Meet the Actor Who Made Don Draper Cry on Mad Men

19 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Did everything have to end quite so neatly?.

Mad Men aired its final episode on AMC on Sunday night after seven genre-driving seasons. Other than Don Draper reaching ad-man nirvana, the most dramatic event in the “Mad Men” series finale came when Stan and Peggy professed their love for each other and sealed it with a deep kiss.Complaining about a series finale, especially of a series that has been as consistently excellent as Mad Men, seems churlish to me, like not thanking your dinner host because you found the strawberry shortcake too sweet.For a group of people who seemed to genuinely enjoy making a decade of brilliant television, the creators, cast and crew of Mad Men sure were giddy to watch it all come to an end. We’ve given you our recap— and what we thought would be the most talked-about scene of the night — but the question of the day seems to be: What was up with that ending?

Despite being the show’s will-they-or-won’t-they couple (with Tumblrs devoted to their office relationship), their unabashedly romantic moment came as a surprise, given the often poisonous nature of love and sex on “Mad Men.” While some fans swooned over a coupling that had been earned over several seasons, others saw it as a scene of uncharacteristic sap for the show. That might sound way too much like Matthew Weiner had tied everything up in neat bows, and maybe he was trying a little too hard to give us what we all secretly wanted, but there was a coda that made it all seem right. After eight years and multiple Emmy awards, the ’60s-era New York ad show pulled down the shutters on a turbulent decade with an ending that was one of the best kept secrets in television drama.

Leonard discusses his emotional isolation, despite a life with a wife and kids, and articulates his feelings by sharing a dream about being “on a shelf in the refrigerator.” After he’s done speaking, he breaks down in tears. Everywhere you looked, series creator Matt Weiner, stars Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss — heck, anyone and everyone who’s been associated with the show — snapped photos, flashed huge smiles, hugged, playfully tackled one another (Hamm’s signature move). While the TV series that examined ’60s sexism, racism and alcoholism was notable for its dark tone, Sunday’s 75-minute finale turned unusually optimistic. Ferguson, who has been playing art director Stan Rizzo through five years and a glorious flowering of facial hair, says he, too, was shocked when he read the final script, having been told by series creator Matthew Weiner that his character would never hook up with Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss).

We caught up with Ferguson (who is about to start shooting an ABC comedy, “The Real O’Neals”) the day after the finale aired to hear how he covertly laid the groundwork for the characters’ love, how the scene went down, and how Stan’s burly beard factored into that kiss. Julia, you pointed out last week that the Mad Men writers had pulled off a nifty trick: In the two episodes that preceded the finale, they’d given nearly all of the main characters a valedictory turn, leaving the finale free to strike out in some unexpected direction. The Wonder Years star-turned-director played Pete Campbell — absolutely nailing Vincent Kartheiser’s waspy diction to a degree that was so spot on, the crowd tittered after every line. Joan and Peggy finally get to venture out on their own and start a business, Pete and Trudy live happily ever after, and even Roger gets to ride off into the sunset with Megan’s mom. Don’s behaviour in the last few episodes — wandering aimlessly, shedding his worldly possessions — made suicide seem a distinct possibility, and he certainly considered it on Sunday’s finale when he hit a personal rock bottom.

Not for the first time, we had a premonition of his death. “I got a hell of a shake around 130,” he tells the young mechanics before casting a longing, if rather wary, eye over the car. Lizzie knew what was going to happen, I think when the season started, and I told her to not tell me, because I wanted to find out by reading the script, so I didn’t find out until the very end.

Death, be my mistress. “There are a lot of better places than here,” she says, and I’m more than ever convinced that she’s going to evolve into that hilarious and crabby-faced TV executive from Episodes. The biggest surprise lay in the fate of star Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the deeply troubled but genius ad man whose search for identity and contentment was the driving force of the series. It must have been tough for producers to resist the urge to show Don returning to McCann Erickson at episode’s end to deliver one final, masterful pitch, this time for a real, and truly groundbreaking, Coca-Cola commercial.

Peggy has been dealt out of an account she’d been working on, and maybe it’s just that she’s inspired by the slogan hanging on the boardroom wall – “Truth well told” – but she decides to stand up for herself even though she’s the new kid on the block. The lights went down, a whoop went up and the well-lubricated crowd ate up every minute of “Person to Person.” They were standing and cheering heartily after Don Draper’s Mona Lisa smile gave way to the classic Coke commercial.

Mad Men has rarely been sentimental, even when it comes to its heroes, but last night everyone got their exciting new job, their longed-for loved one, or, in the case of Pete, both. Instead, after walking out on his ad agency and hitting rock bottom emotionally, he finally found inner peace and a beatific smile while practicing yoga at a California hippie commune. “Don was finally able to love,” said New Yorker Liz Klein, who has watched every episode of “Mad Men” since its first broadcast in 2007. “I loved him finding enlightenment.

Though Mad Men still feels like it’s ending too soon, it went out with a party that Don, Roger, Peggy, Joan and all the good-timing Mad Men characters would’ve loved to have seen. Matthew Weiner gives a beautiful, sincere, emotional speech, he seems on the verge of welling up with tears or perhaps he was thinking about how important this is to him. The other way the episode could have gone would have been for Don to return to civilization and reunite with his family and coworkers over Betty’s impending death. But I preferred the sense of possibility, and precariousness, that each character brought into this episode to the sense of dreams delivered with which they left it.

Hanna, I’m with you: The moment Peggy and Stan shared on the phone two weeks ago, happy simply in the knowledge that the other is on the line, was far more powerful than the confessions and clutch of the finale. Known for the unusual secrecy surrounding all its plots – no one involved in the show had given away how the series ends – although filming finished months ago. For me, the most defining moment was when, in the circle full of young hippies, the unnamed man in his collared shirt talked about what it means to feel like nothing. But then as it got closer I started peeking at articles seeing if anyone was writing about it and I saw these articles and I started freaking out, thinking, oh my gosh, wait a second, am I in it? We’ve seen Don struggle with these feelings for the entire series, but instead of talking about them, he’s coped by disappearing for days at a time, drinking, and having sex.

Joan likes it. “It feels like I’ve just been given some very good news,” she says. “You know we could live like this all the time,” he says, and if this weren’t the final episode you’d swear we were about to head off on some weird Boogie Nights trajectory in which Joan squanders everything because of the blow. But many great romances and loves start out as friendships, and this was a personification of that, because no one else probably knows those two better than each other. But we’re not, thankfully; Richard is talking about sharing a future together. “Do you want to get married,” Joan asks, looking half-excited, half-shocked, and all coke-frazzled. I chewed his ear off about it, because I said to Matt from day one when I came on the show, “These two are obviously going to hook up at some point, right?” First of all, you never want to preface a question to Matt Weiner with the word “obviously.” Then it was a resounding “no” from him.

But he is a damn good ad man, the kind who goes out into the world, puts a finger in the wind, and comes back with campaigns that don’t just reflect the culture, but shift it. (As Jeff Chang pointed out in a Slate piece this morning, two different versions of the Coke jingle ended up on the Billboard charts.) If we believe Don is the author of that ad, it suggests that he’s gone back to being something like the man we met in Season 1, who took pride in his vocation, even if he perhaps recognized that his work, like his life, was frequently a lie. Sure, he says, if you want, but he’s actually way more interested in subdividing her rather formidable assets and building some boutique apartments on them. “It seems to me your life is undeveloped property,” he says. “You can turn it into anything you want. At the Slate offices last week, we had fun revisiting the now-classic Season 1 scene in which Don sells Kodak on his nostalgia-soaked campaign for the Carousel, in which he used snapshots from what seemed like his blissful family life to sell the executives on his concept. The Coke commercial says, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.” Of course Don translated his feelings into his work, but that’s what Dan does.

But Stan and Peggy’s relationship kind of caught everybody off guard on the creative end of the show, and that can certainly be attributed to Lizzie and I being such good friends in real life and being able to carry that chemistry onto the show. Instead, Peggy snuggles up with Stan, while Joan chooses labour over love, venturing out on her own (as Holloway Harris) and letting her millionaire boyfriend walk out the door. 7. Based on the script as I remember it from 10 months ago, it actually wasn’t an additional 20 pages with respect to what I saw put together on air last night, but I had no idea about the Coke ending. Watching an episode with cocktail in hand was not the joy it was back in season one, not after watching Don and the gang drunkenly humiliate themselves so many times over the years.

As Roger tries to ink the deal, Don breaks down and describes his real childhood, in a brothel, noting that the only affection he ever received was from a girl who paid him to go through the pockets of johns while she had them otherwise engaged. (Don comes by his suspicion of prostitutes honestly.) The scene is startling to watch: It suggests not just that Don had lost his touch, but that the very idea of the work had become horrible to him. It’s just Peggy’s brain wrestling with its greatest fear – letting someone get close – before admitting it might actually be her heart’s greatest desire. On a show that could often have been better described as Sad Men, it seemed unlikely that our favourite characters would be entitled to end on a happy note. Weiner gave me direction between each take: sometimes it was technical and very simple things like, hey, you were looking down a little bit too much, let’s see your eyes, look up a little bit more. Sometimes we just did some different takes where I started crying earlier, I started crying later, it was bigger, it was smaller…I felt they were minor adjustments because he felt that I got the character well enough.

It takes the history that we’ve relived through Don’s eyes these past seven seasons and uses it to disingenuously, if ingeniously, to paper over the continued fracturing of American society. As Jeff Chang points out, its saccharine message arrived in the midst of bitter turmoil: “prisoners attacked at Attica, the Watergate scandal and the Pentagon Papers, the Manson and Serpico and My Lai trials, guns in Munich, bombs in D.C., and troops in Derry. He was a consummate professional and he came over to me for that hug and he was right there in my ear and I felt his diaphragm against my diaphragm as he’s breathing and sobbing and crying himself. When was the last time you saw them?” “I’m not going to waste the rest of my time arguing about this,” she continues. “I want to keep things as normal as possible – and you not being here is part of that.” Don is in tears, all but lost for words. “Birdy,” he croaks, appealing to that old chestnut nostalgia.

In my first handful of episodes, Joey, Matt Long’s character, says to me after Peggy leaves the creative lounge, “Oh, you love her.” And I tried to play a little look into that moment, just to kind of hint that maybe there’s a little crush going on. Coke currently has an ad in frequent rotation in which the beverage—in a throwback hobble-skirt bottle—becomes a symbol of good will toward men, handed from person-in-need to person-in-need as 1969’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” plays in the background: There’s no problem we can’t solve if we’re all willing to give each other the occasional soft drink.

In Los Angeles, he knocks on the door of his “niece”, Stephanie (Caity Lotz), the hippy daughter of Anna Draper who once turned up on Megan’s doorstep broke and heavily pregnant. She greets him as Dick; she knows him in ways few others do and for one horrible moment (well, several horrible moments) it looks like the Draper family relations are going to head into some very “woe is me, shame and scandal in the family” directions.

Joan overcame the inherent sexism that barred her ascendance at McCann by starting Holloway Harris, taking the names of two men who gave her nothing but a name, and using that to her advantage. Weiner telling [casting director Laura Schiff] he wanted an actor who was pretty darn good and pretty unknown, definitely not recognizable in a significant way in the public consciousness at this point in time. She’s sacrificed her personal relationships throughout the show to climb the corporate ladder: ending relationships, giving away her child, and removing her family while seeking career actualization. She puts him to sleep on the couch and then takes him to a hippy retreat that offers 57 varieties of therapy, a kind of Heinz of healing. “Roger, this is an expensive way to mark your territory,” Joan says.

When she hears from Don—her mentor and tormentor, her role model and road block—alone and desperate in California, she uses his motivational tactics to try to snap him out of it, but to no avail. As we enter the final days of Sterling Cooper & Partners, Slate’s TV Club will celebrate the show’s retorts and rejoinders by highlighting a Mad Men Zinger of the Week for Slate Plus. She wants someone who listens to her, who values her career and her mind, who recognizes her faults and helps her focus on the interpersonal, someone who’s been standing right in front of her for years. Was Matthew Weiner just waiting to get his leading man to somewhere suitably picturesque – a clifftop in Carmel, for instance – before pushing him over the edge?

As the show came to its conclusion, he was both forced to (by circumstances outside his control) and chose to (by stripping himself of his possessions and hitting the road) confront those experiences and by extension, his own identity. Joan is running her new production company, Holloway Harris (two names, her maiden and her married) from her apartment, having decided that any man who can only be with her if she ditches her career is no man she could ever be with. That famous TV commercial is masterful and manipulative, the work of some evil ad man who took the hippy dream and reduced it to one syrupy 60-second spot in the service of commerce. US TV host and comedian John Oliver has issued a spine-tingling threat to Australia: remove all things Australian from the US in 50 hours or the tiny baby koala gets it – right between the eyes. The Agriculture Minister’s campaign to have Hollywood actor Johnny Depp’s two pet dogs Pistol and Boo either deported or euthanased last week, was superb fodder for the comedian who has garnered a huge following for his incisive parodies. “I’ve got to say that’s pretty ballsy.

Oliver dug up an unflattering photograph of Mr Joyce struck with a look of pure horror as he eyed an alpaca, before flashing up a photoshopped image of the agriculture minister splashed with blood and beaming as he held a dead dog by the tail. The comedian had ample material to draw on after the Australiam media took great delight in documenting every incremental development in what was dubbed the ‘war on terrier’. “I am not sure finer words have ever been spoken in the English language than “shut up Barnaby you insensitive wanker,” said Oliver, quoting Sandilands. In the vein of a terrifying public service announcement, Oliver’s team told Australians they had 50 hours to “get everything Australian out of our country or else”.

Finally, Oliver went after the closest thing native Australia had to Depp’s furry little terrier – a koala joey at the Los Angeles zoo framed in cross hairs. During the first season of Last Week Tonight, Prime Minister Tony Abbott copped a walloping over his positions on immigration, women and homosexuality in a four minute segment that featured some of his most notorious gaffes. Oliver also helmed a segment on fellow comedian Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show that featured Australia’s gun control that featured interviews with former prime minister John Howard and former politicians Tim Fischer and Rob Borbidg.

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