Smoking, Drinking and Sex (At Work)

Buzz, Self

The Mad Men guys discuss their roles as swinging '60s Lotharios.

Those who weren't in the workforce 46 years ago might find Mad Men a bit of a shock. Not only do the employees of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency smoke and drink at work, the men are sexist pigs, and the women, still several years away from feminist bra burning, play second fiddle—when not fiddling around with their bosses. With its detail-perfect setting, twisty plots, and vivid characters, this fascinating peek into the not-so-distant past highlights how much has changed in the past four decades. Or has it?

Certainly,  as Emmy-nominated star Jon Hamm, who plays protagonist Don Draper, points out, "The HR department would be very busy right now at Sterling Cooper if it was 2009 and these people behaved that way." There are rules and laws protecting against sexist comments and conduct. But that doesn't mean they don't exist. "It's just gone undercover. Men are still pigs. And women are too," insists Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Pete Campbell. "I grew up with four sisters. You can't fool me! When it comes to a group of guys and girls, we're all pigs!"

Jon Hamm agrees. "I think people fundamentally haven't changed since the Stone Age. We just hide it better now." So does Aaron Staton, who plays Ken Cosgrove. "Even though we've come a long way, people aren't necessarily thinking any differently. It's still there under the surface." No matter how respectfully men might behave, "Behind closed doors," Staton says, "guys will be guys."

He and Hamm point to what Staton calls "trashy reality shows" as a sign that we haven't progressed much since the '60s—and may have regressed. "I don't know how popular The Hills or Girls Gone Wild would have been in 1962," muses Hamm. "The idea of putting yourself out there with a complete lack of dignity in an attempt to grab fame or attention wasn't considered sexy at all back in the day. All the women on our show are incredibly sexy, and they're not walking around in bikinis or less than that." Staton concurs, noting that "there was more left to the imagination back then. The idea of what is sexy has changed, and I think something has been lost." And when it comes to relations between the sexes, says Hamm, "We've learned a lot of lessons, but we probably still have far to go."

In Season One, the married Don Draper cheated on his wife Betty (January Jones) with client Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff) and beatnik chick Midge Daniels (Rosemarie DeWitt), but the marriage has been troubled even without the infidelity. Their relationship lacks "communication, loyalty and honesty," says Jones, who doesn't believe the couple is right for each other but married "because they thought it was what they should do." No matter how unhappy she is, "I don't think that separating is an option for Betty," Jones opines, stressing that she's nothing like her character and would "definitely not" stand for infidelity from a partner.

Similarly, Hamm is quick to point out the differences between his character and himself. "Don is a pretty emotionally shut off guy. I like to think I'm more emotionally available," says the actor, who is involved in a long-time relationship with actress Jennifer Westfeldt and thinks he's "definitely" a better boyfriend than Don is a husband.

Don's boss Roger Sterling is also a cheating spouse, and not even a heart attack in the midst of a near-naked game of horsie in his office has deterred him. "It's 'Thank God I'm still alive, I'm going to be a better person,' and as soon as he has a cocktail and a cigarette it's back to the old Roger," says John Slattery, who received an Emmy nomination for his role. Why does Roger cheat? "Because nobody says no to him. He has his charms, and he's in this position of power."

Ironically, Slattery's real-life wife of nine years, Talia Balsam, plays his ex-wife Mona on the show, and it's no surprise that she doesn't rush to see episodes depicting his sex scenes with other women. "It might not be the first thing she watches that night. She might watch something else," he concedes.

Aaron Staton says that when his wife watches Mad Men, "she is less shocked by what the men say to the women as by what the women say about each other and themselves, the women's view of their role." Playing a less respectful character than he is in real life has made him even more aware of any remarks he might make these days: "I'm pretty careful about what I say."

Rich Sommer, who plays Harry Crane, similarly watches his mouth, but admits to getting a vicarious thrill from his character’s bad behavior. "Sometimes you wish you could say the things the characters say. Pretending is the fun part of the job. I wouldn't say these things to someone on the street but saying them while making this incredible show is fun."

Boys will be boys....

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.