Matthew Weiner was one of the first people I met when I moved to Los Angeles. Back then, he was working as a writer on the set of the television show Becker on the Paramount lot, but he would take me over to the nearby writers' bungalow of Frasier. "They had a way-better setup because they were already in syndication," Weiner joked. Recently I had the chance to sit down with him once again, this time to discuss his own landmark series, Mad Men, on the eve of its sixth season (which premieres April 7).
Not many people know that even back on the Becker set in 2001, Mad Men was already written. But no one was interested. Back then, Weiner was also hard at work on what would become his first feature, You Are Here, a film currently in production. Shot between Seasons 5 and 6 of Mad Men, and starring Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis, the film is slated for release later this year.
Weiner spoke with Details about what's in store for Don Draper, who his ultimate Mad Men dream girl is, and how it feels to take a turn in the director's chair.
DETAILS: We're about to embark on Season 6. Without giving anything away, as we know you hate that . . .
MATTHEW WEINER: I do.
DETAILS: The premiere episode feels like we're finally getting to know Don Draper and friends a little more deeply.
MATTHEW WEINER: That's what it's all about. We have done that before, in previous seasons, but Season 5 was a bit of a departure from that—it was much more external. This season, it's all about them. If you had any questions about why people act the way they do on the show, you might get some answers. You might not like them, but you're going to get them. This season is not a stylistic departure—it's an emotional one.
DETAILS: Don Draper always seems deeply rooted in recidivism—he's kind of like Sisyphus.
MATTHEW WEINER: The whole story of this season—for all of them—is no matter where you go, there you are. I don't like the show to repeat itself, but life repeats itself. And so when you end up in a place you've already been, you start to wonder, "Is it really me?" Don is a fraud (to himself anyway) and without revealing the story in this premiere episode, what you get as the answer to "Am I alone?" has very little to do with being faithful—that's the symptom, that's not the disease.
DETAILS: Jon Hamm once told me that being alone and being lonely are two totally different things, and to be single and alone are also two very different things.
MATTHEW WEINER: He's so smart.
DETAILS: And handsome.
MATTHEW WEINER: The whole cast—they make it all so easy. There's no other explanation.
DETAILS: Let's talk about someone else other than Don "Handsome" Draper, like Harry [Rich Sommer]. In the trailer, we see him with some serious sideburns, wearing a loud sport jacket. He's trying so hard to be hip, but will it ever happen for him?
MATTHEW WEINER: He's hip for where he is. But it's less about what he wears and more about the fact that Harry's in show business, so that's a totally different thing. And just the idea that there's a loosening up of what's going on at the agency, and they can't do shit about it—that's the story of the show.
DETAILS: Peggy's back, we see.
MATTHEW WEINER: I've told the world she's coming back, but how she's coming back I'm not telling.
DETAILS: To that point, would you say you're a Peggy, Joan, or Betty kind of guy?
MATTHEW WEINER: I have a type—my casting people have told me this. But no one has ever asked me that question. Obviously, I like all different kinds of women, though. I think that my types have been much more like Don's mistresses. A bit of Rachel Menken, Miss Farrell, Midge—that's sort of where I live. But I have to be honest with you—I'm in love with all of those women. Anybody who's not in love with January [Jones] or Christina [Hendricks], or Elisabeth [Moss]—and the way I get to see them embody these characters—it's completely fetishized for me. I tell you one thing, you could put another 50 pounds on January Jones and she's still attractive!
DETAILS: There was a lot of commentary on January's fat suit from last season—did that have any influence on the direction you chose to go this season? After all, Betty did just have a baby.
MATTHEW WEINER: No. It's about a woman whose husband she initially rejected took off with a woman 10 years younger than her, so it made sense to me that that happened. It was also a solution to January's pregnancy. But I loved the idea that someone like Betty, with that kind of vanity, was going to have to deal with this weight gain, which was a physical expression of her unhappiness. Betty brings out some of the most politically notable responses. Women who hate her because she's too dumb to know her husband's cheating, men who hate her because she's icy cold and deserves to be cheated on, and then this whole idea of her gaining this weight—was it the joy of a comeuppance? I don't even know. I feel like that character and the way January portrays her is so filled with the truth—including her parenting style—it's like people are looking in the mirror and seeing a wart that they don't want to look at.
DETAILS: You've been entrenched in this series for six years, and now you've just directed your first film, You Are Here, with Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis.
MATTHEW WEINER: The movie was 10 years in the making and, like Mad Men, required a tremendous amount of maneuvering, pressure, and rejection. Seeing Owen and Zach playing these characters that've been in my imagination for so long . . . and to see Owen—who I wrote the movie for, walk onto the set in a weatherman's jacket, I can't even begin to tell you what a near-psychotic experience that is.