January Jones would like you to know that many of you just don’t get Betty Draper Francis.
It’s no secret that, despite every single character on the revered AMC series Mad Men having their fair share of character flaws and questionable behavior, many viewers particularly found fault with the first Mrs. Don Draper and reveled in taking Betty to task for her perceived failings. But as the show continues its run of episodes leading to its much anticipated series finale, Jones reveals that through the course of seven seasons she’s always had Betty’s back.
Along with detailing her pleasure in serving as Betty’s mouthpiece, the refreshingly candid star held court on many topics during a press roundtable, including her own personal evolution while working on the show, what from Betty’s wardrobe she’s pleased she’ll never wear again and the Halloween costumes she and Jon Hamm were wearing when they first saw people cosplaying Mad Men.
Coming to the end of the series, do you think Betty ended up a better person than when we first met her?
January Jones: I don’t know if she’s a better person, but she is a more evolved person. I think that she’s happier than we’ve ever seen her. I think that she’s grown a lot. I mean, as much as anyone can grow in that amount of time. I think that she’s more emotionally mature. I think she handles things differently. In the first couple seasons you see her when she’s upset she acts out physically only when she’s alone, like shooting the birds or breaking the chair. She kind of explodes on her own. And I think by the course of the show you see her start to communicate better.
But I think her path has always been the same: she just wants to be happy. She wants to know what that is. She was told that she would be happy if she was a mother and a wife and that would make her happy. And when it didn’t, it caused lots of complications. I think she’s smart. I mean, she’s informed. She’s the only character we ever see read, at least on the show, read about feminism or anything like that. I think she’s aware of everything. I think she’s just content with the life that she’s chosen. Or she’s trying to be.
If you could give Betty any advice, what would it be?
I mean, I think her biggest flaw is her temper and her impatience. I don’t know – I wouldn’t want to give her any parenting advice. I think she’s doing pretty good. Maybe I’d tell her to just take up a hobby, like kickboxing or something.
Do you remember what the TV climate was, what you were reading around the same time that the Mad Men script came to you and why this seemed so wildly different?
Well, what’s weird is when I read the script, I had also read We Are Marshall. And when I shot the pilot, it was in the middle of shooting that. And it was kind of weird because it was a ‘60s housewife – it was like a later 60s, but it was very different, and that is a true story and a football movie. [Mad Men] wasn’t like anything I’d read before. Certainly not in TV and I wasn’t interested in doing a TV show. And I don’t know. It just reads different. It read like a novel. I honestly didn’t think it would ever get picked up. It was a gamble. I basically did a handshake agreement with Matt that I would have a character if we ever got picked up. And it was a year before we shot the second episode, so I had kind of forgotten about it.
Since Betty’s only in the end of the pilot you really didn’t have anything to read.
Right. He wrote, like, two scenes overnight. Yeah, and they ended up being in the second or third episode that we did shoot. But yeah, the networks and the studio were really resistant. I didn’t know about it at the time, but they didn’t really care about Don’s home life. So Matt fought them on that.
What’s it been like for you personally to see these kids who play your children grow up in front of your eyes?
Well, Kiernan [Shipka], specifically, it’s been an honor, really, because I met her when she was, like, six. So to see her have grown as a woman and as an actress has been sort of a gift, because she’s so well-rounded and smart and interesting. Like her character, I see a lot of Don and Betty in her character. I see a lot of Jon and my weird shit. Good or bad? I don’t know. She’s way more well-rounded and mentally stable. It’s been really cool. I’ve loved watching her grow. I remember her being a little girl and walking into a scene, before we’d walk into a scene: who knows what I was doing, but she would like mimic everything I was doing, so I do something ever weirder just to see what she would do, and she would do it. And it was so cute. Now, she just thinks I’m an idiot.
Working with the show’s great costume designer Janie Bryant, what did you learn about dressing yourself? What was sort of the favorite thing you got to wear on the show, and what are you happy you never have to wear again?
Well, I learned a lot about fabric names and silhouettes and just storytelling through wardrobe. We did that a lot with Betty, especially in the early seasons where she wasn’t really speaking how she felt, so we had to portray that in other ways, whether it was just what I was thinking or what the wardrobe was telling – dresses that got sad over time. You could always tell sort of what mood or what was happening because of what I was wearing.
And I like to get very involved in that aspect of creating a character, so it was important to me. I rarely questioned what Janie was doing. There was one big muumuu that I hated. I will never agree to wearing prosthetics and weight-gain suit again. Not for a long period of time. And certainly not when I’m eight months pregnant or nursing. But it was so cumbersome – it took like six or seven hours to put on. So I’ll never miss that.
Going into these final episodes, where do you think Sally and Betty are with each other? Because obviously there’s been a lot of back and forth between them.
I think they’re in a pretty good place. I think the last time we saw them they were in a pretty good place. Sally, she’s seen a lot of things that could have been really damaging, and maybe they have damaged her in a way, but I think that she’s finding a friendship with her mother finally, a little bit. And maybe because she’s having a hard time with her relationship with her dad that she’s kind of being more forgiving of her mom. But I think that there’s some real sweet moments between them.
What are you going to miss about the seven-year experience?
It was nine years for us! But yeah. I would say I’ll miss everyone involved, but I see them. We all keep in touch and see each other a lot. But I’ll just miss her. I mean, I’ll miss speaking for her. There was a freedom in playing her because she was so flawed and so human. I felt more brave and more free when I was her because I was allowed to mess up being her, but yet, I wasn’t. I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to explain. I’m so sick of defending her. I think she does a pretty good job considering. I think that people have a hard time are just like Betty, it’s because they see themselves in her. I’ll just miss her. The last day of shooting, I kept messing up my takes so that I could keep speaking for her.
What was that emotional journey like on that very last day?
It was really hard. I mean, I cried the whole time. And the week up to it, getting the last script, reading the last script, going to the table read, doing the last scenes and everyone’s last scene. And the last seven episodes really come back to the core group of people that we first met and having everyone’s storyline end. Then the last day, they scheduled it so that everyone had a last scene on that day. So every frigging two hours it was like, “Come to Stage 2 for so-and-so’s last day champagne toast.” So we’d do a champagne toast and they’d make a speech and we’re crying, and then go back to work and then it’s someone else’s. It was like a death every two hours, for twelve hours. Afterwards, we all just played games and TP’ed Matt’s car and stayed there as long as we could. It was really sad, though. It was like saying goodbye to friends for a long time, forever.
Did you have a favorite story arc, or a favorite episode of Betty’s?
I know this is annoying for you guys because I can’t say what it is, but I loved how we say goodbye to her. It’s my favorite part. Other than that, I think that I liked, I loved the scenes where Betty confronts Don with his identity. Just because Jon and I had a really beautiful time just as actors playing that stuff out, as hard as it was. And also, the Betty/Glen story line, especially at the end of Season One when she comes up. We watched that clip in New York the other day, and I had forgotten it. It was really sad. But it’s so sweet. It just says so much about her, that the only person she could talk to was a nine-year-old. It was great. And a lot of people thought that relationship was creepy, but I thought it was really sweet.
Were you inspired by any actresses from the ’60s?
Not for the show, not for the character. I mean, I love a lot of actresses from the 60s, but I wanted to make sure, I mean, I wasn’t playing a character that was glamorized at all in that way. I think that Betty was sort of a glamorous character and that she read her Vogues and she liked fashion, and she probably saw Grace Kelly and wanted to emulate her style or something. But I didn’t want to take my version of what I’ve seen in ’60 movies and bring it to the character at all, if that makes any sense.
Did you meet any people that came up to you and said, “I was Betty.”
All the time. Still do, yeah.
What was your takeaway from those experiences?
Well, I felt very proud in that they felt connected to her, that we were telling a true story, just because I wasn’t there. And the advertising people that come up and say, “You guys nailed it.” It’s just, the amount of research that went into the scripts and storylines and women who empathized with Betty because they had seen it and been there made me very proud. I’m sorry for them.
After this show, which has such a specific look and feel and is very dramatic and intense, was it great to go right into Last Man on Earth? To have something so different?
It did. I mean, I had no intension of doing another TV show, if ever. It’s like, it can really only go downhill from here. But at the same time, I wasn’t reading anything in films that was either moving me in any way or making me laugh. Especially comedies – it’s really hard for women. They’re usually just someone sets up the jokes for some guy. When I read it, I laughed a lot, and I had been wanting to work with [Phil] Lord and [Chris] Miller. I’m a huge fan of Will [Forte] and Kristen [Schaal], and all the writers I had known from SNL. It just felt really easy. It shot like 20 minutes from my house. I was like, “All right.” And it was just fun. I got to go to work and laugh my ass off. It just felt kind of good for my soul. And it’s doing really well. So I gambled well again, I guess. I should go to Vegas!
You mentioned that you’re tired of defending Betty. She has come in for a lot of criticism over the years. I always felt like that’s sort of the idea of the character, that she is someone who has wanted this sort of sheltered life and is figuring out that’s not really what it is. And she’s got to go through a lot of these. She hasn’t really been an adult.
Right. I don’t think she wants to be an adult. I think that that idea doesn’t appeal to her at all. I think that people just hold her to a different standard than the other characters.
She doesn’t have the outlet of the office.
Right. I feel like the audience reaction to her flounders has always been very interesting to me. When she sleeps with a guy in the bar at the end of Season Two, the amount of people that came up to me – men, usually – saying “How could she do that?” or whatever. I was like, “Do you watch the show? You’re such a hypocrite. Don can go screw and plow however many people he wants.” But I think they don’t hold him to such high standards. They kind of expect that from him and they didn’t from her. But it’s still uncool. She just wants to get some. She’s a human being.
And then I think that there’s a certain amount of resentment that comes with that she left Don for another man. I think that no one will really ever forgive her for that. Because the people, as dysfunctional as they were, wanted to see Betty and Don together. These two cake-topper people that were so dysfunctional and so not meant to be together. Even still, people ask “What’s going to happen at the end? Do Don and Betty get back together?” Yeah, they get remarried and they’re really happy. That’s how it ends.
How have you changed though the course of the show from the person you were at the start of it?
Yeah, like a decade. How have you changed? Well, it’s certainly afforded me a lot more opportunities in my career, some good and bad. I’m, as an actor, always fighting different issues about being typecast as a victim for a wife or a mother or someone in the 60s. But at the same time, I’ve gotten a lot of other great opportunities and personally, I’ve grown into a better, more independent, confident person just because I’m a woman. And I feel like as you get older, everything gets better. And I’d become a mother, and I’ve been a better friend. And I think that when you’re in a bubble that is success or celebrity, you learn to value relationships, real relationships. And that’s been great. I don’t know. I’ve been blessed by a lot. I have no complaints at all, actually.
When did the impact of the show really become apparent to you?
I think after season two, maybe, when I started seeing people in Mad Men costumes for Halloween – like, Betty costumes, I’d be like, “Ah…” I think we were shooting Season Two, and Jon Hamm and I went out, Janie Bryant was there. A group of us went to this party for Halloween in LA. And I was dressed as Yves Saint Laurent, and he was dressed as Clark Kent and Superman. And so we were dressed in normal costumes and we saw Don and Betty, and we were like, “What the fuck?! That’s so cool!” And before, we didn’t think anybody was watching.
Did you keep anything from the set?
I heard some people did. I think people who did, stole it because everything I asked for, I was denied, flat out. And when we were in New York yesterday or whatever it was, and we went to the MOMI to see the sets. They had these costumes. Everything I asked for was in there. So it’s either the Smithsonian, the MOMI, or it’s being auctioned off. And somebody’s going to make a lot of money. But I wasn’t allowed to keep anything. But I’m going to break into the Smithsonian. There were a lot of dresses that I would have liked to keep or like lighters or handbags. There were some things from the Draper kitchen. They’re like, “We don’t have that set any more.” And I’m like, “I just saw that two days ago. You did still have it.”
Was it hard reading scripts after the end of Mad Men? Was there anything that lived up to what you’ve just done?
Not anything that I was getting offered. No, not really. I mean, I don’t know that I could come across something like that again, in that way. Because it just took place over such a long period of time, as a whole. I mean, if we had just shot one season, maybe, but as a whole, all the things I’ve been able to do as her, I don’t think so. But there’s a lot of different things that I’m excited about. And I have found things that are different, but as an experience, I don’t think that that will be ever replicated in my career.
And I started to get like bummed out towards the end of shooting, just because I felt like nothing was going to succeed Mad Men in that way. I’m only going to be remembered as Betty. And I was, you know, going to a dark place. Everything was going to go downhill from here. And we were all talking about it. And I was at a friend’s house, and I said the same thing to him. And he’s an actor as well. I said, “I’m just going to be remembered as Betty.” And he’s like, “Well, is that the worst thing?” And it made me realize what an idiot I sound like. And no, it’s not. I mean, you still do things that are different and exciting and inspiring for me, but it’s the world, as a whole, at the end of my career, just remembers me as her, I’m okay with that.
Mad Men’s final season airs Sunday nights on AMC.
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