If you’re still not watching the Emmy-winning AMC drama Mad Men, get ready to meet your new girl-crush. As Joan Holloway, office manager at the fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency in 1960s Manhattan, Christina Hendricks has been called buxom, voluptuous, and even bodacious by the press. She wants us to know that she’s much more than her hourglass figure and bottle-red hair, but one thing can’t be denied: Whether she’s warm or cool to her secretarial pool, Joan is always smoking hot. A bright spot in such short-lived series as Firefly and Kevin Hill, the 34-year-old Hendricks now wraps her brain around the queer appeal of her breakout role and asks that people stop looking at only her boobs.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: Your costar Jon Hamm once told me that Joan was key in attracting Mad Men’s gay audience. Are you aware of the gay fever your character inflames?
Christina Hendricks: First of all, it’s really funny that Jon Hamm of all people said that somehow I’m responsible. Yeah, I’ve noticed it and it’s been really fun. Joan adds some levity to the office when things are a bit dour, so I think that’s part of what they’ve responded to.
It’s not often that gay men and lesbians can find someone to agree on.
[Laughs] Well, that’s flattering. I did get some really nice news that there were some guys dressed up as Joan for Halloween. I haven’t noticed the lesbian attention as much, but I have to say that straight women have been coming out of the woodwork.
We do live in very Megan Fox-y, “I Kissed a Girl” times.
To me it started in the early ’90s, but maybe that’s just my age showing. I think it’s perfectly normal. But I have to say that in the last month I’ve heard more women say they have a girl-crush on Zooey Deschanel than ever before. She’s really popular right now.
Who’s your girl-crush?
Probably Zooey Deschanel. [Laughs] My fiancé [Geoffrey Arend] is in 500 Days of Summer with her, so I’ve seen that movie three times in a row, and I’m like, “God, I love watching her!” I find her very unique and interesting. She’s lovely.
Joan is now marrried. Any thoughts on gay marriage?
I have a million friends affected by the passing of Prop. 8. The sad thing is that people were so used to how unfair it is that it wasn’t that shocking. It seems like a lot of my friends are just waiting things out and looking forward to change.
You played an agoraphobic lesbian on a 2006 episode of Without a Trace. Was that your first same-sex smooch?
Oh, come now. It’s 2009! [Laughs] The actress I kissed [Frankie Ingrassia] actually played a lesbian in Election, which I think is fantastic, so I was a big fan of hers. She was way more freaked out about the kiss than I was; I didn’t have any problem with it. She was like, “I don’t understand why I always get cast as the lesbian!” I’m like, “Because you were a lesbian in a very famous movie.” But she’s a sweetheart and a great actress, so it was fine.
Oddly enough, she also played a lesbian in 1999 on MTV’s Undressed in the same episodes you appeared. You, however, played a hetero in a separate story line.
Just a slutty hetero in love with a Latino. That’s hilarious. That show needed so many actors because they changed casts every few episodes, so just about everyone in town has done Undressed. It’s like a dirty little secret, but when it comes out people are like, “Oh, I’ve done it too!” I hadn’t done a show before, so it was like boot camp for me. It was a really low-key, low-budget place to learn without a lot of judgment.
Talk to me about the scene in season 1 of Mad Men where Joan’s roommate Carol confesses her love for Joan.
I really loved that scene because it was an interesting moment to reveal things about Joan. She handled it in a very Joan way: stop and think of the best way to handle this in a neat and tidy way. She wasn’t hurtful; she just wanted to wrap it up in a nice little package. The saddest part to me was the end of the episode when they’re bringing home the men and there’s her roommate sitting on the couch with this awful man.
Have you been in Joan’s shoes?
I’ve been casually hit on by women, but I certainly haven’t had an intimate, heartfelt moment where someone I’ve been friends with for years suddenly reveals her deep love for me. But, you know, it’s early in the day.
Could you empathize with Carol’s unrequited love?
I’ve had many, many unrequited crushes. I knew this one guy’s entire schedule my senior year of high school and would conveniently be outside his classrooms whenever class let out. But I was a goth kid and he was a soccer player, so he wasn’t having it. He was just horrified by me.
I sensed some strange sexual tension between Joan and Peggy in season 1, but I soon realized that Joan has sexual tension with everyone.
It’s pretty funny to think of Joan and Peggy having sexual tension; they just have tension. Joan’s one of those flirtatious, physical people. She’s the type who will always touch your knee or place her hand on your chest when she’s talking to you, whether you’re male or female. It’s a mixture of those comfortable gestures and the amazing ’60s clothing that makes her a very fiery and sensual character.
Might Joan explore any bicuriosity in the future?
I would love to see Mad Men go down that road. If there’s any character that would go there, it would definitely be Joan.
There’s also a scene in season 1 where Bryan Batt’s character, Sal, kisses Joan to show off for their coworkers. Joan’s facial expression afterward seemed to suggest she was on to Sal’s homosexuality.
Bryan, Matt, and I did a lot of talking about that because we really wanted to capture the right look. We decided it probably wouldn’t be too obvious to Joan, so we wanted to make sure there was some confusion there. We didn’t want to make an obvious statement with Sal at that point.
How would Joan react if Sal confided in her that he was gay?
There’s that scene in season 2 where another character, Kurt, announces to everyone that he’s gay in the middle of the break room. Some of the guys freaked out, but Joan kind of smiles, raises an eyebrow, and walks out. Joan loves the drama of it, so she certainly wouldn’t tsktsk it. She just enjoys something that stirs the pot.
So Joan wouldn’t be the best one to keep that secret.
Well, it depends on whether or not she could use it for her own benefit.
Are you and Bryan Batt chummy off set?
Bryan’s one of my closest friends in the world. I adore him and his partner Tom. They’re both amazing people.
Did you have gay friends growing up?
People would always say to me, “Your friends are gay!” And I would say, “No, they aren’t!” I didn’t really know what they meant; I just knew someone was saying something aggressively and it made me feel protective. It took me years of saying, “You don’t know what you’re talking about” before I realized that I didn’t know what I was talking about. In fact, those people were correct: My friends were gay.
Has your gaydar sharpened?
No. I have the worst gaydar. Just count up my ex-boyfriends for proof.
You showed off your singing and accordion-playing skills in a recent Mad Men episode. When’s your album dropping?
Oh, I’m not going to torture anyone with that nonsense. No Edith Piaf covers from me. That scene was certainly a new challenge and I was terrified, but it was really fun to do. I don’t have the voice to do a musical unless they threw me in the back, but I’d love to do a Broadway show. I’d always been too intimidated to pursue that, but I’m feeling inspired. I saw Elisabeth Moss do Speed-the-Plow last season and she was wonderful, so it gave me the bug.
You were recently cast as Katherine Heigl’s and Josh Duhamel’s best friend in the film Life As We Know It. Since out director Greg Berlanti’s at the helm, I’m hoping for some gay content. Is your character a lesbian?
I haven’t spoken to Greg yet about what he’s revealing, so I want to wait before I say too much, but I will say that that would put a very different spin on the movie. I’m so excited to work with Greg, though. He seems so sweet and kind.
You’re a natural blonde but you’ve dyed your hair red since the age of 10. Do redheads have more fun?
I believe so, but I was also very young when I was blonde. I’ve turned into a woman with red hair, so that’s all I know and all I want to know. I always think about going back to blonde or going dark, but I know I’d be sad the moment I changed it. So I just talk myself out of it, pop on a wig, and I feel better the next day.
Do you mind all the focus placed on your bosom in the media?
It’s crazy, right? I’m on what I think is the best TV show there is right now and everyone’s always talking about my boobs. I’ve never dealt with this kind of attention on them before, so it’s a bit of a surprise. It’s true: I have them. I guess I never realized that not that many other people do. But I’m definitely ready for someone to be like, “She’s the most amazing actress ever!” That would be nice.
The Advocate, November 2009 issue; extended online version.