Mad Men's Christina Hendricks sexy secretary character busts stereotypes.
On the surface, Joan Holloway is a secretarial stereotype: the super-sexy, head-turning queen bee of the office, the one who's having a hot affair with her married boss. But as played by Christina Hendricks, Joan is so much more, and one of the many delights of Mad Men, AMC's Emmy-award winning series. It's hard to imagine anyone else in the part, but creator Matt Weiner originally envisioned "a mousy kind of a bossy sidekick" character, "and then he saw me and luckily he changed his mind," smiles Hendricks, who's relishing every moment of the role.
"She's so fun because she's so different from anything I've ever played before, and the furthest from me," says Hendricks, whose resumé includes regular roles on Kevin Hill and Beggars and Choosers and guest spots on Las Vegas, Without a Trace, Cold Case, ER and Firefly. "I love that she's self-confident and not a victim. She's playful, sexual and confident and always takes care of herself and the situation as best she can. But I also think there's a sadness to Joan. She acts like she's very happy being independent, but she's 30 years old and in 1960 if you didn't have a husband you were a sad story."
In Season 1, Joan carried on a torrid affair with her boss Roger Sterling (John Slattery). "I don't think for one second she thinks he'd ever leave his wife so she doesn't even entertain it," Hendricks says. Never lacking for male attention, "Joan could go out and get married if she wanted to. But she does choose to go with a married man. She's sort of playing it safe and keeping it at bay."
The wolf whistles Joan get—and seemingly enjoys—from the office horndogs aren't entirely foreign to her. "I'm an actress. We face sexual harassment every day!" Hendricks declares, but doesn't have any casting couch tales to tell. "I modeled for years and I've been an actress for years. I've heard stories from other people, but I've been lucky and I've never personally ever had anything like that happen."
Hendricks can also relate to workplace attractions. "You always have a crush on someone on set, usually from afar," she admits, but doesn't ever act on it. "You've got to go to work every day, you know. You don't want to mess up your work environment. Luckily, there's no one on Mad Men."
These days, her romantic attentions are occupied elsewhere. Hendricks and her boyfriend, actor Geoffrey Arend, moved into an apartment together last spring. Living together is even better than she imagined, she says. "It's been fantastic. We walk in every day and go, 'Can you believe we live here? Isn't this fun?'"
Arend met her boyfriend criteria: "a sense of humor, confidence, likes cool music. The only 'type' I have is all the guys I'm attracted to have big eyebrows," she says. They also share a love of preparing and eating good food, and she practically salivates as she describes meals she made from the Top Chef Cookbook. At a time when many actresses starve themselves into a size 2, Hendricks embraces her voluptuous curves.
"I've gotten really positive feedback from women who are happy to see a woman who doesn't look emaciated on TV," she says. "On this show, luckily, they hired us because of our acting ability and they let us be who we are."
She also gets a great response to her vintage wardrobe on the show, which flatters her curves. "I would wear most of it," she says, describing one favorite. "There was a dress I wore in Season 1, with Roger in the hotel room, that makes an appearance in Season 2. It has a fuchsia little tie around the neck and a little fishtail in the back. I've never seen anything like it," says Hendricks. This season, Jackie Kennedy's influence will be seen in Joan's outfits, "but she won't be going for the boxy thing. She'll stick with the tighter clothes."
Hendricks spends about two hours in the makeup trailer to achieve her much-sprayed up-do. She wasn't born with her signature fiery locks, but has been a redhead since the age of 10. "I wanted to be Anne of Green Gables, so my mom was like, 'Let's put a rinse on!' I went to school with flaming red hair."
Hendricks, now 30, was born in Knoxville, Tenn. but moved often as a child because her father worked for the U.S. Forest Service. "I always wanted to be in the arts. I wanted to be a ballet dancer but I was never quite good enough. I realized it was a masochistic profession, really tough. My mother used to do community theater and got my brother and I involved at a very young age, as a way to meet friends in a new town," she says. "I know a lot of actors who have the same sort of background. Having to observe all the time and fit in, you become an observer of behavior and I think it really helps with acting."
As for her current gig on Mad Men, "It's so rare that you get on something like this," she marvels. The show's critical and popular success "is kind of blowing our minds," Hendricks confides, surprised and thrilled about the reception–and talk of a possible Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
As much as she loves the Mad Men milieu, she wouldn't really want to live in the past, and points out the opportunities that exist today that weren't available to women back then. "We can run for president of the United States of America," she reminds. "I don't want to live anywhere but now."