‘Mad Men’ Q&A: ‘I’m fascinated that people get so much out of it’

Posted by Kathy Lyford

Being a Mad Men obsessive, I’ve read a lot of interviews of the show’s creator Matthew Weiner over the last couple of years. So when I sat down to breakfast with him last week to go over readers’ questions, I expected someone a little uptight, single-minded, perhaps a control freak. This is what many of the profiles had led me to believe of the man. What I discovered was, as you would expect if you watch the show, a man who is incredibly intelligent, passionate about 1960s America and fascinated with human behavior. He also has many traits you might not expect: he’s very funny, extremely sweet and surprisingly soft spoken. He’s somebody I’d love to hang out with more. I found him endlessly fascinating and entertaining. And, although the interview was all about him, he spent a lot of time asking about me, my background and my family and my parents’ experiences growing up. I suspect he does this with everyone he meets and I’m sure the information he learns informs his writing.

If you’ve been paying attention, you already know that Weiner wrote the “Mad Men” pilot eight years ago, before his stint as a writer-producer on David Chase’s HBO masterpiece “The Sopranos.” Earlier in his career he was also a writer on the Ted Danson comedy “Becker.” As “The Sopranos” was coming to a close, Weiner shopped the “Mad Men” pilot around town, was famously turned down by HBO, and eventually sold it to AMC, which was just wading into the original series waters. What a way for the network to start!

He speaks quickly and in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way, which I’ve tried to capture in transcribing his answers. I hope that will give you an essence of what it’s like to have a conversation with him. You’ll find that he not only answered the questions completely but he went above and beyond, often exploring tangents that were not part of the original question. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck in this Q&A, I promise. (Although there is one question that gets a one word answer!)

As I write this, AMC has exercised its option for a third season of “Mad Men,” the show that has captured the imagination of the country. Weiner and Lionsgate, which owns and produces the show, are still negotiating his deal. So, our show will return. Let’s just hope it still has its genius at the helm.

And with just one show left to air this season – Sunday’s season 2 finale – here is what Weiner had to say:

Q. How much of the Don Draper story did you have in mind when you wrote that spec script? And do you know now how the series ends? — Cynthia
A. I sort of know how the series ends. I don’t know if I have a very good ending to it yet but I sort of know how it ends. In terms of Don’s backstory, I had all of it. Here’s the interesting thing: I had written a movie about this character. I’d gotten to page 80 and I’d only covered a fraction of his life. It was called “The Horseshoe.” Actually the hobo story was in there, and the thing with him bringing his own body home (from the war) and a lot of his childhood and things that you’re still going to see (in the last two episodes of season 2) were in there, things you’ll find out about. And there’s way more to be mined. And on some level it was a story that imitated writers that I love – Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Irving.

And I had all of that. And when I wrote “Mad Men,” and AMC said “Where does the series go?” I went home and looked for my notes about “Mad Men” and I came across the script (for “The Horseshoe”) and started leafing through it. Now this was a script I wrote – “Mad Men” is eight years ago – this is a script I wrote eight years before that. I wrote it before I had my first job. After I got married this is what I worked on for a year. And I got to the last page of the script and it said “Ossining, 1960” and I said “Oh my God. That’s who he is.” I loved John Cheever and those writers and that’s why I picked Ossining.

I told Jon (Hamm, pictured with Weiner above) the whole story before last year started. He was the only one I told, except for the producers, of course. And I told Jon about the brother and how the genealogy works and what kind of childhood it was and where he was from. There were a lot of these people. It’s an American story. You know mountain (folks), or whatever it is, coming to New York and shedding the whole thing. That’s the American dream on some level. Even though I didn’t finish the movie I did know where it was going. And I feel lucky to have that consistency and the audience can see that it’s not just being spun as it goes along.