Having already reviewed the “Mad Men” season premiere and interviewed Matt Weiner and John Slattery about different aspects of the premiere, I had time for one more “Mad Men”-related conversation today, with the show’s newest regular cast member – and one of last night’s most prominent – Jessica Paré. I spoke with Paré about how Megan went from a minor character (described in the casting notes, simply, as “brunette”) to her current status, how Megan feels about Don (and vice versa), and, of course, both “Zou Bisou Bisou” and the apartment cleaning scene (embedded below), all coming up just as soon as I bring things down to a sotto voce…
First of all, at what point did you know that they were actually going to make your performance of “Zou Bisou Bisou” something that people could buy?
I think we talked about it at the time that we were recording and shooting. But I don’t know. I had no idea that people would actually want to buy it.
When you started on the show last season, Megan was very much in the background. Did you have any idea of what the role would become?
None, absolutely. In fact, when I auditioned, there were no scenes for the character. I was auditioning with scenes from previous seasons. I had no idea what the character was. It was vaguely described as “brunette.” And then shooting the show, I didn’t know what, if any, storyline was ahead for me. I was perfectly content to be in the background for as long as they would have me. It was a nice surprise, to say the absolute least.
So at what point did Matt tell you what he had planned? Or did you start to get an inkling even before that?
I think it was right before the script for the last episode came out last season. My ring finger was measured by props, and that was a little bit curious. But I didn’t want to read anything into it, because I didn’t want to be disappointed. So I didn’t actually even allow myself to think about it until I got a call from Matt a few days later – who explained that, yes, indeed, my wildest dreams vis-a-vis the show was about to come true.
How did that feel?
(laughs) It was amazing! I’ve been working in this business for 14 years. I love it. There’s nothing that I love more. Working on this show is a dream come true, it’s the best writing out there, period. I’ve been a huge fan of the show, and being on it has been the most fulfilling thing that I can think of creatively or otherwise.
There was this long gap between the end of last season and when the show came back, and one of the last things we saw before it went away was Don proposing to Megan, and some people liked that and some people didn’t. What were your interactions with fans like during the 17 month gap?
Listen, the fans of the show are pretty amazing. They’re really informed, they’re a very thoughtful group of people. I think most people were nearly as excited as me for the show to come back and find out what happened, but I would say there was nobody looking forward to it as much as I was.
You say “most.” Was there anybody who expressed unhappiness that Don wound up with Megan?
I mean, not to my face, because they’re not rude! (laughs) I definitely saw some stuff online about people who would have preferred him to make a different choice.
From your perspective – and you are, of course, biased – why do you think Don chose Megan over other options?
I think Megan is sort of a lovely, easy-going person. I think she accepts the whole person in front of her, and in this case with Don – or Dick, or whatever you want to call him – she loves him for who he is. She sees this smart, fun, funny, sexy man, and not necessarily the tightly-wound stern person he is at the office.
When Don tried to tell her about his past in the season 4 finale, Megan shoots him down and says that she just cares about who he is now. But when we return, we find out that she knows all about Dick Whitman. What were you told about that scene in terms of how much Megan knew and what her attitude about the secret was?
I have to say, I don’t really remember that conversation. I picture that moment of the big reveal, it could be over dinner, after dinner, and he’s expecting some kind of reaction, and I think Megan would be more, “Oh. I completely understand why you would make that decision. I would want to go home from the war early, too.” And that would be the end of that. The thing that’s lovely about her is that she’s very understanding, very empathetic. She makes him feel great. What’s better than that?
One of the things we see in the premiere is that perhaps neither of them knows each other as well as they thought they did.
Yeah, it’s possible. As I said, she doesn’t see the side of him that’s at the office that is so strict. She doesn’t realize that she’s letting her light shine too brightly within the intimacy of their marriage and their home. It’s never really been a problem. It’s been a rude awakening for her to realize that when she invites these people into her home and, in a way, into their intimacy, that it’s going to be scorned.
In he final scene with Don and Megan, where she’s doing the housework in her underwear, is she doing it just to provoke a reaction from him?
I think you’re right. I think it is a reaction. It’s something that I struggled with in understanding the scene as well. I think one of their great connections is a physical connection, and the source of some of the power she has over him. We haven’t seen him like this, ever. He says he doesn’t even care about work. He’s infatuated with her. This is one of the reasons why. She found herself at a loss and embarrassed, I think she feels exposed after the party, and people are laughing at her and making fun of her, and she finds a way she can have the upper hand.
And getting back to “Zou Bisou Bisou,” what was the atmosphere like on the set when you did that performance?
We set aside nearly the whole day of the shoot for this performance. I will be honest with you: it was daunting. I’m a new character on the show, I’m new to all these people. I didn’t expect for the first episode back from the hiatus is to be literally performing a song and dancing in front of everyone. But it was great. I had a lot of fun choreographing the whole thing, I got to go into a recording studio to record the song, I’d never done that before. There was a full band. Just in the first episode, I already had all of these amazing opportunities that were peripheral to all the scenes I was given to do. It was a huge gift. Certainly, I will tell you that the first time that I did the dance for the entire cast of “Mad Men,” it was embarrassing. But they were great. So then I had to do it a hundred more times! (laughs)
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com