Q&A with Mad Men's Matthew Weiner
Don Draper's creator clues us in to Betty's drug-fueled dreams, respinning Tiger Woods's brand and the wisdom of David Chase.
Mon Feb 1 2010
Does the plot of Mad Men ever actually draw from Jung’s ideas and theories?
Jung’s curiosity about what was going on in his mind is something I try to draw on. I mainly just aim for truth. So much of our entertainment tries to convince us we’re better or smarter than we are. I revel in our weaknesses only because they are real.
Mad Men is pretty much universally lauded, but do bad reviews ever haunt you, or tear at your ego?
Even in glowing reviews, I find things that haunt me. I’m overly sensitive about it. The one thing that always annoys me is when people say, “nothing happens on the show.” Just because it’s about people’s everyday lives and the stakes are small, like my life or your life, that doesn’t mean nothing is happening. If your wife finds out you have a fake name [as Betty Draper did in Mad Men], that is a gigantic event. I’m also living in expectation of the backlash.
Yours is the first TV drama to win three straight Golden Globes. Which of the three felt the best?
This last one, definitely. I was genuinely stunned and thrilled, because even though I felt that we were doing the best work we’ve done thus far, I was prepared for the machinery to respond the way it always does. So I was more relaxed and really felt like I had nothing riding on it. Not to mention, there’s so much great television right now. It’s amazing to be recognized in the middle of it all.
Any similarities writing about mob bosses versus Madison Avenue bosses? Which is harder?
They’re both hard, but it’s a little easier to write for Mad Men because I’m the last word. I don’t have to worry about David [Chase, creator of The Sopranos] hating any of my work. But they’re both very specific subcultures with set rules that you have to apply, so it’s tough.
Which is your favorite character to write for?
I don’t have one. It’s like asking me which kid I like the best. They’re all fun, they’re all interesting. The great thing about juggling so many characters is that I’m never bored.
Mad Men is so dramatic, yet many of the actors have comedy chops. Was that something you were looking for?
I hired every one of them because they were also funny. The cast is a bunch of people who can do the serious stuff as well as comedy, plus, they’re all so attractive. As a human being, it’s infuriating.
How did you come up with Betty Draper’s drug-fueled dream?
I was trying to show that there was a generation of women who delivered babies under the influence of drugs. It was so inorganic—they were completely divorced from the process. Mentally, the event was skipped over. I also wanted to illustrate Betty’s anxiety. Her parents died, and she was alone and terrified, so I used a few recent events in her life—what Freud would call the day’s residue—to show that she just wanted someone to take care of her.
Would Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce be able to spin the Tiger Woods brand out of its current rut?
If this were the ’60’s, the story wouldn’t have come out at all. It’s amazing how they kept things under wraps back then. All I know is, I wouldn’t want the Tiger Woods account right now. But I’m sure Don Draper could promise something good.
Has advertising gotten better or worse since its ’60s heyday?
It’s definitely harder today. The fundamentals of advertising haven’t changed, but there are so many new challenges now. Growing up in the ’70s, great ads were much more of a phenomenon, they were shared universally, and we all enjoyed them together through shirts or catch phrases. But now, it’s much more compartmentalized. There are many quality ads we don’t see.
Conan or Leno?
Oh, Conan. To me, NBC is rejecting their audience right now. Carson was a cutting edge host; he didn’t want to broaden the appeal, he just wanted to be funny. The audience still has that expectation. Conan is the future—wherever he goes, I’ll go.
Do you already have an idea of how Mad Men will conclude, or is your vision open-ended?
In the back of my mind I think I know what the last episode will be about. But, like any creative endeavor, it ultimately depends on how the economics play out.
What was it like learning from television legend David Chase?
David was in TV for 30 years by the time I met him. He taught me you couldn’t give in to the TV constructs that basically aimed to soothe the audience and let them feel like everything’s okay. You want the characters to behave in a way that isn’t dictated by the plot, you want them to behave the way real people behave. So, a lot of what we’re doing on Mad Men is a reaction to how life is portrayed on other dramas. And, to quote Don Draper, “Being different is the key to the marketplace.” I agree with that.
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