Did you hear a glorious roar last night at around 10:20 p.m.? That was the shrieking happiness of every fan of AMC’s Mad Men when bombshell turned helpmate Joan Holloway finally — and with hilarious briskness — did to her husband what we’d been fantasizing since last season. In the aftermath, Christina Hendricks gave Vulture a Joan’s-eye view of marriage, the lessons of Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl, and the problem of Joan as heroine.
It was so cathartic to see you conk your husband on the head with a vase.
I haven’t seen it yet! I’ve been out of town shooting and getting married. I’m almost caught up.
What was your reaction when you read the script?
Well, I had been warned. My writer told me at the very beginning, and when people have come up to me saying, “you’ve got to get rid of that husband,” I’m like, just wait. [Laughs] You’ll be happy.
In general, how do you imagine Joan’s daily life with “Dr. Rape”?
Oh God! [Laughs] You know, there are moments where you see them being kinder with one another, her helping him with the interview. Or they’re preparing for a dinner party. Even though they’re fighting, she relents and is like, okay, let me help you. She is a good wife! And she has convinced herself that everything’s okay, and she just focuses on those moments.
It didn’t seem to me she married him for his heart.
Obviously, we all remember the rape, the most dramatic moment between the two of them. But I think when she brings him to the office to show him off, she really is proud of him. And you know, I think that Joan likes to make things very tidy and clean, whether it be her relationships at work, or her actual desk, or her appearance, or her relationship at home. I think she justifies certain things and cleans them up in her mind.
Do you think Joan thinks of what happened as a rape?
No, no, she thinks it was a bad date, a bad evening.
Do you think her husband does?
I’ve always thought of Joan as representative of the whole Helen Gurley Brown Sex and the Single Girl idea. Was that part of the thinking for her character?
Absolutely. I read Sex and the Single Girl and Sex and the Office before — not before the pilot, because I didn’t know about it at that point — but after the pilot, and before we started season one. They were huge inspirations. I started turning down pages of things that I thought would be useful or relevant, and then I realized every single page was turned down. [Laughs] Tons of great tidbits that, you know, even if no one else catches them or something, that I’m thinking of.
Can you give me an example?
Just certain things, like the way you prepare your desk. Making sure there are little candies out because that’s enticing. Making sure that your slip shows just a tiny, tiny bit when you’re sitting down because that’s alluring.
How do you think Joan regards Peggy at this point in the show?
Joan has just relented! She’s like, okay, you’re not listening to me. But they still know they need each other to a certain extent, and I think Joan is still flattered when she needs some advice.
There was a really interesting part in the tractor episode when Joan and Don have this moment at the hospital. What was the deal there?
That was fun because I hardly ever have scenes with Jon Hamm. In season one, he walks by and Joan says something: “I’ve always wondered why he’s never been interested in me.” But they quietly respect each other and don’t really get in each other’s business.
Was there sexual tension?
I certainly wasn’t playing it as a sexual dynamic. I was playing it more like, here’s Joan’s last day and this crazy bullshit happened, and here’s a man that she respects, and he’s saying, “we’re going to miss you,” and she’s like, “it feels good to hear that from you because you hardly ever talk to me.”
Does it ever get frustrating because Joan has been more in the background?
Yeah, I want to work every day, absolutely.
It’s also terrible for her to be out of the office, because there’s less opportunity for her to be in scenes.
Right, yeah, I know! [Laughs] Tell me about it.
It’s slightly troubling to me that people seem to regard Joan as a straight-up superhero.
Yeah, I get a lot of this sort of “you go, girl!” attitude. If you pulled her out of the sixties, people wouldn’t feel the exact same way. But I think there’s so much mistreatment of women, and the fact that she’s knocked back is powerful for people: She holds her head up high and works through it, and I think it makes people feel good that she’s not whimpering in a corner.