Matthew Weiner on the Past, Present, and Future of Mad Men’s Characters

Matthew Weiner at 92Y. Photo: Michael Priest

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner sat down for a Q&A with writer and director Richard LaGravenese at 92Y in New York recently to discuss the end of his series — without revealing any spoilers for the final three episodes, the conversation veered between Trudy Campbell’s future as a “dynamite” old lady, why he doesn’t care if you don’t like Diana, and much more. Here are our five favorite insights:

1. AMC wanted a British actor to play Don Draper.

AMC was really pushing for Don Draper to be played by a British actor, but Weiner wouldn’t have it. As it turns out, he might even agree with most Vulture readers about which foreign actors have the most convincing American accents.

I will never cast a British person to play an American unless they fool me. The only person who’s ever really fooled me … Damian Lewis is pretty good, and Anthony LaPaglia, I had no idea he was Australian. Some of these people, I saw a play on Broadway where it was [a] brother and sister and the brother was from New Zealand, and I wanted to stand up and say, “We’re not stupid!” I got some criticism this year about the different French accents.

2. Weiner doesn’t care if you don’t like Diana.

When an audience member asked, “Why did you introduce Diana now? She seems like such a step backwards for Don,” Weiner replied with a cheeky retort:

People never take steps backward, I know that … You know what, this sort of puts me on the defensive a little bit … Why don’t you get your own TV show? We do not do the same thing over and over again, every episode is different, and I’m sorry it made you a little uneasy that Don’s doing something you don’t really like. Grief holds people together, and you’re in grief right now. That’s why you’re so upset.

3. Trudy Campbell would make a “dynamite old lady.”

Another audience member posed the question, “If you could grab coffee and catch up with any character in 2015, who would it be and why?” to which Weiner replied:

The character I would like to see as an old lady is Trudy Campbell. There’s just something about her that I just know she’s gonna be like a dynamite old lady. We’ve watched her get wiser, and people who have strong feelings, she’s got that thing that spoiled brats sometimes have, which is an incredible level of confidence that allows them to be open. She’s opinionated, but she’s always stood up for herself. She’s kind of, to me, in many ways, a great wife. I can’t believe [Pete] messed that up. The other people I sort of have ideas about. Everybody’s mom has a friend like Joan. She’s like, “She was so hot, men would not leave her alone.” And she’s still always very vain and she’s kind of flirting with you even though it’s probably inappropriate. Peggy? I’ve worked for Peggy. I know that woman, and that’s the boss that, when you see the crack, you actually don’t want to see it. You’re like, “What? You’re vulnerable? No.” I don’t know why, but Trudy, I’d like to see what she does with the rest of her life.

4. The writers’ room was always full of women.

When moderator Richard LaGravenese noted that the first season of Mad Men had a lot of women in the writers’ room, Weiner explained that he never focuses on the gender of the writers he likes to hire.

I don’t keep track of that, it just happened that way … Half the writers I love, I don’t even care who they are. I was raised in a very liberal environment, I was raised when feminism was the most exciting thing to study at college. I read blind. I hate almost everything, male and female, and I hired Dahvi Waller and Marti Noxon and I thought they were dudes. Not when I met them, but when I read their names … I think you can be a trans whatever and write for an African-American whatever … The idea that young women write a show that’s about young women, there’s some truth to that, sometimes especially as an ignored segment, and certainly you would like to see people that look like you on TV. It’s a crime to not have people that look like everyone. But I just picked the people I liked, and I can tell you right now that sexism is very common. You know how many emails I get, “We’re looking for our female writer.” It’s a diversity issue. “We’re going to have either a black person or a female, and we can knock ‘em off two at a time.” It’s so stupid.

5. All of the main female characters are representative of different eras.

As standards of beauty change in nearly every decade, Weiner sought to represent that through the faces of the main female characters on the show.

I loved that Jessica [Paré] looked like the heroine from the mid-’60s movies that I love. There’s a standard of beauty that evolves. I was staying uptown and I saw the extras walking around from The Knick, and you see these faces, and you know you’re walking around them every day, male or female, and they’re not our standard of beauty right now, but you put them in those clothes and you’re like, “Wow!” Jessica felt the same way that Joan felt very ‘50s to me, and Betty definitely felt kind of ‘40s, honestly. Jane Sterling, you know Jane Siegel, Peyton List, felt very much like early ‘60s.

The Past, Present, Future of Mad Men Characters