By ANGELA DAWSON and JUDY SLOANE
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—They say all good things must come to an end, and so it is with AMC’s award-winning drama series “Mad Men,” which began airing the last seven episodes of the seventh—and final—season last Sunday night.
The brainchild of writer-director-producer Matthew Weiner, the weekly hour-long episodic drama tells the fictional story of an ambitious and attractive New York advertising executive named Don Draper who, despite the façade of having achieved the American dream—a fat paycheck, a beautiful wife, three healthy children, a spacious house in the suburbs—harbors a dark secret. Set against the backdrop of the go-go 1960s, a period when almost anything was possible, or at least appeared achievable with the purchase of the right cigarette brand, car model or appliance, “Mad Men” takes an unfiltered look at a bygone era.
Though viewers eventually discovered Don’s secret, he continued to be an enigma throughout the course of the series. He drank. He philandered. He divorced. He dabbled in drugs. He married his secretary. He cheated again. He lost accounts. He won accounts. He smoked. And smoked. And smoked.
As the series winds to a close, Jon Hamm (who plays Draper), along with his co-stars Christina Hendricks, January Jones, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser and John Slattery, along with Weiner got together at the U.S. Television Critics Association meeting to reminisce about the beloved TV series in which they worked together for so many years, garnering awards, fame and fans from around the world.
When “Mad Men” premiered in 2007, it marked little-known AMC’s push into original scripted dramas. It has since become one of the most iconic shows in television history. Like “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under” and “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” has unfolded at its own leisurely pace (seven seasons over nine years) and through excellent writing, supurb production values and a stellar cast, has established a benchmark for quality television.
Weiner, 49, recalled that when he wrote the pilot nearly a decade ago, consumer portable electronics were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are today. Since he was only a toddler during the era in which the show is set, he would often extrapolate from modern world anxieties how people coped with their changing world 50 years ago.[private]
“I had just gotten an invitation to something called G-mail,” he said, looking back on when wrote the first “Mad Men” script. “There was no iPhone, no iPad. There was no streaming video. Netflix was something that you did through the mail. The longest video that you could see online was three minutes long. Things were so different. So whenever I felt that sense of anxiety that goes along with that, I would just project that onto whatever was happening in the (show’s) period.”
“I only know the time I live in, and I’m not a historian,” he added. “So I am often channelling what the national mood is right now because that’s all I know. I’m looking for similarities.”
Naturally, the cast have come to regard each other like family over the years. And, of course, they have mixed feelings about the series coming to an end.
“There’s no version of this ending that is not super-painful for me,”explained Hamm, bearded and dressed casually, looking nothing like the clean-shaven ad exec he plays on TV. “We are a very close‑knit group of people, and we genuinely like each other. They’ve been the single constant in my creative life for the last decade. So that’s kind of tough. And, yeah, I will be happy when the shows air and I won’t have to fake like I don’t know how it ends or make up some ridiculous story about robots or zombies or something. But I will never be able to have this again, and that’s a drag.”
For his co-stars, traveling aboard the “Mad Men” train all these years has been a joyful ride that they won’t soon forget.
Said Moss, who plays secretary turned copywriter Peggy Olson, “I’ve always been sort of constantly surprised over the years, I’ve never really seen some (plot lines) coming, but then, again, I feel like often I’ll read something and be like, ‘Oh, that’s been being set up for the last 12 episodes, and I just didn’t see it.’”
After seven seasons of playing the smart but unlucky at love wordsmith, one of the most surprising things she discovered about her character is how little she really changed over the years, she observed.
“I think goes the same for a lot of the characters,” she said. “That’s part of our story in this last season is that people do change, but in a lot of ways they don’t, unfortunately. Peggy has retained a lot of her qualities that she’s had since the beginning—in good ways and in bad ways.”
Her co-star, Hendricks, who plays busty bombshell Joan Harris, agrees. Her character rose from sexy office manager to a partner in the previously all-male management, and yet she still maintained a similar guy’s gal disposition.
“I would say over the years I was surprised at how we were able to maintain this sort of story about Joan and her trajectory in the workplace and relationships in the workplace, and how Matt (Weiner) was able to bring in these people in her life, and bring you into Joan’s home life and enrich it.
“All those (supporting) characters sort of made the relationships with these (main) characters richer, and so I guess I was just surprised at the creativity of bringing in all these different people within her life,” she added.
Jones, who plays Draper’s elegant Grace Kelly-lookalike ex-wife, Betty Draper, recalled getting the script of the finale at home, and becoming emotional.
“It was very hard,” she admitted. “I kind of knew a little bit of what was going to happen in the last script, but the whole last few weeks, I was just a mess pretty much—everyone will tell you. Anything made me cry. So it was hard. It’s a beautiful story. I read it over and over. I didn’t want it to be the last time.”
Added Slattery, who plays silver-haired agency partner Roger Sterling, “It was surprising to the end. It’s been surprising the whole time.”
Moss concurred. “ I was definitely surprised,” she said of the finale. “I’ve been constantly surprised by things that really I should probably have seen coming. But I was surprised in the best way, like just really, really happy with it.”
But Kartheiser, who plays womanizing account executive Pete Campbell on the series, quipped, “I wasn’t surprised at all,” before adding in a more serious tone, “I think everyone will have their own individual response. I hope. It won’t be a collective response. I mean, have we started having a mass mentality to that level yet?”
While the show managed to weave in American historic events throughout the series, including the Kennedy assassination, the lunar landing, Vietnam, these seminal moments more often served as a backdrop rather than the focal point of the series.
Explained Weiner, “One of the lessons of the show is that your life is so often independent of history that it’s a rare occurrence that history can interfere with it other than for a few moments.”
Of course, ever since it was announced that the seventh season would be the last, speculation has run rampant about how “Mad Men” would end. Weiner and his cast declined to talk specifics but revealed that the series does conclude. He also waved off rumors about a spin-off TV series or movie reunion.
“We had 92 hours of the show,” he pointed out. “There’s still seven (hours) left to air, obviously, which is kind of cool because we’re all sort of sitting here ready to go. We’ve finished, and there’s an emotional thing that goes along with finishing, which is really hard.
“I’m particularly bad at anticipating what things are going to feel like. I’m the person who keeps touching the hot stove, and now that it’s sort of over, it’s such a relief that it’s not quite over. I’m very excited to unspool this and for people to see it.”
Weiner revealed that the reality of the show’s end hit him recently as he was moving his belongings out of his office.
“I just start thinking about the beginning, so much about the beginning and the beginnings of our relationships together and making the pilot and the first time we came (to AMC) to just sort of trying to explain that it was different or new (concept),” he recalled. “It is a complete thing, and spin‑offs aside, there is something amazing about the fact that AMC and Lionsgate are letting us do this story and end it the way we want to end it and not just like finding out one day that that’s your last episode.”
He said the final episode just came about “organically,” without further elaboration.
With production on the series wrapped, there is nothing left to do except wait for final episodes to air and see how viewers react.
“I’m extremely interested in what the audience thinks,” Weiner said. “So much so that I’m trying to delight them and confound them and not frustrate and irritate them. I don’t want them to walk away angry.”
For Hamm, playing Don Draper for seven seasons has forever changed his career, not only affording him a steady job for several years in a traditionally uncertain profession, but it also has made him an international star. (Although he revealed that he hasn’t lined up his next gig yet.)
“There’s no version of it that I can imagine in my mind that would equal what actually happened,” said the 43-year-old actor looking back on his association with the series. “Not only creatively and what we got to do and what I got to do in playing this person, but tangentially, this amazing group of people that I got to get to know.
“It’s become, for better and worse but mostly for the better, just a part of my life and a significant part of my life. There’s not a lot of jobs you can point to, at least in our (profession), that have that impact. At the end of the day, this experience has been unequivocally wonderful, and I’ll miss it.”
“Mad Men” airs on AMC Sundays at 10 p.m./9C.[/private]