps her head in the right era, however, Hendricks can relate to her character, even as she puts up with the misogyny of Madison Ave.
“If you’ve been raised that way, it would just be you going about your business,” she explains. “In some ways, it may remove some of the stress if you don’t have to be competitive or responsible. You just sit back and let someone else do it.”
Joan’s coworker Peggy is one woman who wouldn’t agree with that philosophy. Mad Men exists in a time when the women’s movement was already changing the landscape of America. Young Peggy is breaking barriers as Sterling’s first female junior copywriter.
A woman’s world, circa 1960
Yet, any fan can see her lot at Sterling is more trying than Joan’s. They put that fancy new-fangled copy machine in her office! “I don’t think things are that different in this encapsulated workplace,” Hendricks maintains. “Maybe out on the street and in the world politically, but in this workspace there aren’t huge strides being made for women, certainly not for Joan!”
But Hendricks isn’t asking you to feel pity for her character. In contrast to the oft disrespected Peggy, Joan is clearly running things in her own way.
“Joan has learned to manipulate and work this building to her advantage, so she feels comfortable,” Hendricks says. “I don’t know that she wants major changes. She’s got it down.”
She’s also got big boss Roger Sterling (Emmy nominee and Desperate Housewives veteran John Slattery) in the palm of her hand. Last season she sent him back to his wife. But, she’s still the one he wants and Hendricks wouldn’t mind a return to the…romantic affair?
“You don’t think you can call it romance? In a playful, albeit martially illegal way?” laughs Hendricks. “I love doing those scenes with John Slattery, because he is exceptional and so natural and wonderful that the scenes are amazing,” Hendricks raves.
“I also think it’s an interesting story. It’s interesting to watch those two people be so playful, familiar and comfortable with one another and then see them back in the office mode and everything shifts. The postures changes again and it’s, ‘Who’s looking? I can’t give anything away.'”
She even enjoyed her scenes with the other woman, aka Mrs Sterling…sort of. “The play between Joan and Mona,” Hendricks said then applauds. “To see his wife come to work and Joan do her best cover up. Yuck! I remember when I was doing that scene, I was like, ‘Eww,’ but it’s great.”
As we’re chatting with Hendricks, the ever dapper Don Draper (Emmy nominee John Hamm) saunters into the office, followed by the missus, Betty (January Jones). Hamm is surrounded by a swarm of reporters before he can get past the first desk, but Jones heads straight for our interviewee.
As she comes over, it’s clear Don and Betty must be having a party this season, because she’s wearing in the most fantastic, period polka-dot cocktail dress. Later, we do in fact get to see the Draper dining room, which set for a dinner party!
“You look amazing,” Hendricks gushes to her costar. “You’re like a festival! And look at those perfect Cinderella shoes.”
After the ladies hug it out and Jones is pulled into an interview nearby, the conversation with Hendricks naturally turns to wardrobe. For her character, it’s almost always office attire, but there’s nothing boring about it.
“You’re in these pencil skirts and that puts you in a more contained space, so all of a sudden, you’re more aware of your body parts,” she shares. “I feel more sensual or sexual when I’m in those, because everything is displayed.”
The period lingerie helps as well.
“It’s hard to wear one of those foundation pieces, walk across the room with all these people and know some are looking at me, but that’s what’s fun about Joan,” Hendricks says. “She walks around the office like, ‘People are looking at me.’ Even if all I do is walk from one desk to another, she’s aware there are a couple people watching.”
As much as Hendricks cherishes her character’s look, the topic elicits the only complaint we could get out her:
“I don’t like sitting and getting my hair and makeup done, as much as I love everyone in the trailer,” she admits. “They’re my new best friends, but I get a bit impatient.”
She also finds she’s not as thrilled when it’s time to get gussied up for a big night out such as the upcoming Emmy Awards. “I used to like it so much more,” Hendricks sighs. “But now we have all these events. The other day, I said to Elizabeth (Moss, who plays Peggy), ‘Remember when we used to think we knew how to dress ourselves and do our own hair and makeup? We were sorely mistaken!’ It seems like now that everyone’s looking at you, you’ve got to get it just right. There’s so much pressure. Maybe I’ll get used to it. Right now, it’s a little intense.”
We try to get her to give us one more complaint. The closest she can get? “The weeks I have fewer episodes, I just want to come to work!” she pouts. “I love these scripts, I want to act and I love my fellow actors. They’re incredible. I love our directors and we have the same ones come back, so it feels like a family. You trust them. I love every part of coming to work…except for hair!”
Hair isn’t as much as issue for bad boy Pete Campbell, but calling him a “bad boy” may upset portrayer Vincent Kartheiser.
Up next, SheKnows visits the prop room with the bad boy, Vincent Kartheiser