Break out the Lucky Strikes and bourbon—Mad Men is back.
After a 17-month hiatus, the creator and stars of the acclaimed 1960s-set AMC series—along with a gaggle of celebrity fans—gathered at the Crosby Street Hotel in downtown New York City for an intimate screening of the show’s fifth season premiere episode, followed by a boozy soiree. Hosted by Newsweek, it was one of only two screenings of the show’s two-part premiere, and creator Matthew Weiner urged the audience to take a vow of omertà until the episode airs on Sunday, March 25. Let’s just say it doesn’t disappoint.
“The unintentionally long hiatus really reenergized us to come back and do the show,” a dapper Jon Hamm, who plays ad guru Don Draper, told The Daily Beast. “We had been gone so long and everybody did their own projects, had babies, etc., so we came back and forgot that we really like each other, the set, and the people we work with. I was also directing the first episode when we came back so that was fun to rally around. Whatever momentum was lost was quickly regained because we were so excited.”
John Slattery, who plays the ad firm’s womanizing senior partner, Roger Sterling, adds, “It took a little getting used to. It had been a while since we shot and Jon Hamm was directing, but he made it easy. He knows the pace and what you need to play the scene.” (After he says this, Hamm sprints by and slaps Slattery’s ass.)
For those who don’t recall, when we last left off in October 1965, the ad company of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was in relative disarray. They’d just lost their biggest client—Lucky Strike cigarettes—laid off 50 percent of their staff, and were struggling to attract new clientele amid a stumbling economy.
Meanwhile, Don Draper (Hamm) had split from his icy wife, Betty Draper (January Jones), lost his only connection to his past, and proposed to his secretary, Megan (Jessica Paré), after a brief fling. Administrative dynamo Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) becomes pregnant—presumably from her sexual encounter with Sterling—while her husband is stationed in Vietnam. And at the eleventh hour, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) saves the company by landing an account with Topaz Pantyhose.
Despite the recent failings of nostalgia-whoring shows like Pan Am or The Playboy Club, part of Mad Men’s appeal, it seems, is that it provides escapist fare for office workers—a portrait of the halcyon days when on-the-job drudgery was enlivened by mid-day bourbons and shameless flirtation.
“I drink bourbon,” says a chuckling Hamm. “It’s my God-given right as an American and someone above the age of consent!” He pauses, adding, “The show is far enough in the past that people are removed from it, but it’s close enough in the past that it’s still familiar. There are offices, cars, and jobs, so it’s not like Deadwood or Downton Abbey where it’s old-timey and completely removed from our reality.”
Series creator Matthew Weiner, meanwhile, doesn’t believe Mad Men’s appeal lies in its glamorized version of office life, but has more to do with its realism. He feels that since the stakes in the story are small, and the characters not only behave badly, but also have to deal with the real-life consequences of their actions, it engages audiences more than other, more exaggerated entertainment.
“I think it’s a pretty crappy version of office life and I’m kind of proud of the fact that these characters have been working together for five years and they’re still not friends,” Weiner tells The Daily Beast. “I think people bring their own glamour to it because they’re interested in the people, but we’re trying to deflate that. I’m very interested in naturalism and how people hurt each other yet are still bound to each other for some reason.”
Behind the scenes, one of the biggest stories during the hiatus was the mysterious pregnancy of actress January Jones, who plays Don’s wife, Betty Draper. When we last left Betty she was even more miserable than usual, and plotting to move with her partner, Henry Francis, to a home in Rye. Weiner, in all his wisdom, decided to use Jones’s condition to the character’s advantage.
“When we first started shooting this season I was eight months pregnant, and when we ended I had a four-month old, so there was a very big change in my life this season,” says Jones in a chat with The Daily Beast. “It was difficult shifting into that for me personally, but Matthew is such a genius so he’s always challenging me with harder things to do, using my postpartum emotions in the best way. He’s like, ‘You’re going to be really sad and really weird!’ so it was very therapeutic for me.”
The show’s credits were met with thunderous applause, as guests filed into the Crosby Street Hotel’s reception area for some cocktails and schmoozing. After exchanging numbers with January Jones, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi praised the writing and technical aspects of the show, admitting, “The only things I really watch on TV are Mad Men and Modern Family!”
Mad Men’s cast and crew—Hamm, Jones, Weiner, and Slattery, along with actors Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Pete Campbell, and Jared Harris, a.k.a. Lane Pryce—mingled with a varied assortment of celebs, including filmmaker Nora Ephron, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, New York Times columnist David Carr, and the mother-daughter duo of Meghan and Cindy McCain, among others.
Also spotted in the crowd: former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, who was seeing the show for the first time.
“I was so impressed with how everything was so true to the ’60s—the furniture, the clothes, the lipstick,” Abedin told The Daily Beast.
Weiner (no relation to the show’s creator) adds: “The aesthetic is amazing and the characters are great. And the taxes were so high then … now they’re so reasonable!” he says with a laugh.
But it’s Hamm who was, as expected, the star of the evening. When asked about what audiences should expect from the upcoming season of Mad Men, he chuckles and says, “I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to know how the last season of Breaking Bad ended, because it kicked me in the face and was fucking crazy!” Then he pauses for a moment to collect himself, and says, “What we continue to attempt to do is tell the story, and it’s a story that’s going to have an end, so this is the next chapter. Marriages have dissolved, people have died, people have succeeded and failed, and it’s all served to move the character’s stories along in this rich and fascinating environment.”