Few TV dramas of the new millennium have packed the punch of Mad Men, creator Matthew Weiner’s searing chronicle of mid-century America and the men and women who fall prey to its dreams and nightmares. The show returns to AMC on April 5th, its final episodes airing Sunday nights at 10/9c. Of all the Mad Men cast, few are as open in interviews as January Jones, who plays seeker-in-a-shift-dress Betty Francis, former wife of Jon Hamm’s Don Draper and currently unhappily married to Christopher Stanley’s PR director Henry Francis. So at last week’s TCA Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, we made sure to sit down and chat with Jones about the show’s upcoming finale, as well as her new role on Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s The Last Man on Earth, starring Will Forte and debuting March 1st on Fox.
NERDIST: Congratulations on seven seasons of Mad Men. What can we look forward to from Betty in these final episodes?
JANUARY JONES: The only thing I can say is what Matt [Weiner]’s said, which is that the final seven episodes kind of revolve around the characters you grew to love at the beginning.
N: So the show comes full circle in that regard?
JJ: Yeah. We see what happens to those six or eight people. I don’t like to talk about it. It’s really sad.
N: So we should be prepared for tears?
N: I’m sure it was emotional on set as well.
JJ: Yeah, it was a mess. I was a mess the entire last week. I mean, we got the script the day before the table ready, as usual… First of all, I have to give props to the guest actors on every season of Mad Men. Because they never know who they’re acting with, they never know what they’re saying, they don’t know the entirety of the script until the table read. So it must be so challenging. For that last episode, we had some guest actors present, and that’s why the last scene or ten pages weren’t there when we read the last script. At the end of that, Matt brought the six or eight of us into his office and read us the last ten pages. Just us. We were all bawling. Each episode of the last seven feels like it could be the end. I can’t ever, I won’t ever, be able to come across something that is so well written. It’s just so brilliant. I’ve been so spoiled with Betty, just the ups and the downs. You want her to be there, but then you don’t because you hate her. No one has ever written…
N: The characters in Mad Men have always revealed more through what they don’t say than what they say aloud.
JJ: For Betty especially. They left those moments in, those unspoken moments were left in. You don’t always get that. Everyone’s always like, “Let’s speed this up!”
N: Did you keep anything from set?
JJ: We weren’t allowed to!
N: Nothing from props or wardrobe?
JJ: It’s going up for auction or something, they said. They’re making money. It’s kind of lame.
N: What was it like to wear Betty’s fat suit, and then to come out of it?
JJ: Well I never fully came out of it. But as an actress I loved it.
N: Did you feel different? Did people treat you differently?
JJ: Yes. Especially when you first saw her. When you first saw her, I was really weirded out by it. But once I started getting used to the prosthetics and the gradual weight loss… I never fully went back to how she was before. I was always wearing padding till the very end. As an actress it was hard for me personally just because I was pregnant and then had a baby and was nursing, so the logistics of that were complicated. But I loved that.
N: You mentioned that the show’s ending is sad, but were you happy with the way Betty’s story ends? Is it a fitting resolution for her?
JJ: Yes. For everyone. I think everyone will be very happy. I think Matthew wanted to do what the fans want but doesn’t give them what they think they want.
N: What attracted you to your new show, The Last Man on Earth?
JJ: Just the project itself. The writing was hilarious, and I was excited to work with Will [Forte]. I’ve known him for a long time. And to work with [Phil] Lord and [Chris] Miller. There was really smart writing. A lot of the writers on the show I’ve known from SNL and they’re friends of mine. It was a no-brainer for me. And it shoots so fast. We were shooting near my house. [Laughs.] I was like, “I don’t have a job. This is gonna be really fun. Even if nothing happens, it’s a really good place to go to work every day.”
N: After the intensity of Mad Men, was it liberating to do comedy?
JJ: Yeah. I mean, I started my career in comedy, and I think it happened for a reason. Before this job happened, everyone was asking me, “What are you gonna do? What’s your ideal job?” Blah, blah blah. As an actor, you don’t know. You don’t know until it comes to you. This literally came to my doorstep. The next day I went in and read it with Will and I had a conversation with him on the phone; and the next day I had a job and my whole life changed again. I mean, it’s such a weird job, this job. I don’t even know how to explain it. You can never plan anything, you can never count on anything or anyone… It just felt like a safe place to be because I knew a lot of people involved. Even if nothings happens — and I think something great will happen — but if it doesn’t I get to go to work every day and laugh.
N: There are worse ways to make a living. Thank so you much, January!
JJ: You’re welcome!