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Mad Men’s Cara Buono on Her Character Faye’s Affair With Don Draper

Shortly after Don Draper met Dr. Faye Miller on Mad Men, market research consultant for Sterling Cooper Draper Price, she summed him up in about three sentences and turned him down flat. Now their love-making is breaking lamps. Actress Cara Buono, who played Michael Imperioli’s wife in the final season of The Sopranos, landed the part of Faye just two days after her first audition (when she was told she’d appear in “maybe three episodes”). She called us on Monday morning, having spent all of Sunday night playing poker at a benefit for the LAByrinth Theater Company. “Phil Hoffman came in first," she said. "I came in third."


I have to say, I loved Faye from the moment she told Don Draper that she doesn’t cook. 
Wasn’t that a great line?  I was like, “I’ll say that all day!”

Did you know much about Faye’s character arc when you first took the role?
No. When I was reading, the scene was with Duck. It wasn’t until I got the role when they told me, your scenes are just with Don Draper. So I had no idea. I mean, I knew that she is a psychologist and she’s the new person at the firm — and some of her characteristics, like she’s smart and she’s educated and she’s strong. We know very little at the beginning.

Well, she’s still kind of a mystery, in the same way Don is.
Yeah! A lot of mystery to her.

When you got that first script, did you immediately scan it to see if you were sleeping with Don Draper? Because that’s what I would have done.
You know, it didn’t occur to me at all … I think in that first episode, when she sees Don, she knows exactly who he is and gets it right away. And I think she’s that way with a lot of people.

My first impression of Faye was that she was very Waspy. And then I looked at your résumé, and I went “Wait a minute — she’s the girl from Kicking and Screaming!” Faye is quite a contrast to all these streetwise city girls you’ve played.
Well, she’s very polished, she’s very elegant. People think if you have the accent, oh, you must be this tough-talking New Yorker who has a very clichéd point of view. But I think she is polished, she is elegant, and she’s still from New York. We’re not exactly sure of her background, but her dad works at the candy store, right? So what does that mean? It’s like saying your dad’s in in waste management.

What part of the city are you from?
I am born and raised in the Bronx. Where I grew up, it is a really working-class neighborhood and it does give you a really good work ethic. I’ve had a job since I was 11. I had a paper route, I worked at a video store, I was a toy doll at FAO Schwartz when I was in high school. And I think that it’s made me really disciplined when it came to pursuing acting, because I had no clue how to go about it. I just kind of said, “I’m gonna do this, and figure out a way to do it.” 

You are the only actor who’s had recurring roles on both Mad Men and The Sopranos, which is a pretty impressive distinction. How have those experiences compared?
Being on The Sopranos definitely prepared me for the militant secrecy of Mad Men.

Did you work with Matt Weiner at all on The Sopranos?
Yes. He had written a few of the episodes I was in, and he remembered when we worked together.

Who approaches you more often: Sopranos fans or Mad Men fans?
I get approached quite a bit. People are very interested in talking about both shows; both shows really touched a nerve with people. With Mad Men, people who grew up or were living in that time, they love to talk about what it was really like. And people really love Faye. People come up to me, men and women, who think she’s such a different character for the show, and they love how she’s really on par with Don. 

Have you heard any good stories about the sixties?
People love to say how much they got away with then. Men got away with behaving badly, and the women were smoking during their pregnancies, and smacking around their kids, and drinking at work — there’s a strange sort of shock and wistfulness for it. Like, I can’t believe we did that, and Wow, wasn’t it great to not know that those things were bad!

It’s a credit to you that people like Faye so much, because the fans are so protective of Don Draper.
Yes. I think when she came on, people didn’t know what to make of her because she’s such a straight talker with him. The way the characters evolved is that they’re slowly getting to know each other and they’ve slowly let their guard down around each other. She’s not a mistress. This is a real relationship, and he hasn’t had that.

She is Don’s type, that strong, self-assured, independent woman who disagrees with him. Do you get the impression that Don is Faye’s type as well, or is this a departure for her?
I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Because there’s definitely an attraction and a chemistry that’s there, and I think when that exists between two people, that’s a very primal thing. There’s sort of no intellectualizing that. At the same time, I feel like Faye knows the type of person he is, based on that first episode — so what does that say about Faye, that she decides to be with him? I do think he’s letting his guard down for her, so she is getting to see a vulnerable, real side to him. There’s a genuine affection and caring that’s evolving for her, maybe in spite of her thinking it may not have been the best idea. When she accepts a date with Don, she’s breaking up with her boyfriend on the phone ... I wouldn’t say he’s a rebound, because I think she’s genuinely attracted to him. But I think it was sort of like, timing is everything, right?

In this last episode, we saw Faye get kind of rattled for the first time when she’s talking to Sally, played by Kiernan Shipka.
There’s something kind of wonderfully haunting about [Shipka], isn’t there? It doesn’t feel like you’re working with a child. It was hard for me to do those scenes and be bad with her. I had to talk to her in a really awkward way, and it was actually really challenging, because I’m not bad with children! And I kept getting direction like, “No, you’re really bad with kids.” When they yelled “cut,” the crew just started laughing.

What do you think it is about Sally in particular that makes Faye so uncomfortable?
I think the whole situation took her by surprise. I think she’s probably someone who will be really good with teenagers, when she can talk to them on a more adult level. I think when she says “There was a test, and I failed it,” she’s aware that it’s attractive to men to be a good mother. This is a test and she’s not prepared.

“Now I’ve slept with you. Here’s my daughter!”
And I’m sure that an intimate relationship is developing with Don, and they’re both starting to really care about each other, and starting to think of a family, and “what would that be like?” And it’s really interesting how the family life clashes with the workplace, right? Don didn’t handle it very well, having his daughter come to the office, either. It really rattled him. This is their domain: If they’re both playing characters, this is where they excel, this is where they shine. And having their personal life come to work, it starts to unravel their façade in some ways.

Poor Miss Blankenship ...
It was such a shock when she died! It’s interesting if you watch Faye and Peggy, who had the least emotional reactions. People who seem the most cool and together on the outside, I believe — unless they’re sociopaths — are the most profound feelers, because they have to cover so much. If you look at Don, when he’s Dick Whitman, you see there’s so much emotion and anguish going on underneath Don Draper. And I think particularly in that work setting or a crisis setting, Faye is not going to let her emotions come to the forefront.

You know when she’s talking about Fillmore Auto Parts, and she says “Women love a man who’s good with his hands,” she doesn’t give a wink to Don. She doesn’t give a little look to him. She’s never going to jeopardize her work; I think she’s worked too hard. I think she probably saves a lot of her emotions for when she’s home alone in a safe environment. 

Before Miss Blankenship conks out, she tells Peggy, “It’s a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are.” Which one is Dr. Miller?
[Laughs.] Do you think Peggy’s a masochist?

Given the options, she’s a masochist.
I don’t think Faye is either one, but she’s definitely not a masochist. Definitely wouldn’t take it from anybody.

Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images