As part of the AMC portion of the TCA Winter Press Tour, the cast and creator of Mad Men (which premieres on March 25th) hosted a cocktail party, which appropriately gave out a jar of green olives, just perfect for martinis, as a parting gift. During this interview, show creator/executive producer/writer/director Matthew Weiner gave very slight hints at where Season 5 is going, how he feels about all the network series that have been inspired by his creation, the themes and arcs he’s focusing on this year, why he wanted to do a two-hour premiere episode, how far ahead he plans things out, how often he’s surprised by where the story and characters take him, that there was a point where he was convinced that this season would never happen, how he feels about where this season ended up, and stressed that it was not his decision to keep the show off the air last year. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
MATT WEINER: Yes, I wrote a play, in between the last two seasons. I wasn’t off as long as people think. The decision for us not to be on the air had nothing to do with the negotiations. I’ve never been able to explain that to people. They don’t seem interested in it. But, AMC had always planned for the show not to be on this year, and that was it. So, I didn’t really have that much time off. We have seven episodes ready. We’re ready to go on the air right now. But, this is the way the schedule has worked out and we’re happy that people are anticipating it.
How do you feel about all these shows, like Magic City, The Playboy Club and Pan Am, that are trying to jump on what you created?
WEINER: I do not own the period. It really happened. There’s all different kinds of entertainment. There was a time, in the late ‘50s, when the top 10 shows were all westerns, but they were different kinds of westerns. There were then ten James Bond shows. If we were at the forefront of that, that’s fine. Our show is what it is. It’s a different thing. I am a competitive person, but it’s so hard to do a show. Anybody who gets to the point where they get their show on the air, I wish them the best. It’s too hard. I’d rather waste energy thinking good things on myself. It was a vindication because, most of the executives who are ordering these shows, were all people that I had met who told me that this was a really dumb idea, and that I didn’t understand how TV worked. That was gratifying.
When will this season pick up this season, time wise?
WEINER: I can’t tell you when it picks up. You have to watch. Let’s have as much expectation as possible. There’s so little in life, where you don’t know what’s going to happen. Just come back to the show. All I can tell you is that Don [Draper] is going to be in it. You want to come back and get into it. There will be some time skipped. It’s a minimum of 24 hours after the finale ended.
What is the overall theme of the season?
WEINER: There are a lot of things going on. A couple of things have emerged, as we’ve gone on. It’s a little bit about every man for himself, and the maturity that comes with realizing that life isn’t fair. And, there’s a line in the third episode where somebody says, “When is everything going to get back to normal?” I think there’s a feeling of being in the midst of change, which we know is a big part of life and where we are right now, and certainly where they are in the show, and they always have been. This could have been any season.
I love the feeling of, right when I think I’m on top of something, and right when I think I have things where I know what they are, and right when I think I have some wisdom from life experience, you just feel things slip away. There’s this sensation, which I think people have right now, and I know I do, of so much change going on. Where I write from is what I’m feeling. I just have this feeling right now of, “Enough already. Let’s just get our feet on the ground and go back to the way it was.” I don’t even know when. I don’t know if anybody else identifies with that, but that’s a big part of the season – trying to hold on.
Is the premiere a two-hour episode, or two episodes put together?
WEINER: It is a two-hour episode. It is really not two episodes together. As I started writing, the outline started spreading and spreading and spreading and spreading, and I was like, “This is too much story. I can either cut this thing down, which is what I do, or I think I have a Mad Men movie here.” I have a great team with me, helping me develop the stories, and we just went for it, and the network was excited. I was like, “We’ve been gone for so long. Let’s just give them a big Mad Men movie to start the season.”
How far ahead do you plan things out, from season to season? Do you plan out the arc for the season, and then fill in the details as you go?
WEINER: Yes, I do the whole arc for the season. I come in with the last image for the season, and where we’re going to work from, and where it’s going to start, and what the date is, and then we go. I don’t stick to it by law. It’s not strict. But, I do often get to the end of the season and start having anxiety about, “Was this the right thing to do? It’s too late to change it.” And then, I need my writing staff and my actors and my wife to say, “Shut up, you knew where you were going. Let’s just do it. This is where it goes.”
Where are you in production, right now?
WEINER: I have seven shows ready, in various states of post-production, and I will be cutting for the next month and a half. I think, by the time we go on the air, everything will be done, but it will be on lockdown.
When you got to the end of the season, did things play out, story wise, the way you expected them to, or were there big curve balls?
WEINER: There are always curve balls. If you could plan it out, it’s no fun. I don’t want the audience to be bored, and I don’t want to be bored. There was a line, a couple seasons ago, where Don said, “I keep going places and ending up someplace I’ve already been.” The more episodes you do, the more you feel like, “Oh, my God, how did we end up back in Episode 4 from Season 2?” So, we just kept pushing ourselves.
The challenge is to not do something insane to juice the story. The point is to keep it as natural as possible. Luckily, I have very rich characters, and I’m surrounded by interesting people who give me ideas, and who use their ideas. One of the great things about the show is committing to the year and committing to the ages and the points of life that everyone’s in.
Now that I am in my mid-40’s, and I look back at my mid-30’s and think about how different the interests in my life are, how much further I am from high school, and how much further I am from childhood. Then, you have children and you get to go back to childhood. I get to use those life events as story. We just try to keep it in that realm, and then I don’t have to worry about being visited by a spaceship or something.
Why do you have a different actor playing Bobby this season?
WEINER: That was unfortunate. That was partly the delay, and partly the fact that this little boy has a great career. I will say this right now, we were not unhappy with him, at all. I love that actor. But, he was given a big opportunity, and his agent and manager never even talked to us beforehand. This is the sixth actor, and I’m embarrassed about that, but the little boy we have right now is a wonderful actor. By the way, little girls and little boys, at that age, just finding the people we’ve found has been really hard, and this little boy is a wonderful actor. It’s very hard to find a child actor who can bring that depth to it, and he’s been great.
You know how I feel about Kiernan [Shipka]. You see her on the show, and she’s a big part of the show, as always. In addition to all of the good fortune I’ve had with casting, to find someone, at that age, and watch them develop and see their natural talent come out, at this point, I don’t even think about [her age] anymore. I have a meeting with her mother, at the beginning of the year, and I’m like, “This year, she’s going to be doing this.” Her mother told me that, before she came to visit me this year, Kiernan said to her, “Mommy, don’t say no to anything. He gives me great stuff.” And, she never has, honestly. There is an honesty about childhood, and Kiernan is aware of that. She’s a very old soul. It’s not a cliche.
Will she be doing anything more shocking than masturbation?
WEINER: I don’t personally find masturbation shocking, except on TV. I think it’s a fairly big part of the human experience. But, you will see the reality of a little girl’s life, in that period. For me, I think it’s super- important to keep her story alive because she is an entry point for a lot of the audience. I’m not her age, but I see a lot of things through my childhood. Last season was the first season that took place when I had actually even been on the planet. But, I always attribute it to the fact that I lived in Baltimore until I was 11, and it was 1965 in Baltimore until about 1980.
How did you feel about Jon Hamm leaking the premiere date of March 25th on a podcast?
WEINER: I told the cast about it, a couple weeks ago. I’m so tight-lipped, even at work, that I think I was probably too casual about it. Honestly, it’s Jon Hamm. I don’t think he knew. That wasn’t how we planned on letting the information out, but Jon and I are on the same team. Things happen. I gave an interview where I was talking about the ending of the series on a podcast. I basically was just ruminating about life and, all of a sudden, there was this thing all over the place that I said how the series ended. I was like, “I won’t let my in-laws visit the set. Do you think I’m going to go on a podcast and reveal the end of the show?” I was stunned. But, all of this is flattering to me. All the interest in the show is flattering.
We’re in the entertainment business. You hear comedians talk about how, when you are in show business, you go out there and you’re fighting for the interest of the audience, and all you want is to have people have the expectation that it’s going to be good. That’s all you’re fighting for. And without being too cocky, I feel like we’re in a place where the audience is expecting it to be good, in a positive way, and the entertainer in me is like, “I just want them to get their money’s worth. I want the wait to be worth it.” I never thought we’d be going past the pilot. The idea that we’re finishing Season 5, blows my mind, and that people know what it is. For me, I just want to keep it entertaining. I would like to keep it fresh. We’re all pushing ourselves. I have these incredible actors, a lot of whom I’ve watched grow up. I was bald when I met them, so nothing’s happened to me. So, that’s really where it is.
Was there ever a point where you might not have done a Season 5?
WEINER: Yes, there was. I’m not going to lie. With all of the tumult in the off season, there was a point when I really knew that the show might not happen, and was convinced that it wouldn’t. The fact that we got to go back to work was just a shot of energy. The sensation of gratitude, to be back in that world, and to have everybody come back to work, and to get to continue, has not worn off. Usually, people get really tired and bored, by Season 5. The drama of almost losing it, really made it feel like we were starting over again.
Now that you’re closer to the end of the show then the beginning, is that a relief, or does that make you sad?
WEINER: My life philosophy and personality has been driven by the fact that I am incapable of really understanding the future, on some level. I am in this moment. I take risks because I really don’t think that far ahead. I am the person who, the day before the last episode, will probably be incapacitated in my bedroom, saying, “I don’t know what’s wrong.” I don’t even think about it. I’m like a little kid who wakes up and says, “Where did everybody go?”
How often does the show surprise you, as you write it?
WEINER: Every day. Every day, the characters do unexpected things, and most of them are completely normal. It’s the logical, real-life experience. The stories are small. I don’t own a gun, and I don’t get to solve my problems that way. Being embarrassed is the most dramatic thing that happens to me, most of the time, and there’s a lot of that in the show. It’s about how people respond to not getting what they want, and going after things the wrong way, and asking for things at the wrong time.
What’s your ideal gap for the show, between seasons?
WEINER: I’d like to be on, every year. I’ll just say that, right now. This was never my intention. Part of my negotiation was about making sure the show was on last year. I have accepted the fact that it was not, but I’m excited that here we are. The only thing I can say is I’m glad that we had such a controversial finale because, if the show had ended in a more languid way, I don’t think people would have been as interested in what’s coming. It was the most cliffhangery episode that we had. That’s why we’re having a two-hour premiere. I really felt like, not story wise, that we had to give more, but entertainment wise, I’m going to give you a big bowl of cereal.
How did you feel about this season, going into it, and how do you feel about it, now that you’re coming out of it?
WEINER: Going into this season, doing it for the fifth time, I thought that I would have more confidence, but then the anxiety takes you over. I refuse to do the same thing. No one will see something that they’ve seen before, as far as I can tell. I think people don’t change, so the characters are consistent, but I refuse to do the same thing. On the one hand, that immediately keeps you from being bored, but on the other hand, it makes you feel sick to your stomach. Winning the Emmy again, there were so many times where I was like, “What am I supposed to do now?” I always feel like, “Okay, we’re here this season. Instead of freaking out and trying to go better then that, I will just go over here and try to do something, not laterally, but different.” On the one hand, I’m protecting myself because you can’t say it’s better or worse, it’s just different.
All I wanted to do is say, “If you’re going to come back to the show, are you going to be happy to be there, are you going to be stimulated, are you going to be engaged?” The showman part of me was like, “Without making the show too extreme, I should go to the things that I’m interested in, emotionally.” I think there’s a very consistent story being told, and I think it’s got a lot of surprises in it. When we came out the other end of it, it was about reaching a point in your life and hoping that you will finally understand what’s going on and some wisdom has been achieved, but the world keeps moving around you and you can never get your feet on the ground. You can either end up being that person who’s wearing the clothes you had in high school and saying, “What’s going on around here?,” or you can try to keep up with it and, a lot of times, look stupid.