'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Christina Hendricks ('Good Girls')

The six-time Emmy nominee and two-time Critics' Choice Award winner reflects on why her agents fired her after she agreed to play 'Mad Men's' Joan, how she feels about all the attention paid to her figure and why she decided to follow a period drama with a contemporary network dramedy.
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Christina Hendricks

"I love television, so I was never against going on to another series," says the actress Christina Hendricks, who is best known for playing Joan Holloway (later Joan Harris), a Madison Avenue advertising agency’s office manager who claws her way up the corporate food-chain over the course of seven seasons on AMC’s landmark drama series Mad Men, as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of THR's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. The 42-year-old, whose work on that show garnered her six Emmy nominations for best supporting actress in a drama series and two Critics' Choice Award nominations — and wins — in that same category, emphasizes, "I just wanted it to be the right one."

Mad Men aired its final episode on May 17, 2015. Less than three years later, on Feb. 26 of this year, Hendricks began starring in another — albeit very different — series, NBC’s Good Girls, as one of three suburban Detroit housewives who try to extricate themselves from desperate financial straits by teaming together to rob a grocery store, only to find themselves in hotter water than ever. "When this opportunity came up," she says, "I had to ask, 'Do I want to do this every day for potentially seven years?' And I looked at these two other women [co-stars Retta and Mae Whitman], and this writing and this tone, and it was so different. I loved the balance of the drama and the comedy, and being able to stretch my muscles or whatever, and play in comedy alongside the drama, which I would say most people know me for. And I thought, 'That would be fun to do every day.'"

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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.

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Hendricks was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, but grew up in Portland, Oregon, and Twin Falls, Idaho. As a kid, she felt like something of a social outcast, and her physical appearance reflected that. But through a series of unexpected events, she wound up modeling, and enjoying it, which inspired her to move the big city. She recalls, "I just thought, 'I have this inkling that being in New York City and getting out of here is gonna get me closer to who or where I want to be, and I'm willing to take that risk and that adventure.'" The next stop was Los Angeles, where modeling led to commercials, which in turn led to her first outright acting jobs.

For many years after entering the acting profession and studying her craft, Hendricks found steady work, if not a major breakthrough part or show. She was on two programs on MTV; Brandon Tartikoff's Beggars and Choosers (1999-2001) on Showtime; and then was offered a holding deal with a man she came to regard as her "fairy godfather," John Wells, which spanned nearly three years and led to some important early opportunities, including a four-episode guest arc on NBC’s E.R. in 2002. After that arrangement came to an end, she also did three episodes of Firefly (2002-2003).

But as time marched on, Hendricks grew frustrated at a piece of feedback that she received from many casting directors and creative people. She was told not infrequently that her physical type — which is voluptuous — precluded her from playing parts that she believed she had proven in auditions that she was capable of playing. As she remembers, "I thought, 'Well, that's shitty. There are all types of people doing all types of careers.' And I started to realize that I was being seen in a very specific way, and I was surprised and a bit naive. It took me a little while."

Hendricks was at a low point after "a particularly brutal pilot season" when Mad Men first crossed her desk, with interest in her for the parts of Peggy or Midge, initially, before she came to audition for and be offered the part of Joan, the "queen bee" of an ad agency's secretarial pool. "I had to decide between [Mad Men] and another project," she explains. "Mad Men was the one I wanted to do, and my agent wanted me to do the other. ... AMC wasn't really a network. It [the show] was a period piece. I wasn't told if I was gonna be a series regular or not. Like, everything was a strike against it, but the pilot was so good. And I said [to my team], 'I've been on the things that seemed like they were sure bets, and they weren't. I always went for the fastest line at the grocery store, and it wasn't working. So let's do the thing that we really, really love and want.'" At which point her agents fired her, something that she can laugh about now, but didn't find very funny at the time.

Hendricks and her collaborators shot the pilot for Mad Men — and then had to wait nearly a year to find out if the show would be a go. (She spent that time working as a florist, something she had always wanted to do in addition to acting.) It was, of course, greenlighted, and she remembers the making of the full first season as blissful, not knowing or thinking much about how viewers and critics would respond to it, but just working hard. Once the show did hit the air, it quickly became a critics' darling and her character a fan favorite. ("People were really cheerleaders for her," the actress remembers.) Hendricks' personal life also changed. She became famous, and therefore the subject of media attention, not all of it kind or respectful or having anything to do with what made her famous in the first place. "All of a sudden this focus on your physicality becomes very, very great, which is hard," she admits. "I was working so hard on this character, and they just kept wanting to talk about my 1960s bra. It was like, 'Listen, guys, it's pointy, I get it. It's super-exciting. But there was really only one conversation that we had about it, and that was it.' There was just tons and tons of focus on it."

For the very most part, though, Hendricks' Mad Men experience was a beautiful one that challenged and rewarded her in ways she never could have imagined. "It really was one of those magical rides," she says. "It just felt like a very exciting thing to be a part of." When the show neared its end, the actress felt a blur of emotions. It was alternately heartbreaking, "like having to break up with someone, but not because you fell out of love, because one was moving away," she says, and scary "knowing that I may never find something as special" and exciting "knowing that so many opportunities were going to be presented because of this." The opportunity that Hendricks chose to pursue as her next big project, Good Girls, couldn't be much more different than Mad Men. It airs on a broadcast network, rather than a premium cable service; it is set in and very much addresses issues of the present, rather than the past; and though it will be competing at the Emmys as a drama, as did Mad Men, it could just as easily have been classified as a comedy. "There's a lot of laughing involved in this, and surreal wackiness," she acknowledges, adding that it has been "nice to break up some of this intensity that I've been dealing with for years and years and years doing these really heavy dramas."