A version of this story first appeared in the “Down to the Wire” issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Christina Hendricks was “Mad Men’s” most improbable breakout star. She failed the audition to play Don’s junkie artist lover, Midge — Rosemarie DeWitt got that plum role instead — but landed another small role as Joan Holloway, head secretary at the Sterling Cooper ad agency.
But the brainy bombshell part got bigger and bigger, and Hendricks, 30, has earned six Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, plus two Critics’ Choice Television Awards.
In the pilot, Joan was supposed to be a guest role for just a few episodes, right?
Yes. We weren’t sure what would happen to her character.
Joan is like the power behind the curtain, listening in on meetings, being shrewd.
I’m like Oz the Great and Powerful.
What’s different about Joan in the final season?
To be perfectly honest, I had more work this season. Every season I’d be saying, “More and more, please.”
Joan and her off-and-on boyfriend Roger Sterling (John Slattery) are like no boss and secretary I’ve ever seen.
He had more power in the beginning, and she sort of ends with more power in the relationship.
In the episode “Lost Horizons,” Joan’s boss sabotages her and repulsively woos her, so she threatens to sue. The firm offers her half of what they owe her.
And Roger tells me to take half! That was what was heartbreaking, that it came from his mouth. The father of her child. That was a very hard scene to do, to hear those words from him, and it was hard for him to say it. To watch her rise all through these seasons, and to have it come to that–it made me want to punch the TV. Which is a good thing, I guess.
It’s the same today, for men or women. You go up against a huge corporation, and [if] you’re one little ant in the ant farm, you aren’t going to get very far.
I wanted to punch the TV when the bosses humiliate both Joan and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), and Peggy says it’s Joan’s fault for dressing so sexy.
You think the females have got each others’ back. And Peggy turns around and says the exact same damn thing that Joan’s been dealing with from the men. And you realize that women do these things to each other just as much as men do.
[ Show creator] Matthew Weiner made you tone down your last scene with Roger, when he gives you a big check for your son. He told me that he told you, “No, no. You’ll be seeing each other again. This isn’t the end–even though the end is five minutes later.”
John and I got quite teary-eyed, and he got very serious, and Matt was like [laughs], “OK, you guys, this is just a scene where he comes over and gives you a check.” Like, it doesn’t have to be so dramatic. So we did have to pull back.
How come “Mad Men” actors get dozens of nominations and no wins?
It is a bit odd that no one’s won over the years. I’m not sure why. The show has won so many times, which is wonderful.
I worry that the performances are too subtle for Emmy voters.
It’s a very, very complicated show. Obviously it’s easy to say, when someone comes running out of a burning building screaming for their life and the tears are streaming down their face, “Oh, my God, that person’s acting their butt off!” We don’t have scenes like that. It’s not as showy.
Your costumes sure are showy.
Why [costume designer] Janie Bryant didn’t win an Emmy every year I have absolutely no idea. She influenced fashion. Offices were having “Man Men” parties just so they could dress like that.
Now you’re cast in prestige films [“Drive,” “Ginger & Rosa,” “The Neon Demon”]. Did Joan’s success rub off on you?
I think she opened a lot of doors for me, for completely different parts. People said, “Are you typecast?” I said, “Joan is Joan. There is no type.”