Hypable spoke with Mad Men stars Jon Hamm, John Slattery, and creator Matthew Wiener about final days, what they kept from the set, and what’s next!
Just over a week to go before Mad Men begins the final countdown of the series. For the past seven years, Mad Men served as a spring staple on AMC. It was the first scripted series the network took a chance on, leading to the eventual pick up of Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and others. The series about an advertising agency in 1960s New York City is a ratings juggernaut. It inspires weekly conversations not only about the fashion, but crazy conspiracy theories for where the show is going to go next.
Hypable had the opportunity to participate on conference calls with Jon Hamm, John Slattery, and Matthew Weiner who answered, to the best of their ability, what it is like to end a series that survived and thrived in a changing television landscape.
Matthew Weiner talks season one, key takeaways, and lawnmowers
A strong opening season is something that can make a show, but it can also be what breaks a show. After season one of Mad Men brought Don Draper into the world, Weiner admits that season 2, and beyond, tested his story telling chops. Weiner says, “Of course, things became harder as the show went on because we were committed to not repeating ourselves and you don’t want to tell the same story over and over again and eventually things — would get deep into a story and realize that we’d already done it and throw it out.”
But the joy of writing Don Draper never wavered. “Writing Don has always been a pleasure… If there was anything hard about writing Don it was the fact that he is alternately an extremely eloquent character and a man of few words.” Speaking to that, Weiner comments that is was not always easy to get the focus to be on Don, especially when he was not speaking.
Weiner says, “Training the directors to understand that Don’s reactions were as important as his lines. That Jon was always doing it, but early on, people were like, they really paid attention to whoever’s talking and I kept saying, this is Don’s scene.”
Just how did Weiner know that Jon Hamm was Don Draper? It was a combination of looking the unknown in the face and seeing the future unfold. “He understood the material, he wasn’t playing the period, he had made it part of himself — I had never met him before but I could tell that there was some integrity to the way he was delivering it and he projected a conscious,” Weiner says of meeting Hamm. Being unknown back in 2007 had its perks. Audiences were not seeing an actor playing Don Draper. They were instead meeting Don Draper for the first time.
The unknown is explored in another key moment from the series, the lawnmower in the office. “It required a lot of preparation, but Lesli Glatter [director] told them that she was going to spray them with this stuff that was supposedly coming out of the lawnmower. That is pieces of foot and shoe, et cetera, and sock, and blood… So the actors were sitting there having their scene and she said, one, two, and then it went off, instead of three, and that’s why she got that great look of surprise.”
One thing that is not a surprise is that the series is coming to an end. So when Hypable asked what Weiner’s one key takeaway from running a series of this magnitude for so long is, the show runner let us in on one major one — patience.
Weiner says, “Patience, patience with everything. There are things like you are living with the problems of the story and the script and budget and everything every day, and once it’s worked out a few times, you start to say, ‘I don’t know how this is going to work out.’ It’s going to be ok. It’s going to work out.” It’s not just behind the scenes action that requires patience, pressure also mounts when it comes time to call “Action!”
Weiner continues, “That comes with watching an actor perform a scene that you might want a different way, that comes with battling a script that you don’t like for a long time, it comes with editing, everything. Patience and having great people working for you who are really better at their job then you are at their job. That patience, and in a way trust, is the thing that I really — it took me a while to figure out and I’ve never been relaxed about any of it. I’ve never let down, but I’ve definitely started to say, ‘tomorrow this might be better.'”