Betty Draper on the record

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Stylist Team
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Sophistication, sexiness and a bit of mystique. All necessary ingredients for a bona fide blonde bombshell - of which Mad Men actress January Jones, who plays Betty Draper, is definitely one. As Series 4 hits screens, she talks to Stylist:

How would you say Betty Draper has evolved through the first three series of Mad Men?

Season one, she was very implosive. She kept everything inside and didn’t say what she was feeling; was a lot of acting in the eyes with a smile on your face. By Season 2 she had evolved into a stronger person. She had the courage to kick Don out and show that she was upset and not happy with her situation. Season 3 she starts off happy which was bizarre for me to play but fun. She’s a very multi-layered character and for someone who has very childlike emotions and how she deals with her problems and emotions, it’s always going to be interesting for me to play her because there’s always some new obstacle.

What has been the public response to her?

It differs between male and female. Women are very sympathetic, “Poor Betty,” or “Yes, she finally kicked him out!” They’re very passionate about the character. Whereas men, oddly, or maybe not oddly, are disappointed with her – especially with the Season 2 finale. “How could Betty cheat?” It’s like, are you watching the show? Her husband does it all the time, is that ok? Then the older generations – my grandmother and her friends – really sympathise with the time because they were there and they lived it and think it’s very historically correct. There was a scene where Betty is digging through the closet looking for evidence of her husband cheating, and my grandmother called and said: “I had to take a nerve pill when I watched that episode. I’ve been there and it was awful”.

Betty’s repression is the exact opposite to now where people put every little thought online. Which is worse?

Ideally there should be something in between. I think today people are over sharing every little thing. You know, like “my therapist says,” or twittering what they’re doing like, “I’m driving on the highway”. I don’t get that. I don’t do that. But I also don’t agree with keeping everything inside. I think there’s something to be said for having a good amount of sharing. I don’t know if there is a happy medium.

Obviously the fashion has become a big deal for Mad Men. Has Betty’s style influenced your style personally?

I’m a big fan of vintage fashion but I’m limited now. I can’t go and buy fifties and sixties style clothing because I will wander around and people will laugh at me that. Like I must be a method actor, and I’m dressing like Betty every day. What’s interesting to me about it is that it’s influenced fashion now. People have been dedicating their collections to the show or using it as inspiration and where a couple years ago the silhouette was that very boxy shapeless dress, now we have that really great silhouette where you see women’s waist lines and belts and all that. So, I think that’s pretty great. Although obviously, in modern times we edge it up and don’t have to wear girdles and petticoats, thank God.

Men are not that mouldable. They are just doing what women are asking of them, or trying to, and we keep changing our minds.

If you were transported back to 1962 - with 40 years of the feminist movement about to start - what tips might you pass on to Betty?

Get out! Grow up! One of the things I find interesting about her is that she isn’t stupid. She’s had a college education; she’s travelled the world and seen a lot of things. She’s from a wealthy family in Philadelphia. So, there’s no excuse for us to pity her because at the end of the day she made the decision to be a mother and a wife and that’s it. And because it’s not turning out for her, it’s her fault. But, even if I did tell her, “Leave your husband, there’s something else out there for you,” or, “Keep going to therapy and be a better mom,” I don’t think she would’ve listened… It wouldn’t seem realistic to her. Women back then became secretaries in offices to meet a husband, so it was a whole different mindset

What can men today learn from the sixties man?

I think it would be great if we could bring the gentleman back, sort of… There was an amazing glamour to the time. Women were ladies and men were gentlemen and they opened your car doors and they took their hat off. It was a very respectable time. I think that’s lacking from the generations now. I don’t think it’s necessarily men’s fault. Women over time - since the women’s lib movement - have wanted to be independent like, “I don’t need you to open my door,” or, “I don’t need your help. I’m a strong independent woman and I can juggle children and a career and everything and be fine,” so men have backed off. But you know we always want what we can’t have and now it’s all, “How come he’s not opening the door for me?” So I think it would be nice if some manners were brought back. But I don’t think men have changed that much. Nothing against men, but men are not that mouldable. They are just doing what women are asking of them, or trying to, and we keep changing our minds.

Would you have liked to live in the Mad Men era?

No. I have been asked that before and I said yes and now I think about it, I wouldn’t. I like having the opportunities, and many choices. Growing up, if I had said to my parents, “I want to be an astronaut, I want to be a marine biologist. I want to be all these things,” they never said no. “Yeah, you should do that.” “I want to be an actress.” “Go for it!” They wouldn’t have said that back then. Betty’s mother was very adamant that she become a wife and a mother and be very proper and go to college to meet a husband. I don’t think I would’ve dealt with that very well. I would have been one of those girls burning their bras.

Finally, we have to mention the amount of drinking and smoking. Apparently Jon Hamm goes through about 74 herbal cigarettes an episode...

Yeah we go through a lot. I don’t know what herbs are in them. They’re not pleasant – they’re called Ecstasy cigarettes, which it’s the opposite of. You can imagine, a lot of us are smoking in every take, and there’s very many takes and, very many scenes so you get a bit of a head rush. And the drinking... The martinis are water and olive juice, and the scotch and whiskey is usually iced tea. We did mojitos and it was sparkling lemonade or something. It’s all non-alcoholic or we wouldn’t be able to work!

Photos: Rex Features