Last night was the first Sunday night in weeks that didn’t feature a new episode of Mad Men. Thus, this Monday marks the first in weeks in which we don’t have a Mad Men recap up on the site. And for that reason, we’re a little sad. The room feels a bit empty. Something’s missing, and the void we’re feeling feels like it came upon us so abruptly, doesn’t it? (A seven episode season is just way too short.) Wouldn’t it be so much better if there were some way for us to all wean ourselves off of Mad Men a bit?
Well, in an effort to do just that, today we present to you Stephanie Drake, AKA Meredith from Mad Men. According to her bio, Stephanie grew up in Philadelphia, Augusta, Baltimore, and Houston, and she honed her comedic acting and improv skills at the University of Southern California and the Upright Citizens Brigade. She was kind enough to spend a few minutes chatting with us recently, where we discussed her character making an ill-timed move on Don Draper, how she came to be on the show, and what Jon Hamm smells like, among other things.
UPROXX: Meredith has become one of our favorite characters on Mad Men. The “I am Your Strength” scene from last Sunday’s finale, where you made a move on Don just after handing him a termination letter, was one of my favorite scenes in the history of the show. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what it was like filming that scene and did you and Jon Hamm have trouble keeping straight faces during it?
STEPHANIE: Well, thank you so much. No, we didn’t have a hard time. I think the very first time when we did it we were both a little nervous. I know I was. But once we rehearsed it and we started going, no. We both had to be very serious in this scene. You know, I’m upset. I don’t understand what’s going on. I want to help my boss in any way I can. And he’s getting this letter from me saying he’s going to get fired. So the tone of the scene is still very serious, but anything with Meredith is very silly and she chooses, oh God the absolute worst time to try to console him with a kiss. A couple of months after we shot the scene Matt (Weiner) told me he saw a rough cut of the scene and he said it looked great and he said that if Meredith had made this move any other time, any other day that she’d be pregnant.
STEPHANIE: I love Meredith because it’s so typical of her and the scene was wonderful to do and Jon is a wonderful, wonderful scene partner and it was great. It was absolutely wonderful.
UPROXX: How many takes did you guys film of that particular scene?
STEPHANIE: I think we must have done at least 12 to 15 times. I honestly can’t remember. We shot this back in January.
UPROXX: Oh wow. That seems like a lot of takes for a TV show, where the pace of shooting often has to be less deliberate. Am I right or is that typical?
STEPHANIE: Yeah, that’s typical. They have to do the master shot and then they have to catch both of our point of views. Each of those you do a couple of different times and a couple of different ways. Matt was directing so it was so wonderful to have him there. And really looking back at the whole thing now is just kind of a blur. A good blur.
UPROXX: Let’s face it, Meredith is kind of out there and arguably sticks out more than the vast majority of the characters on the show and thus, you sort of have a tendency to steal every scene that she’s written into. Was that by design? Were you cast for that purpose, what with your comedy background and all? Or is that something you brought to the table on your own or is it something that Matt Weiner envisioned for the character from the get-go?
STEPHANIE: I think it’s a collaboration of both. I mean, in my very first scene, you know back in Season 5, I think they wrote this character to be, you know, the new girl, she doesn’t quite know what’s going on and is a ditz. Then I think when they cast me I think they thought, you know, not that I’d turn her into someone different, because she is the character they originally wrote, but I think I inspired them to continue writing for Meredith. You know, they get inspired by actors and, you know, they saw something in me. And they write me such funny stuff and the directors and myself, you know, we bring it to life.
UPROXX: How did you come to be cast in the show? What was the casting process like?
STEPHANIE: Well let’s see. I had the audition. It was just, you know…
UPROXX: Pretty standard?
STEPHANIE: Yeah, just like any other. I got a call from my agent about it. So I watched an episode of the show the night before to get the tone, style, and the plots that the characters were involved in.
UPROXX: So you had no been watching the show at that point?
STEPHANIE: No. No I had never seen it. It was not on my radar at all. But the thing is they change all the names in the audition sides. So you have no idea what character your scene partner is. They change all the names. They change the plot lines so then if you don’t get the part, you can’t go tell everyone about what’s going to happen on the show. So yeah I went and did the audition and met with the casting director and then she had me come back a few hours later for the producer’s session, which I’m sure you may have heard, Matt is completely hands-on when it comes to casting. So I came in for one of the producer’s session and I to meet him and chat with him a little bit. And then I did my scene and he laughed and that was a good sign, obviously, and he told me I was really funny. And then a couple of hours later my agent called with the good news and before I knew it I was on set.
UPROXX: Do you ever stop to pinch yourself over the realization that you’re actually a standout character on a TV show that some people view as one the of greatest of all time?
STEPHANIE: Yes every day. Every day, I still can’t believe it.
UPROXX: Something I find so interesting is that your character has probably been yelled at by every other character in the show at this point, but my favorite Meredith scenes are probably the ones that she’s had with an angry and belligerent Joan. there’s the one where Joan throws the airplane at Meredith and yells, “There’s an airplane here to see you!” Is it just me or do you and Christina Hendricks have a really great comedic chemistry going on together?
STEPHANIE: Yes. That was a wonderful scene to shoot. You know, we went into it not knowing what the airplane was going to look like crashing down on my desk. And, you know, she gets so worked up in that scene. So she was in her own world and dealing with her own things and her I am just making her even more upset. I don’t think that scene could have turned out better. And the fact that people still talk about it makes me so happy. I mean, we both did our jobs.
UPROXX: Any idea how has Meredith not been fired yet? She seems to constantly fail upward.
STEPHANIE: I know right?
UPROXX: She was actually in on board meetings this season taking the minutes. And I’m like, how is this possible? She’s a complete ditz and a f*ck up.
STEPHANIE: I know! How does she still have a job? I guess she’s, I don’t know, I guess they must enjoy having her around. As much as she annoys everyone, as much as she does the wrong things and messes up here and there, maybe they see the hard worker in there, that she’s willing to keep going and work hard and still have fun in the office and maybe they just don’t want to look for a new secretary. I don’t know. Somehow she’s still there. Nobody wants her as their secretary, but she’s still around.
UPROXX: You mentioned how the script process worked during the auditioning for the show. What’s it like as an actual cast member? How soon do you get a script before each episode shoots and what’s it like to read one and find a remarkable scene in it waiting for you that involves your character?
STEPHANIE: I guess we normally get — or at least I normally get, I’m not sure about everyone else — I normally get only my pages, the pages that I’m in. So I don’t get to see the whole script until we have our table read. So I get my pages a few days before the table read so at least I know what’s going on and that’s always exciting when that e-mail comes through ’cause that’s when I find out what Meredith’s up to. And then the next day we’ll have a table read where everyone gets together and reads through the script, which is always great ’cause that’s where you kind of really get to see what your scene’s going to be like and you get a chance to just get the tone of the whole show. And then you could be shooting the very next day. There is not a whole lot of time and we don’t do, we may do one rehearsal and then we’re actually shooting for the camera. So they can get to that and then we go right into it. You have to be completely prepared and on point and word perfect.
UPROXX: Has the exposure you’ve gotten from the show lead to other opportunities for you in your career?
STEPHANIE: It has. Yeah. I’ve done a couple of other shows. I got to do a guest spot on ABC’s The Middle and I’ve done three sketches on Jimmy Kimmel Live, which are so much fun to do. They usually call me up that day and ask if I could come in a few hours later. Those are always so much fun.
UPROXX: I’ve seen them. They’re great.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. And they’re instant gratification because they air that night and you don’t have to wait a year. So yeah and I had an audition today for something and I think it will keep just getting better. The next season will air, not that I’m saying I’m in it, but I think once it’s back and people are thinking about Meredith again, I think it will only go up from here.
UPROXX: One final question. What does Jon Hamm smell like?
STEPHANIE: Oh gosh. Well, he smells like mint. I’ll give you that.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter here.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for length.)