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After seven seasons, four Emmys and three Golden Globe for best drama, as well as hundreds of other accolades, the AMC drama Mad Men is finally coming to an end. Following the saga of advertising genius Don Draper and his Madison Avenue colleagues, this series meticulously recreated the ‘60s and its social and sexual politics while following the escapades of its characters in the boardroom—and the bedroom.

How will  it wrap up in the final seven episodes, which begin airing April 5? Creator Matt Weiner is notoriously tight-lipped about the storyline and has trained the cast well to keep it secret. Fortunately, he and the stars have no problem talking about the characters, the show and its success.

“We all felt good about what we were doing, but the idea that it would be recognized or go this long was a surprise,” Weiner admits. “It's at this point, close to a decade in the lives of these characters. You got to see them change over all this time, which was the intention from the beginning. And it's all been done without trying to repeat itself. There's a uniqueness, hopefully, to each of the seven episodes. We always committed to the story, and the audience is rewarded for knowing that entire story.”
AMC drama Mad Men cast
Jon Hamm, a four-time Emmy nominee and Golden Globe winner for playing tortured ad man Draper, has mixed emotions about the impending series finale. “The show means so much to me and these people, and these characters mean so much to me. We are a very close-knit group of people, and we genuinely like each other. There's no version of this ending that is not super painful for me, because they've been the single constant in my creative life for the last decade. So that's kind of tough,” he confides. “It is a story. It has to end. It was pleasing to have a satisfying ending. But I will never be able to have this again, and that's a drag.”

For January Jones, who plays Draper’s ex-wife Betty, reading the last script “was very hard, very emotional.” Even though the final few pages were missing for security purposes, “I knew a little bit of what was going to happen. But the whole last few weeks, I was just a mess pretty much. Anything made me cry,” she recalls. “I read it over and over. I didn’t want it to be the last time. I was pleasantly surprised, and I hope the audience is surprised.”

Although Elisabeth Moss’s character Peggy Olson has advanced significantly in her career at the agency, Moss points out that “she actually hasn't changed in a lot of ways, which I think goes the same for a lot of the characters. Part of our story in this last season is that people do change, but in a lot of ways they don't, unfortunately. I think that Peggy has retained a lot of her qualities that she's had since the beginning in good ways and in bad ways. I've been constantly surprised by things that really I should probably have seen coming.  But I was really happy with it,” she says.

Don Draper and Peggy Olson

From the beginning, Weiner monitored fans’ reactions to plot developments.
“I'm extremely interested in what the audience thinks, so much so that I'm trying to delight them and confound them and not frustrate and irritate them.  I don't want them to walk away angry. Anytime that's ever happened, that has been unintentional,” he stresses.  However, he believes that “Sometimes people have to be protected from what they want to see happen, and the story has to have its own organic thing. To delight them with surprise, you can't just give them everything that they want. And the show has never done that, and part of that is not like just striving to be original. It's striving to tell a story that you don't know, and you hope it feels inevitable when you get there. No one has ever hesitated to tell me that they don't like something that we're doing,” he notes. “And I think it's kept the show good.”

A stickler for historical accuracy, Weiner immersed himself in 1960s culture and told stories that were both representative of the time and relevant today. “I am often channelling what the national mood is right now, and I'm looking for similarities,” he says. “When we did 1968 in Season 6, that was the time where history was impacting on people's lives every single day, with the assassinations, movements for change. Then there was a turning away. [People were saying] ‘Enough already. I can't do anything about the world.  It's time to turn inward.’ That's what I felt about the end of the decade, and I do feel that's going on right now. And it’s in the show.”

Mad Men CastLooking back, says Weiner, “I feel very satisfied with a lot of what we did,  and I'm super proud of the fact that we did not repeat ourselves, which is the tallest order in all of it.  There are three stories per episode, and every season is different. I think it's got a very high level of execution,” he says, praising the acting, writing and directing, “and a very high degree of difficulty. it was a perfect working environment that was based on satisfying ourselves and--I'm not going to lie--getting recognition. That did not hurt.”

He happily points out that “So many people got their first job there. We had the same production designer and costume designer for seven seasons, the same cinematographer for six. The actors have directed.  It’s been a very special, creatively satisfying experience.”

Jon Hamm was one of those who directed episodes, twice. Although he’d had regular and recurring roles before on such series as The Division, Providence, The Unit, and What About Brian, not to mention numerous guest spots, it was Mad Men that elevated his career to a stratospheric level. He remembers auditioning for the role on a rainy day in February, 2006, and had to drive crosstown in bumper-to-bumper traffic. “It took about 21/2 hours to get there. It was in this weird place in Santa Monica, and no one else was there besides a 17-year-old who was auditioning for a commercial. It was with the casting director, the first of seven auditions, but I knew it went well.”

Hamm took no props or items from wardrobe as souvenirs of his Mad Men experience, “nothing other than delightful memories,” but he realizes that he will be forever linked with Don Draper. “Everybody wants to identify you as that particular character. But as an actor, if you just want to bang on the same piano key over and over again, it gets boring--not just for yourself, but for the audience. What I am trying to take away from it is to work with different people and do different things.”

He’d like to work again with longtime girlfriend Jennifer Westfield, with whom he appeared in Kissing Jessica Stein and Friends With Kids, but has a few other projects in the works. In addition to a voice in the animated movie Minions, he’ll be seen in the Netflix comedy series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, a spinoff of the 2001 movie that begins streaming July 17. Mad Men co-star John Slattery (Roger Sterling) is in it too, and will play Howard Stark in the summer blockbuster Ant-Man, in theaters the same day.

Mad Men cast

Other cast members have movies awaiting release as well. Elisabeth Moss appears in the drama Meadowland, due for release this month, and she’ll star opposite Robert Redford in Truth and with Jeremy Irons in the sci-fi flick High-Rise later this year. Christina Hendricks (Joan Harris) has upcoming credits in Dark Places with Charlize Theron, the horror thriller The Neon Demon, and the dramedy Roadies for Showtime. January Jones is sticking with the small screen for now, playing a recurring role in Fox’s The Last Man on Earth.

Matt Weiner can take reassurance that he set his actors up well for the future, but it doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. “There's an emotional thing that goes along with finishing, which is really hard,” he admits. “I'm particularly bad at anticipating what things are going to feel like [when the finale airs]. But I'm very excited to unspool this and for people to see it.” / Issue 168 - September 2018
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