The Men Behind AMC's Hit 'Mad Men' The reign of AMC's Mad Men continues with a new season and another Emmy. Terry Gross discusses the show's success with executive producer Matthew Weiner and actors Jon Hamm and John Slattery.
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The Men Behind AMC's Hit 'Mad Men'

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The Men Behind AMC's Hit 'Mad Men'

The Men Behind AMC's Hit 'Mad Men'

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Last year, AMC's "Mad Men" made TV history as the first basic cable series to win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. Last weekend, it made history again by repeating that victory. Today, we'll listen back to Terry's interviews with writer/producer Matthew Weiner, who created "Mad Men," and with two stars of the show, Jon Hamm and John Slattery.

"Mad Men" is set in the early '60s at the fictional advertising agency Sterling Cooper, run by white, Protestant men who drink, smoke and womanize. The show revolves around the ad campaigns the agency comes up with and the personal lives of the people who work at the agency. Terry spoke with Matthew Weiner, creator of "Mad Men," last year and with John Hamm and co-star John Slattery, who plays ad executive Roger Sterling. They'll join the conversation in a few minutes.

Matthew Weiner was an executive producer and writer for HBO's "The Sopranos" before moving on to "Mad Men." Last year's conversation with Terry began with a clip from Season 2, a key one in the ongoing development of Peggy Olson, the character played by Elisabeth Moss. The agency is working on an ad campaign for Playtex bras, which has been emphasizing comfort but is considering playing to women's fantasies, like it's rival, Maidenform.

Kinsey, a young associate, suggests that they play to the idea that all women see themselves as either a Jackie, Jackie Kennedy, or a Marilyn, Marilyn Monroe. Peggy, who has risen from secretary to copywriter, isn't so sure.

(Soundbite of television program, "Mad Men")

Ms. ELISABETH MOSS (Actor): (As Peggy Olson) I don't know if all women are a Jackie or a Marilyn. Maybe men see them that way.

Mr. MICHAEL GLADIS (Actor): (As Paul Kinsey) Bras are for men. Women want to see themselves the way men see them.

Mr. BRYAN BATT (Actor): (As Sal Romano) You're a Jackie or a Marilyn, a line and a curve. Nothing goes better together.

Ms. MOSS: (As Peggy) Which do you think I am?

Unidentified Man: (As character) Gertrude Stein.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BATT: (As Sal) I would say you're more classical, Hellenic.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Irene Dunne.

Unidentified Man #3: (As character) Oh, I love Irene Dunne.

Mr. JON HAMM: (As Don Draper) Peggy, you're going to have company on this. Congratulations, Kinsey. You forced your way onto an account.


Matthew Weiner, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. MATTHEW WEINER (Creator, "Mad Men"): It's great to be here, Terry.

GROSS: And we'll meet Jon Hamm and John Slattery in a second. Let's start with the scene that we just heard. You know, it's all these men deciding what will make women buy a bra and assuming that they know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEINER: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: What made you think about using a bra campaign?

Mr. WEINER: There was this idea from the beginning that we were going to talk about pantyhose, which had just come out and really kind of revolutionize everything because they were preferred by working women and by women in general, but they were really reviled by men and didn't catch on right away, and they were very expensive. And then we started talk about the, you know, most products, consumer products, are bought by women, and of course, most people in advertising are men. And there is an idea where you start to realize that the way that women perceive themselves is going to be dictated by men, if that's the marketing campaign.

And of course, Peggy is put on all of the campaigns, as they would do, you know, find a woman to deal with food and home-related things and underwear, but at the same time, her opinion is not really as valuable as the men's. So the bra just became a perfect sort of example, and we've established that Playtex was one of their clients. And you know, I'm always interested in where's the boundary at which point where men can stop speaking for women.

GROSS: But in a way, bras are like the invisible star of the show because a lot of the actresses seem to be wearing those kind of pointy, padded, bullet bras that were a mainstay of Hollywood in the '50s and early '60s.

Mr. WEINER: Well, yeah, they are. I mean, Janie Bryant(ph), our costume designer - I mean, I insisted that everything be accurate, but what we started talking about is that the silhouette of a woman's body, they could change it every year as the styles changed by just altering the underwear. Now, it's all determined by exercise.

I wrote it into the show, just the actresses would have to go to the bathroom, and you'd have to have 25 minutes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEINER: And you're, like, what is going on? What is going on? They're like: You do not what is going on down there. There is so much stuff to take off and put on, and it's really about taking whatever body you have and physically molding it into the silhouette that was in style at that time.

GROSS: What was the germ of the idea for "Mad Men"? What came to you first?

Mr. WEINER: The first thing that came to me is that I was interested in doing something about - there's two things. One was the period, and that was a germ that I had separately. I sort of wanted to do something about the office, like the executive-suite office, "Cash McCall," those movies, patterns that I knew from the '50s and early '60s. But then there was - I wanted to do something about what I considered to be the people who run the country, who were raised in the Great Depression and had childhoods that were kind of dark. And I was interested in identity and men and what - where we are, who we look up to. How are we supposed to behave now? There's no model for us. And I just kept digging back further and further and finding that there's never been a model, and I was really most interested in that character of Don. That's the germ of the idea.

GROSS: My guest is Matthew Weiner. He is the creator of the AMC series "Mad Men," and he's also written and directed episodes of the series. And in a moment we'll be hearing from two of the stars of the show, Jon Hamm and John Slattery.

The last episode of season one has one of my favorite moments from the series, and this is an episode, Matthew, that you wrote and directed. And in this episode, Don Draper has put together a presentation for one of the clients that they're trying to land, and it's Kodak. And Kodak has this new slide and slide-projection system where the slides are all on a wheel, and they're calling it The Wheel. And Draper's pitching them an ad campaign and a concept for the ad campaign, and in this scene, midway through his pitch, he starts showing slides. And the slides happen to be slides of his own family moments, some of his most warm family moments, him nuzzling with his wife when they were younger, one of his children when they were an infant, really nostalgic scenes like that. And in the meantime, his own family life is actually in a lot of trouble.

So I'd like you to talk about writing this scene, why you chose the slides as this, like slide carousel as the object you wanted to write the ad campaign for and if you had to get permission from Kodak to do it.

Mr. WEINER: We did not get Kodak's permission, although it's an amazing ad for a product that no one's interested in anymore. What happened is, is that I knew that I wanted to tell this story about nostalgia. And I knew that I wanted to show that Don, the character, has realized that his brother, who has come back to him, has killed himself and that he has estranged himself from his family, and he's there with his family slides. But what I wanted to do was I wanted to get this idea of nostalgia in there, and I actually - my advertising consultant, Josh Weltman(ph), I'm like, what product can I use here?

And I kept thinking about - Kodak has always had such an incredibly wonderful, sentimental ad campaign. You know, Kleenex has them, whatever, but I asked him what came out that year? What can you find?

And he comes in, and he says: You're not going to believe this. And he mentions it to me because I always wanted Don to be showing personal pictures in this thing. I didn't know it could be a slide projector. I thought it might be a camera or something. And it was like an explosion in my brain when he told me about the Carousel, and I was, like, this is perfect.

And it was also kind of a surprise because it fit into everything we'd been talking about that season, too, because everything in advertising at that point was about technology. The new technology was the way to sell the product. And so you knew that Don had a problem with technology, wasn't interested in space travel. He wasn't interested in going to the moon. He wasn't interested in a lot of things that were all about that. So it just - it was a perfect - a lot of times it happens on the show where you have an idea, and it just works out. And I don't know how to explain it, but we've been very lucky that way.

GROSS: So here's the scene from "Mad Men" featuring Jon Hamm as Don Draper, and remember, midway through this presentation, he's going to start showing slides from his own family moments.

(Soundbite of television program, "Mad Men")

Mr. JON HAMM (Actor): (As Don Draper) My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, and this old pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy, and Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new. It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It's delicate but potent. Sweetheart?

(Soundbite of projector)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.

(Soundbite of projector)

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) This device isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine.

(Soundbite of projector)

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) It goes backwards, forwards…

(Soundbite of projector)

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) …takes us to a place where we ache to go again.

(Soundbite of projector)

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) It's not called the Wheel. It's called the Carousel.

(Soundbite of projector)

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) It lets us travel the way a child travels…

(Soundbite of projector)

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) …around and around and back home again…

(Soundbite of projector)

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) …to a place where we know we are loved.

(Soundbite of projector)

GROSS: That's Jon Hamm as Don Draper in a scene from the AMC series "Mad Men," and Jon Hamm, welcome to the conversation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HAMM: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: That's a great scene. You're so terrific in it. It's a really heartbreaking scene because your character knows he's having such trouble in his personal life as he's showing these wonderful slides and talking about nostalgia. Jon Hamm, tell us how you found out about this role and first went on the audition for it.

Mr. HAMM: It was - you know, there's this mythical season in Los Angeles called pilot season. So I had gone out on several pilot auditions and gotten fairly far on them, and then something happened, and I didn't get it. But this one script came and I read it, and I thought well, this is for AMC. Who's - they don't make television. They show old movies. But I read it, and I said I have to be in this project at some point. I have to do something on this. This is so good. And I basically had to start at the very bottom. I was the - I didn't know the casting directors, and they didn't know me, so they wanted to do what's curiously called a pre-read with me, which is you meet the casting directors, and they read you and decide if they want to sort of take you to the next level. So I started literally at the very bottom of the process and worked my way up from there.

GROSS: Matthew Weiner, why did you hire Jon Hamm in your leading role as Don Draper?

Mr. WEINER: Well, first of all, there's something that Jon is leaving out, which people may not know, which is that auditioning - when you get to a certain point in your career, you really don't expect to audition even anymore. And certainly for a leading role like that, you do expect it, but there's really a hierarchy of who has to audition, and what it is. And I - this thing was so important to me that I was, like, I will not hire anybody who won't audition. So everyone had to audition, and the casting directors knew that, and they knew that Jon was the guy, and they wanted him to be perfect when I saw him. And what happened was he came in, and literally, his first audition, he left, and I said that's the guy.

He has this incredible intelligence, and you could see it right away. He understood everything that was going on there without any direction. And he had this presence that was both, it was an old-fashioned leading-man quality. You don't even see these people anymore. You know, there's many more guys like Seth Rogen getting the girl, you know, nowadays than, like, Jon Hamm, not that there's anything wrong with that. I mean, I'm much more of a Seth Rogen type.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEINER: But in my fantasy, you know, of who this man was, and I told them I wanted James Garner, you know, and they're like well, you know, he can't play it. And Jon came in, and there's also a depth to Jon. There's something about his eyes and his intelligence that I just felt, well, this is not a glib ad man. This is a man who has lived, who's an adult, who has some secrets, who has a heart, who understands women. I felt all that from just watching him audition the very first time, and I have it on record because I said it out loud to a lot of people.

And then it was just a matter, because we were with a new network, it was a matter of just trying to sell this person who was not famous as the star of the show, and I can say quite honestly, and Jon knows this, too, that I basically told them that I would not do the show if Jon was not the lead.

BIANCULLI: Matthew Weiner and Jon Hamm speaking to Terry Gross. Last Sunday, "Mad Men" won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series for the second year in a row. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2008 conversation with "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner and star Jon Hamm. Co-star John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling, is about to join the conversation.

GROSS: I want to bring John Slattery into the conversation, and John Slattery plays Roger Sterling, who is the son of the late co-founder of the advertising agency, Sterling Cooper, so now he's, like, one of the partners of it. And he's of a generation, like, one generation older than Don Draper in the series. And in this scene - I'm going to play a scene with Roger Sterling and Don Draper. So in this scene, Sterling has just walked into Draper's office with a bottle of liquor and is sitting down, and they're kind of comparing generational differences. And the scene starts with John Slattery as Roger Sterling.

(Soundbite of television program, "Mad Men")

Mr. JOHN SLATTERY (Actor): (As Roger Sterling) I bet daily friendship with that bottle attracts more people to advertising than any salary you could dream of.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) That's why I got in.

Ms. SLATTERY: (As Roger) So enjoy it.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) I'm doing my best here.

Mr. SLATTERY: (As Roger) No, you're not. You don't know how to drink, your whole generation. You drink for the wrong reasons. My generation, we drink because it's good, because it feels better than unbuttoning your collar, because we deserve it. We drink because it's what men do.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) What about shaky hands? I see a lot of that, too, with you boys.

Mr. SLATTERY: (As Roger) No joke. Your kind, with your gloomy thoughts and your worries, you're all busy licking some imaginary wound.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) Not all imaginary.

Mr. SLATTERY: (As Roger) Yeah, boo-hoo.

Mr. HAMM: (As Don) Maybe I'm not as comfortable being powerless as you are.

Mr. SLATTERY: (As Roger) Pardon?

GROSS: That's Jon Hamm and John Slattery in a scene from "Mad Men." John Slattery, welcome to the conversation.

Mr. SLATTERY: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: So how did you find out about "Mad Men," and how did you end up auditioning for it?

Mr. SLATTERY: I was in New York doing a play, and I was sent the script. And I've said this before, and Matt hasn't corrected me, so I'm going to stick with this version, which is that I read it thinking that they needed the character of Don Draper, which I was, of course, very happy about. I thought, you know, usually it's some 65-year-old guy that they send me a script for. So I prepared the part of Don Draper and went in and read…

GROSS: This is because your hair is gray, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SLATTERY: That's right, among other things. And so I worked on it and went in and read with Matt and Alan Taylor(ph), who directed the pilot, and I think I had gone through it maybe twice. I think they actually had me go through it again before telling me: Here's the thing. We have that guy. We want you to play this other guy, of which there was not as much.

Mr. WEINER: Well, I hate to tell John this on the air, Beth Bowling(ph) and Kim Misha(ph), our casting directors, I wanted him to play Roger from the beginning, and they told me there was no way he would come in and read for that part. And I said, well, get him in here, and he came in and started reading Don, and it was a surprise to me, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEINER: And all I did was keep working with him, as I figured out, like, how do I tell him I want him to play this other part, which is really for a man much older than John. But…

Mr. SLATTERY: See, there you go.

Mr. WEINER: …I brought it down to a different age. And you know, the tough part was not just getting John to do the pilot but afterwards just telling him, promising him, which I guess people do a lot in show business, but promising him that I would take care of this character and that he was very important to me.

BIANCULLI: We're listening to a conversation with "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner and actors Jon Hamm and John Slattery. "Mad Men" is set in the early 1960s. Terry asked Jon Hamm, who stars in the show, how he got into character for the period.

Mr. HAMM: I had always sort of been a fan of that period and the art and the literature and the cinema that came out it, you know, anything in the sort of Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau crowd, and of course, Billy Wilder movies. And on a more personal level, my father was sort of a big-deal businessman in St. Louis in this time, in the '50s and '60s. And he was - worked for a company that his grandfather and his father had owned. So I literally, just looking through old photo albums, and I could see - I mean, here was this guy, this man who was the sort of master of his domain and the sort of ease with which he moved through this world. St. Louis is obviously a much smaller pond than Madison Avenue in New York City, but that kind of largesse and ease was a big part of what informed my interpretation of Don.

GROSS: I've got to ask you a question about that. Your character of Don has a way of kind of crossing his legs. It's a kind of power position for him. When he crosses his legs, it's like I own extra space around me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I own all the space around my body. Did your father kind of sit that way?

Mr. HAMM: Yeah, he was a big guy. He was about 6'3", and he owned the space he was in. He was a very friendly, very gregarious, very fun, very funny guy, but he also had, you know, a lot of sadness in his life. My father met my mother, who was a secretary, and they got married, but my mother was my father's second wife. His first wife died at a very young age, and my mother, his second wife, also died at a very young age. So this is a man who had a tremendous amount of sadness for being in such a sort of powerful and elevated position in his life. He did have a lot of sadness.

So I didn't have to look too far to find any kind of inspiration for this guy. And you know, my father passed away when I was 20. So it's a drag that he doesn't get a chance to see this because I think he would really enjoy the result.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you all for talking with us, and congratulations on the show. Thanks very much, John Slattery, Jon Hamm and Matthew Weiner.

Mr. WEINER: Thanks so much for having us.

Mr. SLATTERY: It was very nice, Terry.

Mr. HAMM: It's very exciting, thanks.

BIANCULLI: Matthew Weiner, Jon Hamm and John Slattery, speaking to Terry Gross last year. Last Sunday, AMC's "Mad Men" won the Emmy as Outstanding Drama Series for the second year in a row. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

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