With AMC’s award-winning series Mad Men returning Sunday night, I recently had the chance to participate in a roundtable interview with January Jones. Since the cast is always guarded when talking about upcoming storylines, most of the interview covered the way Betty Draper (Jones’ character) has changed over the five seasons, the big storyline of last season, how even the actors don’t know what’s coming up on future episodes until they get the script, her costumes, her thoughts on Don and Betty getting back together, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to what Jones had to say.
Before going any further…spoilers from previous seasons are discussed during this interview. In addition, some minor plot points from the season six premiere are discussed, but nothing that would ruin the episode. However, if you want to be spoiler free, I suggest reading this after the premiere.
If you’d like to listen to the audio of this interview, click here. Otherwise the full transcript is below. Look for another Mad Men interview tomorrow night.
JANUARY JONES: No, no. There’s no art form to it. It’s frustrating, I’m as frustrated as you guys cause I get excited to talk about it and can’t.
Let me ask you a generic question, when you look at your character over the years you’ve had many episodes to play her, now, so you get an understanding of her, what do you think she represents from women of that time period and do you think it’s changed over the years?
JONES: Do I think Betty’s changed? Yeah, definitely. I think that she sort of generically represented the implosive housewife that was unsatisfied with her circumstances and felt sort of blocked from doing things that she wanted to do, is trying to find her happiness, and sort of was that mother/housewife type. And I think over the seasons, especially when she left Don and married Henry, I think she’s trying to find more independence. But, you saw bits of that even in the beginning when she tried to go back to work and was told that she couldn’t and things like that. And I think that the major change is how she deals with disappointment or how she deals with that in her life. I think that she’s gotten a little bit better at dealing with her emotions and she’s quite immature in her emotions. I think another big thing that changed the way she behaved was when her parents, when her dad passed and she realized she was orphaned and she had to be a grown up now. But you still see bits of her emotional immaturity. She’s changed, but she isn’t a completely different person.
Do you think that’s why she often connects with children -we see in the season premiere a teenager – but even in the past it’s been children that she connects with, not her own children, but other children, is that part of that?
JONES: Yeah, I definitely think that’s why she connected with children, specifically with the Glen character, and I think that’s why she also butts heads with her own children. Especially Sally and Bobby, too. I think she’s a bit easier on the baby, cause he’s a baby but…. Yeah, I think very much so. She is on the same emotional level, and I think now Sally is even surpassing her emotional maturity in a way, and has become almost Betty’s parent. Sort of weird, but.
So your pregnancy last year introduced an issue with Betty having a weight problem, and I thought when we started this season, that would have gone away because look how big you are. How big you aren’t actually. So do you think we’re going to see that it’s the emotional immaturity that’s causing the weight thing or how are we going to deal with that? And how do you feel about that as an actress?
JONES: Well, when I had told, when we found out that the season was going much later before shooting schedule for Season 5, I called [showrunner] Matthew [Weiner] when I knew that they were about to go into the writer’s room and said, ‘By the time we start shooting, I’m going to be very pregnant. So, I just don’t know how you want to write that in or write it out. If you want to hide it or make her pregnant again. Whatever you need to do.’ And he thought about it for a few days and said, ‘Well, what if, you know…’ I think he’d always wanted to do a physical change for Betty so that was just the opportunity to do it. And in reality I was only actually pregnant under the fat suit for one episode. So, I think that he just liked that storyline as well and it worked out. But it was very difficult getting bigger and having to change the fat suit and prosthetics and then getting smaller again and having to compensate the fat suit and the prosthetics. It was very challenging. It was extremely challenging just physically and time wise because I had 6 or 7 hours of prosthetics, so I’d have to arrive at work at 3 in the morning and then an hour to take it off at the end of the day. And I was nursing a baby. It was just very physically challenging and it was also physically limiting in what I could do on screen. The DPs and lighting everyone was very frustrated with the whole situation. I could only turn my head so much, and if I turned my body and not my head… I didn’t want to look robotic, so it was a whole new set of skills I had to learn acting wise. I felt like it was a lesson in showing emotion without moving your body or head. So it was challenging and still is. But I loved how I felt in it, too, because I just felt that it leant so much to Betty and made her a bit more sympathetic. People empathize with her a bit more, I think.
What do you think of Betty as a mother?
JONES: I think she struggles with it. I think a lot of mother’s struggle with it. But I think that because of the emotional immaturity that I was talking that she’s just not great, as great at it as some people are. I think that maybe she thought it was a good idea to be a mother and have children and have this idea of what was expected of her and it just not everyone is a natural at it. Or if anyone. But I think she tries, I think she’s trying harder. And she wants to be good at it; it’s just not something that comes naturally to her. I think that she was Daddy’s little girl and found it very hard to be unselfish, finds it very hard to be unselfish.
How much do you know about each season going in? Has Matthew gotten more open with you in terms telling you stuff or is he sort of closed off more?
JONES: It’s always been the same. We don’t find out until we get that first script for each season, which is a couple days before the table read – or a day before the table read sometimes. The only time I’ve ever gotten a little bit of knowledge, is if I had learned something specifically and I’d needed to learn it before we started. Before Season 2, I was taking months of English horseback riding lessons, learning to jump and do all that. Not really knowing why. I thought I was going to bite the bullet or something. But, if I had to know something specifically, before the episode where we were in Rome, I had a few weeks to try to learn Italian. Things like that. But otherwise, no. And I don’t ask. I know some of the cast members ask and try to needle info out of him. But, I’d rather be surprised.
JONES: Well, yeah, I never missed my girdle so much, as much as I complained about it. But, no, I love what Janey does for every character. The outfits that Christina [Hendricks] gets to wear and Jessica Paré’s outfits are awesome – she’s a bit more mod and that’s something that Betty would never get to do, because she’s sort of stuck in 1955. But, I don’t go crying about it or anything. I’m sure they’re really jealous of all my big outfits.
I sometimes think that Betty just went from one not so happy marriage to another not so happy marriage? Do you feel that way?
JONES: Well, I think that it could be a very happy marriage, the one with Henry, because I think he is exactly what she wanted and asked for. I just don’t think Betty knows how to be 100% happy. I don’t think that she’s ever satisfied with her circumstances. It’s just a personality flaw. But, I think he really loves her, and I think that they are happy in some ways. I just think that she – I mean it’s just a human nature thing that people deal with on different levels where you want what you don’t have.
About your process breaking down a script, do you typically memorize the night before a scene? Are you breaking it down as soon as you get the script to work it out?
JONES: We don’t get a lot of time. Sometimes you get the script the day before the table read and then it changes, and then you get a new script the next day. And if you’re working that day, you don’t – I mean I think all of us have exercised our brains in a way where we can… I can pretty much look at my sides in the morning and have it down. Cause we don’t get rehearsal either. Unless, I have some sort of big monologue or something specific, like the Italian, or something to learn. All of us sort of just wing it. But, you get really good; I mean I’ve gotten really great at memorizing just very quickly. But we don’t have time to break it down or think ‘What I’m gonna to do.’ It’s sort of instinct on the day.
Interesting the being stuck in 1955 idea for Betty, the show has done a lot of great stuff with dealing with the rise of youth culture and the changes that are coming – and as we see in the premiere, are we going to see more of her coming to grips with how culture is changing for the younger generation?
JONES: A little bit. You see certain hemline changes for Betty and more of the same, where she is sort of dressing as the politician’s wife. But, Matthew has always said that Betty is sort of one of those women who found her look in 1955 and hasn’t really altered it very much. We sort of… we’ll do things in the hair and makeup trailer, without permission sometimes, where we’ll do something a little more current with hair and makeup. Cause I do think Betty is very fashionable, I think she looks at her Vogues and I think that she would try to evolve a little bit. But I just don’t think that she is at an age where she’s going to do little miniskirts and stuff. Especially not at her size at this moment.
One of the striking things about the premiere is how grown up Sally is now, she’s becoming a young woman. Does her relationship with Betty change at all now that she’s becoming a little more mature or are they still going to butt heads in the same way?
JONES: I think they’ll butt heads even more because she’s becoming a teenager – and that’s what happens when you’re a girl and you becoming a teenager, and you have a very interesting relationship with your mother most of the time. But, yeah, they’re not going to become fast friends. I know at the end of Season 5 there was a moment at the end for Betty and Sally that was very sweet, when Sally got her period and she went to her mother. I think that was very sweet and you see that they do have a connection, it’s just a work in progress.
In the past, you’ve said that you personally still hold out some hope that maybe Don and Betty can reconnect. Do you still feel that way? Without spoiling necessarily anything that happens in this season.
JONES: Well, yeah. I loved that, like a lot of audience members, I liked the idea of that relationship. And I loved working with Jon and acting out those sometimes very heated arguments or passionate moments. We work really well together, and so I liked that. But, I just don’t think that it’s realistic, and Matthew doesn’t think that it’s realistic. I think that she would have been able to deal with infidelity and things like that, but finding out that he was someone else just ended it for her in her head.
You said she doesn’t make a lot of changes, but she does make one big change in this, physical change, and it seemed to me that it was sort of inspired by something that one of those guys said to her at that place, so it seems like she’s more affected by what people outside her family say to her than what the people that she …
JONES: You mean in the tenement?
Yeah, I was trying to make sure….
JONES: I just wondered what you meant by those guys. Yeah, I think…
Because he comments on your hair color and then…
JONES: I think it’s also that it’s a younger generation, and I think that she…I think that all of a sudden she felt old and unattractive. And maybe she took for granted that – when everyone else in your life is being polite around you, Henry is very sweet about it and I think she was accepting of that, but then to learn that other people see her in a very different way was unsettling and not satisfactory for her.
Do you ever have moments or scenes where you just have a really hard time sympathizing with her and you just think, ‘She’s terrible’?
JONES: Yeah, sure. I mean, I don’t judge her for that, but I feel like –Why? Who is this person? Why someone makes these choices, but that’s the cool thing about my job is that I get to do things I would never do. That’s why I do what I do.
JONES: Well, yes. I’m not going to lock him in the closet and slap him.
Do you look at that time period and think, thank goodness I didn’t grow up in that time period, now that we’ve certainly…things are a lot different?
JONES: Yes. I feel very fortunate. I see myself as a very independent modern woman and would struggle very much if I was put in that situation. I wouldn’t know how to cope with that – unless I did what I do now – unless I was an actress and had a bit more freedom. But they had studio contacts and things, so it would have just been very hard. If I put myself now, in there, it would be very hard. If I grew up in it, I don’t know.
Is there a character on the show that maybe Betty never really interacted much with because she wasn’t in the office, for whatever reason, that you would – that you kind of wish that you’d had some scenes?
JONES: Well, yeah. The majority of the scenes I’m not – there’s only been a couple times that Betty goes into the office. I’ve had one or two scenes maybe with Elizabeth, maybe one with Christina, I had a couple with Slattery; ;but yeah, I love those guys, I would love to work with all of them. A lot of the new guys, too, that I think are very good and entertaining – Jay and Ben and all of those guys are really fun. I’ve had a couple scenes with Vincent. I respect them all so much and love watching the show to see what they’ve done more than anything. I just don’t know how that would – I mean, he’s tried to get me in there a couple times, but it would be weird and not necessary. I’ve had a few scenes with Jessica which have been really fun. She’s fun.
JONES: Maybe Don.
Why? How so?
JONES: Just struggling with good and bad and, you know, there’s just something very human about him that I think we all can relate to. I think that’s why people are attracted to that character is that you see someone with very human flaws, but tries to cover them up and someone that is somewhat successful and doesn’t yet make him happy. I think I just find that –I can understand some of that more than anything. Maybe Peggy, too.
I heard they might be making a new X-Men movie soon.
JONES: Yeah they are.
I’m just playing. I’m curious if they’ve have they asked you to come back, are you going back?
JONES: I haven’t been asked back. It’s called Days of Future Past or something. No, they’re going into another time period, or they’re going back and forth from different time period and Emma’s not in that. Not in what they’re doing.
JONES: Well thanks!
Mad Men returns with new episodes Sunday night on AMC. Click here for all our previous coverage.