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Maggie Siff on Or, and Being Don Draper’s Soul Mate

Maggie Siff caught our eye during the first season of Mad Men as Rachel Menken, the savvy department-store head who has an affair with Don but turns down his invitation to run away with him. Save for a brief appearance in season two, she’s recently spent more time with the bikers of FX’s Sons of Anarchy than the admen of Sterling Cooper. In the world premiere of Or, at Women’s Project, Siff stars as Aphra Behn, the seventeenth-century figure thought to be the first female professional writer. She spoke with Vulture about the play, her two popular television roles, and why it’s good to take a break from L.A.

Did you know much about Aphra Behn before the play?
I knew very little. I mean, I knew her name, I had a vague sense of her being somebody important in female literary tradition, which is a little bit embarrassing. I was an English major in college! I mean, there’s a quote of Virginia Woolf’s: “Every female writer owes a debt of gratitude to her,” it’s a much more clever phrase than that.

How did your role come about?
As soon as I read it, I kind of thought it was a good part for me. My experience of reading the play was really interesting because I was like, Oh, no, this is going to be one of those verse farce plays, written by a contemporary playwright. And then it broke into prose, and I was immediately kind of riveted. I think it’s really a delightful play. It’s very cleverly imagined.

Aphra seems to share the independent spirit of your character on Mad Men. Is that something you look for in a part?
I mean, I love those roles. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think we find things and things find us that are sort of meant to. And I tend to find myself in those parts.

When we interviewed Jon Hamm last year, he said he thought your character and his are soul mates in a way. Do you feel like that’s the case?
I do, kind of, yeah. I think Matt Weiner is an incredibly smart storyteller, and everybody knows from the beginning that this is a guy who’s going to go through a lot of women. But I think that the way that our story ended up getting set up within the series is that you feel her absence. She’s gone, and then you’re like, Well, where did she go? And I think there are a lot of things in that show that come and go, and you feel their echoes. And so in a way I feel like that’s probably true between them.

You’ve since joined the FX dark comedy Sons of Anarchy. Do you feel like your character, Tara, fits into this independent-woman mold?
Well, she’s also a very strong character. You know, it was funny because when I auditioned for that part, Kurt Sutter, the creator, initially wasn’t sure that you could buy that I — me, the actress, Maggie — would have come out of that world. But he decided that it would actually be more interesting to make the character somebody who had come from the world but really stepped very far away to get an education. And so the character is incredibly smart — she knows better than to be there, but she’s there. And it brings up a huge amount of conflict. There’s sort of the battle of the primal self with the self who knows better.

Your background is in the theater, but in the past few years, you’ve really been a lot more visible on TV. What’s that transition been like for you?
It’s been really interesting. I feel like in some ways I’ve had a whole new learning curve, although it’s essentially the same art form. And yet there’s a way in which I miss New York and I miss the theater all the time. There’s some way in which when you’re living here and you’re doing theater, you’re just like sweating blood all the time. And sometimes that’s really oppressive and you’re exhausted and you’re broke and you’re questioning yourself all the time, and then you’re not doing that and things are more comfortable and they’re easier. I mean, my experience of being out in L.A., the quality of my life has gone up, and I have more time. But sometimes I feel like what’s asked of me is just like a little sliver of what I can do.

The show was just postponed a few days because one of the actors got injured. What exactly happened?
Well, I’m not sure that I can give a medical description of exactly what happened. I know something happened to one of his vocal cords, and it was, as far as I understand it, hemorrhaging. The doctor put him on immediate vocal rest, so he didn’t utter a word for three days. You know, he had a strange feeling in his throat before the show started. He and the doctor think it might have actually started several weeks before from something more fluke-ish. It was during one of the performances that his voice was slowly giving out. He finished the show, and it was clear to all of us that something was wrong.

How’s he doing now?
He’s great. He went back to the doctor and she looked again and she gave him the okay to start performing again and said that he wouldn’t cause damage to his voice by doing so, but he obviously needs to sort of be careful.

Maggie Siff on Or, and Being Don Draper’s Soul Mate