Emmys Watch: Christina Hendricks on ‘Mad Men’

Christina Hendricks began as a guest star on “Mad Men” — she was in only two scenes in the pilot — but her Joan Holloway (now Joan Harris) quickly became one of the most recognizable characters on AMC’s perpetually praised midcentury drama.

The role of Joan grew when the series creator Matthew Weiner became interested in the dynamic between Ms. Hendricks’s character and Elisabeth Moss’s striving Peggy Olson, Ms. Hendricks said in a phone interview this week. “It’s hard to imagine a Peggy without a Joan and a Joan without a Peggy,” she said.

Ms. Hendricks took advantage of the longer-than-anticipated “Mad Men” hiatus this year, performing in a concert staging of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” at Lincoln Center in April and in several movies. Two films, the thriller “Drive” and the light comedy “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” open on Friday.

Recently she has been back in “Mad Men” mode. The series resumed production last month, and on Sunday she’ll appear at the Emmy Awards, where for the second consecutive year she’s a nominee for best supporting actress in a drama.

Ms. Hendricks, who was in New York this week for the premiere of “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” called on the way to the airport to discuss her special Emmy date, that Wonder Woman rumor and how Joan’s distinctive style has bled into her own.

Q. So “Mad Men” has finally resumed shooting?
A. We’re back. We’re already on our fourth episode.

Q. What can you tell me about next season?
A. Absolutely nothing [laughs].

Q. The season was delayed by contract negotiations. What’s that like for people who work on the show? Are you just reading the reports like everyone else?
A. To a certain extent, yes. I’ll get phone calls from my dad, and he’ll tell me what’s happening [laughs]. But generally I’ll just call Matt Weiner and say, “Hey can you clear this up for me?” and he’ll fill me in on what’s going on.

Q. Two of the films you did during the hiatus are out this week. They’re very different types of movies, was that intentional?
A. It just worked out that way. I was really attracted to “Drive,” that was the first one I did. I was really interested in working with the director, Nicolas Winding Refn. I had seen “Bronson,” another movie he did, and it was sensational. But yes, “I Don’t Know How She Does It” is completely different, and it was fun to try all sorts of different things.

Q. When you do film work, are you specifically looking for things that are totally different from “Mad Men”?
A. I’m not looking for them. It just turns out that everything is completely different from “Mad Men” because the show is so special and unique, although I know there are a couple of things coming out that take place in the ‘60s.

Q. Have those new midcentury period shows like “The Playboy Club” and “Pan Am” attracted attention within the “Mad Men” circle?
A. I’m certainly curious, because “The Playboy Club” was shot by the same director who shot our pilot, Alan Taylor. So I looked at it and I went: “Those look like some of the exact shots from our show. That seems fascinating.” [Laughs] So I’m very curious to see what they’re like. Just from hearing the story lines, they seem like very different shows. But I’m definitely curious.

Q. There’s not a competitive feeling on the set about these shows?
A. I haven’t heard anybody else talk about it.

Q. So when you began “Mad Men,” what was your understanding of the Joan character?
A. When I auditioned, all I had were a couple of scenes. They are in the pilot, but they’re just two scenes, so I had to sort of define this woman by the clues I was given in these few pages. So I sort of made the assumption that she was quite bossy, she was authoritative, she was confident and she had a sense of humor. That’s how I did my audition, and I got the role based off of that, so that’s pretty much exactly how I played it in the pilot episode. As the scripts came out, if I had questions I would call Matt and say, “O.K., what’s your idea here?” But really my audition is sort of the character.

Q. Do you have a favorite episode?
A. There was an episode called “Babylon” in Season 1. They were testing lipsticks, and there’s a two-way glass and all the men are on one side making these comments, and all the women are on the other side making these comments. In addition to revealing more about Joan, it sort of introduced the world to what the show was going to be about, the dynamics in the office, and the sort of issues we were going to be dealing with. It’s still one of my favorite episodes.

Q. Your character has a distinct visual style on the show. Has Joan’s style influenced your own at all?
A. I think so. I think I’ve learned from her and learned from Janie Bryant, the show’s costume designer. I think I’ve probably streamlined things a little bit. I certainly have a lot of pencil skirts in my closet these days, and I can safely say that I didn’t have any before “Mad Men.”

Q. Do people frequently approach you with period scripts now?
A. Luckily, people who are making movies in Hollywood are also fans of the show, which is really nice, and because they’re filmmakers they don’t pigeonhole us. They realize that we’re actors, and they don’t assume that I can only act like a secretary in the ‘60s.

Q. There’s been chatter about you playing Wonder Woman in the film version of that superhero story. Where does that stand?
A. It is a complete rumor, but it’s fun when people talk about it. It came from Nicolas Winding Refn. On the set one day he was like, “If I ever got to direct ‘Wonder Woman,’ I would make you my Wonder Woman.’ ” Then he said it in an interview, and now everyone in the world thinks someone is making the “Wonder Woman” movie and that I’m Wonder Woman.

Q. I understand you’re taking someone else in addition to your husband to the Emmy Awards.
A. Yes I’m taking David, a 16-year-old young man from Texas, who was in the Make a Wish Foundation. His wish was to attend the Emmys, so I get to help grant it this Sunday.

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