At the end of Mad Men season four, we wondered if Don Draper was following in Roger Sterling’s midlife-crisis-propelled footsteps when he dumped his girlfriend and peer, Dr. Faye, and instead impulsively proposed to his young, foxy secretary, Megan (Jessica Paré). But last night’s episode provided some clarity when Megan gave Don a 40th-birthday present to remember: a sexy burlesque performance of “Zou Bisou Bisou” that party guests — and viewers — may have appreciated more than the intended recipient. Yet despite the awkward moment, the mysterious, brooding adman seems happier with her than he’s ever been. And Megan is, so far, proving to be nothing like Betty: She’s privy to Don’s secrets, pervy enough to keep him interested, maternal to his children, a bright and willing protégée of Peggy’s, and a keeper of her own bank account with gay and black friends and a penchant for pot-smoking. Could Megan actually be good for him? Vulture talks with Paré.
Everybody has “Zou Bisou Bisou” stuck in their heads.
[Laughs.] I hope that’s true.
What was the response of your friends — do you watch with them?
I’m sure my friends have a pretty clear bias, but they were all pretty happy for me and excited. They were very fond of my performance.
I’m guessing you blushed a bit.
Yeah. And I did turn to my companions last night and said, “So, be honest. Did I just embarrass myself on national television?” They didn’t feel that was the case, which makes me feel good.
Had you known the song before?
I hadn’t, no, but I did a bit of research and saw that Gillian Hills had done it and then Sophia Loren did it again in English. The lyrics [in that version] are, if possible, slightly more inane than the French version. It’s baby talk, you know? “Zoo be zoo” — it doesn’t mean anything in English.
I think to an American ear, everything in French just sounds so much better.
That was Matt [Weiner]’s feeling about it.
What do you think of Don and Megan’s marriage?
I think they’re happy. I think that’s the most surprising thing about the Don and Megan relationship this season, that he’s happy with her. They have an easy relationship. My guess is that they laugh a lot, they have a really good time together. In a lot of ways, really, she’s his match. It’s an easy sort of lighthearted thing … for now. Of course, it’s Don Draper, so …
And it’s Matt Weiner …
It can always take a dark turn.
I mean, really, who wants to watch a show about Don Draper being just chipper and happy all the time? [But] I think he enjoys her and they have a good rapport.
She’s so not like Betty. On a superficial level, they appear similar: Megan was an aspiring actress, Betty was a model. But Megan knows Don’s secret. He likes that she works with him. This is nothing, like, say, Roger’s second marriage.
No, it’s not. It is, as you say, very different and perhaps a little bit more in harmony with what we think of as a more modern marriage. But that’s the thing about the whole surprise party: She sees a side of him that is easy and open, and she’s not used to this office-side Don Draper who is very tightly laced and private, and quite stern to say the least. That explains, sort of, just how off the mark she is in thinking this would be the perfect gift for him. [Laughs.]
There’s a scene when Megan reprimands Peggy for her behavior at the party, and then asks her permission to go home. It allows us to see two sides to Megan: One is her as Don’s confident wife, and the other is her office persona, as Peggy’s protégée, respectful of her authority. How do you perceive the two women’s relationship?
I think it’s an interesting mirror of Peggy’s relationship with Don, in that sense. I like having that reflection in this, and certainly in the first episode, you see that Don has temporarily put his edge on the shelf. He’s happy. He’s in love. He doesn’t care about work. He just wants [Megan] there because he wants her. And Peggy’s concerned that he’s too nice. It worries her that he’s lost his edge. I think it’s interesting, and then added to the fact that they’re both career women in this time when that was not necessarily the rule, I think that it gives us an insight into Peggy and Megan. I like that the two of them are friends. I think it’s the other great surprise for the Megan character, because at the end of last season’s finale, we see Peggy and Joan laughing about the fact that Megan and Don are getting married. You kind of think that Megan and Peggy could be enemies.