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Mad Men’s Matt Weiner on How He Found the Perfect Megan Draper

When she debuted on Mad Men last season, Megan Draper went from mere secretary to surprise spouse to Don Draper, and this season, she's blossomed into a "Zou-Bisou-Bisou"-ing sex kitten who knows how to push all of Don's buttons. How did Mad Men creator Matt Weiner conceive of Megan's story line, and how did he find the fascinating Quebec-born actress who portrays her, Jessica Paré (who's also on the cover of New York's recent TV issue)? Below is an extended version of Weiner's comments on Megan and Paré from that cover story. Yes, he talks about her teeth.

Weiner: Is it Jada or Giada?

It’s Jada.
Good. Cool. Because Giada’s lame.

It totally is, and it is not my name.
You don’t even know what it’s like to have your name mispronounced all the time, you can’t even imagine it.

Ha! Well, I grew up in New Mexico and my last name is Yuan, so I got called Yada Juan a lot.
Well, I get called Matt Weener a lot, but only at like things like my graduation, and when I win an award, and at my wedding. So, what can I get for you?

Well, we’re putting Jessica Paré on the New York TV issue cover.
Great. Very cool.

And we’re doing this because it seems like this is her season. Megan has become a focal point.
I think that’s true.

Did you know that that it was going to be the case going in?
I will be honest with you, every story that I tell that involves Megan is about Don. Megan versus work, Megan at work, and what it means to have a second wife — which he is taking very seriously as his last wife. That is the story. How is Don dealing with this younger, enthusiastic, hopeful, and very honest person who is accepting of the kind of person that he is, but is slowly expressing her independence? I found it to be a fascinating thing to say, How does Don deal with this successful relationship, and how much change can he tolerate?

He doesn’t have much experience with successful relationships.
Well, none of us do. This is about the first year of a marriage. I’ve had so many people come up to me after the Howard Johnson’s episode and say, “I had that fight,” and they had it in the first year of their marriage. It was like when Pete threw the chicken out of the window. There is a passion of people who have not lived together elbowing their way to find what the equilibrium of their relationship will be. [Megan’s] openness and her singing ["Zou Bisou Bisou"] to him was like, this is a different kind of person, a joyful, less cynical person.

"Zou Bisou Bisou" seemed to be the moment when Jessica became a star. How long had you been thinking about it?
I know that every season I’ve dragged the audience kicking and screaming into a new story when they really want to see is the dynamic from the previous season played out. And what I felt was Don Draper, the guy we know, has gotten married. Who is that person? How do I introduce her to them? I really wanted to say, here’s who this woman is. She is her own thing, she has her own opinions, Don is in love with her because she is strong and confident and not shy, which he is, a little bit. Mostly because of having to hide his identity all this time.

So, I thought about it. I knew at the end of last season that they were going to get married. I wanted the audience to be stuck in the world of the proposal and worry about it [between seasons], and then when you come back, you see that they’ve been married for a few months. And this is their dynamic, they’re newlyweds. And here’s the new generation, this extroverted, joyful — I wouldn’t say she’s a hippie, but she’s definitely bursting with youth, which is part of why he proposed to her.

Was there something about Jessica that made you notice her?
She actually first auditioned for the prostitute [who slaps Don in the face during sex in the season four premiere] and I thought she was wonderful. And then my casting people were like, “You know, she was in the top three for the people to get that part. You’re looking for this Megan character. Have you thought about Jessica?”

I loved her face and her energy, and she’s got this slightly tomboy thing. And at the same time, she looks like a French movie star from that era, exotic and intriguing. I loved the idea of just having her sort of work her way in. Our story line for last year was that she would be a receptionist. He would sleep with Alison, his secretary, she would leave, it would be shameful, he would have Miss Blankenship and Miss Blankenship would die, and eventually this woman would end up as his secretary. And then in the episode where he comes clean with Dr. Faye, his mind starts to wander and he sees her standing out there and he starts to focus on her, as people sometimes do.

And then of course, the rest of it becomes, what happens when Don’s work life is not working out. He starts to focus on his personal life. The chain of events in “Tomorrowland” was not about a chain of coincidences. It was about how when you want something, the universe gives you signs. It’s [only] in your mind, but the universe gives you signs.

I realized at the end of “Tomorrowland,” after breaking the story with the writer’s room, that this woman was offering youth. Dr. Faye was offering “accept who you are and be an adult and move on as yourself,” and Megan was offering, “it doesn’t matter who you are, you can always change, I don’t care what your past is, I like you as you are now.” That was very appealing to Don. I will not lie, though. I didn’t realize until deep into this season how important her story was to Don.

Most Americans basically only knew Jessica as the topless girl from Hot Tub Time Machine. Had you seen her in that?
That was not what got her the part, although she’s hilarious in that. When I saw her auditioning in the room, she was mysterious, confident, youthful. She’s got a killer smile, and she had a way of making the dialogue sound better than the way it was written. She brought all of that herself. That’s how you get a part. No one wants to hear it because they hope that it’s all academic and clinical and checking off of boxes. It’s really like A.M. radio. This mysterious thing comes through the air and then you either get the signal or you don’t.

Why did you choose to reference her teeth on the show?
I’ve talked about how I don’t like it on TV shows when they don’t acknowledge the physical reality of the character. It’s an opportunity to make it more real. You know that Jessica has had people say things to her about her teeth throughout her life, and I loved the idea that her friend had said something crappy to her about it. I think the woman is devastatingly beautiful, but I picked her because she is so particular, she is not bland. It’s like pretending Betty Draper is a regular-looking wife. I never did that. Everyone was like, "Oh my God, if Jon Hamm and January Jones walk in someplace arm in arm in real life, you’d be like, 'Who the hell are they,' right?"

Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images