The Mad Men Cast on the Backstories of the Show’s Most Memorable Scenes (and the Ones That Didn’t Make It In)

Photo: Godlis

As part of the many events taking place around the city to gear up for Mad Men’s April 5 final season premiere, Matthew Weiner, Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, January Jones, and John Slattery joined moderator Chuck Klosterman for a panel discussion hosted by The Film Society of Lincoln Center Saturday night. Fans eagerly listened as the cast discussed the stories behind some of their favorite Mad Men scenes, and Matthew Weiner—known for his “renowned secrecy” according to Slattery—even told the audience about a few ideas that never made the final cut.

Season 3, Episode 3, “My Old Kentucky Home”
In this now-infamous Derby Day scene from season three, Roger Sterling dons blackface and sings to his new bride, Jane, which irritates Pete and Don, who leaves the performance early.

“I never figured Roger would be the guy to go through all he’s gone through. I couldn’t have guessed LSD or blackface. I called Hamm and said, ‘Would you do this?’ Every year we have a kickoff-the-season party, where Matt has been writing for a couple months and he’s very excited about whatever he’s been working on that day. Despite his renowned secrecy, he’ll tell you everything that’s in his head right there. I’m about to leave and he tells me, ‘Wait, I have to tell you something, you’re going to sing ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ in blackface at a country club on Derby Day.’ I’m thinking, What the fuck? What have I gotten into? We did tests and pictures, and I was sitting in the mirror like, ‘Is this the way it’s supposed to look?’ You’re standing there, waiting around, and driving [to the location] in blackface. I open the door of the van, and there’s literally a 6’6” black motorcycle cop. He’s the first person to open the van and couldn’t figure out what the hell he was looking at.” —John Slattery

“It was not makeup, it was shoe polish, which gives you pimples. When we were doing it [Slattery] was like, ‘This is the last day of my career.’ There was a lot of controversy in the writers’ room. A lot of the writers were like, ‘you can’t do this.’ I was like, well, I think that season takes place in 1963 and blackface was not removed from the Philadelphia Police Parade until 1968 or something. It was such a good part, and that episode is about white people and what they’re like when they’re alone. We have a very diverse crew, and everyone understood what was happening, that it was a period piece, and it was not pleasurable for anyone. It was so well established that this was a part of the framework of that time, and it was so clear that we were criticizing it, but we had to live through doing it to criticize it.” —Matthew Weiner

Season 4, Episode 7, “The Suitcase”
Peggy and Don share a drink at a bar, and Peggy tells Don that everyone thinks she slept with him to get her job.

“I really liked the whole episode because we learn a lot about the relationship that these two characters developed over the course of four seasons. There’s so much in that scene that is not directly said. They know what they’re talking about, but they’re not saying, ‘Anyway, about that kid you had back in season one.’ It’s obliquely mentioned like you do when you’re drinking and you’re talking in a bar, and there’s something else going on, and there’s someone in your space, and you don’t want people to hear or understand. For me, it just showed this incredible mutual respect that we hadn’t really seen in so many ways. I loved how the sound design kept that boxing match loud because it was on in the bar, people wanted to hear it. It was this very intimate conversation that was happening about very personal things, fighting with a boxing match. It was a very genuine, sweet interaction between two people. And funny. It’s a conversation that these two people probably had meant to have for three years and just didn’t until this moment. They care about each other enough to have it in a way where they’re not pulling it out of each other. They’re letting each other come to the table and discuss. You are reminded, of course, about how many people that you work with, how excellent they are at their jobs. Everybody from set designers to set dressers, everyone is working at such a wonderful level that when you do finally see what’s in the frame … inside the frame is this beautiful painting that makes sounds, and makes you think as well.” —Jon Hamm

“I’m not on set all the time. This is a show that’s shown to me. I knew about the script, I had seen the location, but I had no idea what they had pulled off. There’s a thing in television called a bottle show. A bottle show is a thing that takes place where you limit the elements of the show to one location, with as few people as possible. Let’s do an episode that we can save money on, because you’re averaging out the price of the sets and the actors and everything over the course of the season … You always try to do it, and it’s always the most expensive episode you’ve ever made. This was a special script that was not planned at the beginning of the season … It was an extra episode that really advanced the story, it told the entire relationship of these people. What I love about this scene was we made a list in the writers’ room before this of everything that had not been talked about, because so much of the show depends on people not talking to each other. It is my belief that despite the fact that people become friends and especially just because they work together, does not mean they are intimate on any level. That is a television wish fulfillment that nobody eats alone. One of the things was, ‘Doesn’t Peggy wonder why Don’s never hit on her? It’s so insulting! Especially in season four, where he’s the least picky he’s ever been.’ The previous episode to this, he’s been with two women in one night and has no recollection of even encountering the second woman. ‘You never looked at me that way?’ was one of the questions. I love that the audience had to know that they were talking about the baby. That’s what we’ve been lucky enough to have on the show, an audience that keeps track of that. The actors always know and they sell it. When Don says, ‘You’re no example of moral virtue,’ we know he’s saying, ‘I know everything about you.’” —Matthew Weiner

Season 1, Episode 13 “The Wheel”
Betty spots Glen Bishop alone in his mother’s car at the supermarket parking lot. They exchange a moment where Betty confesses to Glen that she feels very sad and he tells her, “I don’t really know how long 20 minutes is.”

“I remember directing that, it was 105 degrees. I was very concerned about January [Jones] being overwhelmed by the heat. All of a sudden I was like, ‘Holy shit, my kid’s in that car! Are you okay, Marten?!’ He was like, ‘Yeah, can I take off the snow pants?’ His cheeks are so red and that’s not makeup, it was just 100 degrees. It was not my idea [to put his son in the show]. He had such an innocent, detached, non-trained actor quality. I couldn’t tell if he was good or not. No one took into account the abuse that could be out there for him as a professional. Regular people in the school play don’t have to read, ‘Your kid’s awful’ or ‘Your kid’s ugly.’ He was so shy that it was kind of strange. They [Jones and Weiner] had so much chemistry, they did! Marten is 18 now and I don’t wanna embarrass him, but I gotta tell this story. In the first scene that they did together, where he walks in on her in the bathroom. He was like, ‘What is wrong with this kid?’ That happened to me when I was a kid to our babysitter. A little boy, you do not see yourself as a non-viable option to a grown woman. You do have those feelings, or at least I did. He was supposed to hug [Jones] and put his head on her chest, when she forgives him after he cries. He really didn’t want to do it. I looked at him and said, ‘Just do it.’ Linda, my wife, was the parent on set, she said, ‘He did it in rehearsal, but I think he’s shy.’ I wasn’t the director, I was just visiting. I go, ‘You’re gonna be really sorry one day.’ He never did it.” —Matthew Weiner

“I bet he is sorry.” —January Jones

Season 1, Episode 1 “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”
On Peggy’s first day at the office, Joan gives her a grand tour. Don walks into his office, takes off his shirt, and puts on a new one, to which Sterling replies, “You missed a button.”

“That was day one of this whole thing. That was the very first thing we shot in this entire series. It’s just so amazing to look back at the incredible relationship that Peggy and Joan end up having, and Joan is so rude! It just makes me laugh watching it. This is the scene I auditioned with to get the show, so it’s crazy for me to watch it because you get a script, and I had two scenes. Both of them were audition scenes. You have to decide who this person is, who this character is, so you’re looking for every single clue that you can get in these amount of words that are on this page to develop this person. I was like, ‘Okay, she’s bossy, she’s sexual, she’s a know-it-all, she seems to have a sense of humor.’ I remember being so scared because it was so much about business. It was like, you gotta smoke, you gotta turn, you gotta walk and do the thing, it was just this whole bit of choreography. That first episode was a lot. You’re setting the tone of the office and characters. It’s fun for me to remember the audition process and then see it. I remember the physicality of it so much, that I bet if you looked very, very closely that my hand was shaking.” —Christina Hendricks

“It was my thought, I don’t know somebody told me maybe, that actors would be better if they had more to do and they always don’t know what to do with their hands, and you don’t want them to have to find stuff. Write it in and they’ll keep busy, and they’ll learn the lines with it. By the end of it they were like, ‘I can’t say that line if you make me put that glass down there.’ Then you’re like, ‘I think they can do it on their own’ … My intention is that [Joan] is channeling Helen Gurley Brown. You could hear ‘Cosmo Knows All,’ and Helen Gurley Brown’s voice in that. When Christina came in it was not at all what I imagined. She’s bossy, but she is so well-meaning, when she is bringing this young girl from the countryside to the world of the courtesan. That’s why that exotic music is in there. I said, ‘I am sure of one thing, [the audience] wants to see more of those two people talking to each other. We did not give them enough.’” —Matthew Weiner

“I had to walk in, take my shirt off, open the drawer, get another shirt out, unwrap the shirt from the laundry, pour a glass of water, put two Alka Seltzer in — which used to come, by the way, in screw-top bottles and not just paper — the water. While that’s fizzing, I’m taking the shirt out, unwrapping the shirt, putting the shirt on, unbuttoning the shirt, putting my tie back on, tying my tie, picking up the Alka Seltzer, drinking the Alka Seltzer, all while talking to John Slattery, who is waiting for me like a dog waiting for a treat, waiting for me to fuck up. And I had to miss a button because the last line of the scene is, ‘You missed a button.’ So that was my first day.” —Jon Hamm

Season 3, Episode 11 “The Gypsy and the Hobo”
Betty confronts Don about his true identity, while his mistress and Sally’s teacher, Ms. Farrell, waits in the car outside.

“What do you do when that bomb has exploded? People act differently when they’re around different people from different parts of their life. You might act differently when you’re with your high school friends or back in your hometown, or whatever. This is a version of that. This person is confronted by someone that knows him as the real person who he is, of course he’s going to be that different person. My conscious construct of Don Draper in the office was that this was a man who put on a suit of armor every day. He was literally putting someone else’s clothes on and someone else’s persona on, and walked around that office like he fucking owned it because he had to believe that first, or no one else would. So when you see in the first couple of seasons when he goes back to California to visit Anna, you see it all melt away. He doesn’t have to worry about that shit. When that matter and that antimatter come together, he’s being Dick Whitman in Don Draper’s clothes. He can barely speak, he can’t put words together. A guy who speaks for a living cannot put two sentences together because he’s completely at a loss.” —Jon Hamm

The thing that always strikes me about this scene is the show was always inspired by the fact that you can change your name. Who knows what you feel like when you change your name when you’re an actor or performer? You create a persona and it’s you, you don’t care anymore. Woody Allen, do people who know him call him Allen? Do they call him Woody? It’s such a part of our malleability. What I really felt when I watch this scene, and Jon and January both understood this, is that this is a class issue. What you get there right away when she says that thing about, ‘you don’t understand money,’ and you feel it. Why did he want to be Don Draper? Because he got to put on that suit of armor. Why did she marry a man that she knew nothing about? Because he was that guy. Here, you strip it all away and you’re from rural poverty. You’re beneath me. You will never marry me and get into my class. Her aspirations are that, she feels incredibly duped. It’s like Wuthering Heights to me. We don’t have a lot of this in America, or we deny it. January knew right away that Betty was a snob, and that she was aspirational and a daddy’s girl, a little bit of a brat, and had been valued for her beauty. She brings that to it.” —Matthew Weiner

Scenes That Didn’t Make the Cut

“I did think that Roger Sterling was going to die the first season. John had another job, and I didn’t know if he wanted to stay with the show. It’s really weird to not be thinking about [the show] all the time anymore. There was a joke when I was a comedy writer, that we were Eskimos and no part of the animal would go to waste. If anything was even vaguely interesting, you’d try to find a way to use it. I always wanted to do a story about somebody getting fired and how it would decimate their life, because I understood this for various reasons, and that they would feel unmanned in many ways. It was gonna be Rich Sommer’s’ character, Harry. Because he’s a great actor!” —Matthew Weiner

From left to right: Chuck Klosterman, Matthew Weiner, Jon Hamm, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, and John Slattery. Photo: Godlis
Behind Mad Men’s Most Memorable Scenes