Matthew Wiener, writer and creator of the AMC series "Mad Men,"… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)
"The show is titled 'Mad Men,' but without these women, the guys would be just a bunch of desperate masturbators in great suits."
So said Holly Hunter, introducing the lead actresses of the acclaimed AMC drama last week at the nonprofit Women in Film awards. And, really, it's hard to argue. While the show's men, most notably, the self-loathing Don Draper, keep repeating sins from the past, the women have evolved and adapted through the show's six seasons. Remember the pilot episode in which Joan takes Peggy on a tour of the office and advises her to "take a paper bag, cut eye holes out of it, put it over your head, get undressed then look at yourself in the mirror"? Now Joan's a partner in the firm (albeit, at a cost) and Peggy has advanced from secretary to a sought-after copy writing chief, her shyness (and bangs) but a distant memory.
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"Now if those two are talking, it's about business, and how to get it," says Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy on the series.
We met Moss and the show's other female leads — January Jones, Jessica Pare, Kiernan Shipka and, by speaker phone from Detroit (where's she filming a movie), Christina Hendricks — along with "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner shortly before last week's Women in Film evening to talk about the changing times as the series heads toward its climactic seventh season. Wine was poured, rumors were dispelled and there was even a kind word or two about Don. ("He's not that bad," Moss offered. "He's just having a serious crisis.") Here are excerpts from the conversation:
With all the rumors, do we need to keep our fingers crossed for the continued good health of everyone here?
Weiner: I don't want to spoil anything for people, but after Lane …
Moss: They're barking up the wrong tree.
Weiner: It's just not part of the show. No one's going to die.
Pare: Thank God!
Weiner: This season. I didn't say never! (Laughs)
Moss: He changes his mind all the time.
Pare: Well, we have finished shooting.
Hendricks: Wait … is there some rumor that Megan's going to kill herself?
Weiner: The T-shirt she was wearing on the balcony at the end of episode nine was a T-shirt Sharon Tate wore, so everyone's convinced that this is some secret clue that Megan's going to be murdered or die or end up in Los Angeles in a house in the hills.
Hendricks: I had no idea this intrigue was going on. I love it!
Just google Sharon Tate and Megan Draper …
Hendricks: You bet I am!
Moss: (Laughs) She's googling it right now.
Weiner: And then because Sally was reading "Rosemary's Baby" too, they thought that was some kind of clue.
Moss: That is a lot of hints!
Weiner: It's not. It's the end of the '60s. Honestly, on the cheap, we're trying to tell the story of the disintegration of the city. That's our way of evoking hard-core decay. By 1977, New York will be bankrupt.
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Well, certainly, Don's decaying too, repeating the same mistakes again and again. The women in the show, though, display a nimbler ability to change, to evolve, even if circumstances sometimes make that difficult.
Moss: It seems like the argument of the show this season is: Can anyone change or do you just keep making the same mistakes? For Peggy, that's definitely her story this year. She thought she got out. She thought she had changed and was this new person with this new boss and then got dragged back into an even worse position.
Caught between two bosses, almost the good and bad version of the same man.
Moss: And it becomes worse than she imagined, thanks to the idiocy of the men. For me, a lot of the characters are going through this thing where they're thinking they've changed and gone somewhere and somehow they just seem to wind up in the same spot.
Weiner: And don't forget the boyfriend. There's a moment in the season when they're driven close together, even without the piece of paper. There's talk of a future and a family. His idealism is attractive to her. And then it gets turned on her.
Moss: Because it's not really who she is.
The show's audience has always rooted for Peggy, going back to the pilot episode where we follow her on her first day. Betty, though, has been a divisive character — until that episode this season when she slept with Don. Now everyone loves her!
Jones: In a way, how the audience feels about her depends on her relationship with Don — and her relationship with her children. At the end of Season 2, when she had the affair with the guy in the bar, so many people came up to me and said, "I can't believe she did that!" And I felt it was so hypocritical of people to think that this was so bad of her when her husband's been doing it the entire time.