As Joan Harris (née Holloway) Christina Hendricks became one of the most-loved characters on AMC’s Mad Men. With her artfully-drawn portrait of a dynamic woman in a male-dominated workplace, Hendricks seemed made for the role, bringing depth and complexity to Joan’s biting charm. Hendricks says, “Joan would say these very severe and harsh things to people around her, and I thought, ‘oh, God, she’s a terrifying woman,’ but then I kept getting all this positive feedback from people saying, ‘I love Joan!’” With the Cameron Crowe/ J.J. Abrams pilot Roadies in the works and a role in The Neon Demon, this five-time Emmy nominee can only be set for more success.
Matt Weiner has said he knew he’d cast the perfect Joan for Mad Men right from the beginning – did you really see yourself as Joan immediately when you read for the part?
No, not at all. It was pilot season and I’d auditioned for quite a few things, and I was getting ready for that audition, and my best friend was helping me memorize the lines, and I just started crying. I was just so exhausted by the whole season – going in, being rejected and then having to pick yourself up and start again. I thought, “oh, gosh, I’m not doing anything with this role. I’m just saying words.” But my girlfriend turned to me, and she said, “no, this is yours. This is your role.” I was just overwhelmed too because it was a two-page monologue. It wasn’t until I was on set and in that very extraordinary office that just transforms you immediately. I just felt like, all of a sudden, I’m in that time and place, and it wasn’t until the middle of those scenes that it just sort of felt right.
Your attractive and curvaceous physicality is often mentioned – did you feel that you had to fight harder to be seen as an actress with serious talent, not just a beautiful woman?
Most actresses in Los Angeles are pretty beautiful and I never thought that, or I don’t think anyone else ever really thought that before that show. I think it’s a testament to the look of the show and the hard work of Janie Bryant, and the costumes, and the hair, and all of sudden, I looked different because I was in the 1960s, and it seemed to suit me. So all of a sudden it brought attention to me that I’d never gotten before.
Mad Men was my fourth series. I was working consistently on TV shows, and no one was like, “who’s that girl?” No one really gave a s**t before.
What did you personally learn from Joan in playing her for so long?
I think one of the things is that she always spoke the truth. Sometimes you don’t always want to hear the truth, but she oftentimes just said it as it was. So you almost couldn’t fault her too much for it. I talked to Matt (Weiner) about it early on. I said, “oh, she’s so mean, she’s so mean,” and he said, “no, she’s not. She’s trying to help everyone. That’s just how she thinks she’s helping.” I think when you play the role with those kind of ideas behind it, something else comes through too. If you think this person really is trying to help, then it will come across. People really loved her confidence and her resilience, and her able-ness.
Roger and Joan were so great together you were directed by John Slattery in God’s Pocket, do you have any plans to work together again?
Oh, I’m sure we will. I hope we will. Oh, gosh, it would just break my heart if I never got to work with John again. I think he’s a wonderful director and a sensational actor, and it’s been one of my great joys on the show working with him.
You’re a five-time Emmy nominee – how do you feel going into this awards season? Do you still get nervous?
I generally get butterflies. Last year I just knew it was never going to happen, and I was pretty calm. Sometimes you just know, and my husband was like, “are you nervous?” I said, “you know what? I’m really not this year.” I guess if you lose that many times in a row, you start to calm down, but I actually really enjoy awards shows. I love them. I love watching people win. I love the people giving their speeches. I love pretty dresses. I always have a really good time.
What about The Neon Demon?
I actually just went in and did a little guest part for one day because the director, Nick Winding Refn, is a good friend of mine, and we’d worked together before. So he asked if I would essentially come in and do a bit of a cameo. So I’m playing the head of a modeling agency, and I introduced Elle (Fanning)’s character to the world of modeling and fashion.
You’ve also got a pilot, Roadies, with Cameron Crowe and J.J Abrams – what do you love about TV?
I mean, I do like developing a character over a long amount of time. It’s very exciting for me. I like character traits being revealed week after week and learning how to incorporate those, and each time you get a bit of information, making this person even more well-rounded and three-dimensional. So I do enjoy that, and of course I’m a huge fan of both J.J. and Cameron, and I’m a big rock and roll music girl too. So this was just a really fun project – very different from anything I’ve done and just a really great opportunity to work with these guys, and Winnie Holzman as well, who I admire greatly.
So you’re really into music – what are some current favorites?
I’m always changing, and sometimes, you know, I’m just nostalgic. I’ve always been into alternative rock, and in high school, I was into goth rock and punk and things like that. I’m very much into bands like Arcade Fire, I love Jenny Lewis, but I also love jazz, and I’m into country right now too.
You could play the accordian before Joan did in Mad Men – are you going to keep playing?
I’m deeply ashamed to say that after I played it in the show, I put it down. I’m obviously a beginner – it wasn’t like I was blowing anyone away with that accordion, but I was getting by, which was kind of fun, and I love the accordion. I love the sound of it. It just sits there and looks at me in the corner of my room and makes me feel guilty every time I walk by it. So I’m hoping to get some time and pick it up again. It will be almost like starting from scratch at this point because it’s been sitting there for a while collecting dust. It’s a very romantic instrument I think. I love it.