'Mad Men' Director Explains Sunday's Parade of Guest Stars, How to Orchestrate the Ideal Elevator Scene

"It's a terrific visual springboard to dive into the remaining five episodes," Michael Uppendahl says of Don's parting shot.
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'Mad Men'

Just five episodes shy of the series finale, Mad Men threw a bit of a curve ball with "New Business." Not only did the episode shift the focus back to Elizabeth Reaser's enigmatic diner waitress, Diana, it welcomed a slew of guests — both new (Mimi Rogers) and returning (Julia Ormond and Linda Cardellini).

Spoilers ahead for anybody who has yet to watch.

Another familiar member of the Mad Men family who took part in the episode was Michael Uppendahl, directing the last of his eleven episodes for the series. He spoke with The Hollywood Reporter on Monday morning and sounded off on the choice to spend so much time away from series regulars during the episode, his ideal number of passengers for an elevator scene and how the final shot of Don (Jon Hamm) sets up the remaining five episodes.

 

You had a lot of guest stars in this episode. Was it a normal shooting schedule?  

Oh yeah, it was normal. [laughs] You never get any more time. It's always fast. It was difficult to schedule because all of these wonderful women are of course working on other things. It was tricky finding time to shoot them which put us in an interesting scheduling conundrum.

And so many of them got so much screen time.

It's bold. So many people are saying, "Give me Joan," and all these other wonderful characters. You know the clock is ticking. There's not much more screen time for any of them, because there are so few episodes remaining. I think it's a bold writing move — and Matt is at home with bold writing moves — but it was especially bold to spend so much time with people who aren't necessarily the regulars. Elizabeth really came through for us. It's an interesting role, and I was really happy it was her. I hadn't had the pleasure of working with her before, but I really enjoyed it.

It seems like it would be a lot of pressure to come in this late in the game and get so much attention.

I truly don't know how she handled it. I don't know what I would do in that situation... it's one of the reasons why I'm not an actor. But I think that in the eyes of anyone, what would you want more than a juicy role on Mad Men? You're still absolutely aware of the fact that the camera is spending so much time on you when there are only five episodes left. Her role is somewhat cryptic. You don't get an immediate read on what the attraction is for Don. And I think the character of Diana doesn't know why he's so fascinated by her, other than her obvious beauty. There's something so magnetic about her to Don that a mystery to her and the audience. It's a terrific story, but I think it must be difficult for an actor to deal with.

Sylvia [Cardellini] makes a brief welcome return, but how many actors are too many in an elevator scene?

I think four is as many as you want to go for main characters — or six if you have people half in frame and half out to make it feel crowded. Four really is the sweet spot. That scene was a real treat. And I was really happy that in my last episode that I got to work with Linda again — and with Julia, because I had the immense joy of directing the first episode that she appeared in ["The Codfish Ball"].


It was also a reunion for her and John Slattery.

Those two together are such fun. I love those two characters, and the way Roger is with her is fairly different than we see him in a lot of cases. Marie is an interesting match for Roger, romantically. We've seen him with a lot of women, and I like the way that he is with her.

What other relationships have you enjoyed on the show?

I love seeing Pete [Vincent Kartheiser] and Don together. I know there are a lot of people who hate Pete Campbell, but I was never one of them. He has some certain despicable qualities, but who doesn't? I like see them together. Don forgets their meeting and says he'll have to rent clubs. He's upset with Don, and you get a nice little bit of comedy. It's that frequent relationship between them of "Why are you screwing things up for me?" And it immediately turns when Don tells Pete that Megan [Jessica Pare] is moving her stuff. You immediately shift to sympathy. Of course, it makes Pete think about his own life. He tries to be somewhat helpful to Don, but as is so often the case on Mad Men, he turns it back to himself. It's interesting to hear his point of view. I like to see Don and Pete relating and a somewhat friendly fashion — and, of course, watching Pete drive is always a joy.

Was there a particularly difficult scene to shoot in the episode?

The scene with the three French women was a bit of a tricky thing, even though it wasn't all that elaborate. They're slipping in and out of French, which made the timing an interesting thing to attack. It wasn't difficult, necessarily, it just took a while.

Don standing in his vacant apartment is a fairly striking image. Were you happy with how it turned out?

It's a terrific visual springboard to dive into the remaining five episodes. It's great to see Don in such a wonderful space that has just been stripped. I hope it engenders excitement to the audience in regards to what's next.


Do you have a favorite scene or image from your work on the series?

I definitely don't have a favorite, but I will mention one, just because I thought of it while we were talking about elevators: the end of "The Beautiful Girls," where the three women are in the elevator and there's this lovely waltz playing. Peggy [Elisabeth Moss] is leaving work, and Dr. Faye and Joan are just there silently in the elevator. I loved the build up to that and that parting image.

This was your last episode of Mad Men. Did you get a little emotional?

There's some private ceremony, certainly. And there's a lot of interaction with the cast and crew, but as far as the work goes, there's plenty to be done. And there's no real time to interrupt with sentimentality.

Anything you wanted to tackle with your final episode?

I'm very proud of my past work on the show, and I was just hoping to not screw it up in the end. [laughs] I wanted to go out on a high note, or at least maintain the status quo. There's nothing I go out of my way to bring to any of them, really. The scripts are so rich, the actors are so good, the sets, costumes, lighting and makeup are so virile. You're never in danger of composing a bad shot, unless you're off track and not in line with the story.

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