Friday, April 26, 2013

Matt Weiner reveals what Mad Men is really about

Wesleyan University kicked off a fundraising drive last night with a talk by its most famous '87 alum --Matt Weiner. The event was held in the Directors Guild Theater which enabled the event to open with a luscious, big screen sampling of all 6 seasons --up until S604. (No preview clips, natch.)

Some of the things that Matt talked about in (warm, relaxed) conversation with Wesleyan’s' president--a meeting of minds he presumably never foresaw when he was (by his own admission) a lackluster student in Middletown:

1. He actually wanted to be a poet. He wrote poetry in college and did a poetry thesis senior year which he brought to a poetry professor for feedback. The professor's response: We both know you're not a poet, don't we? "Actually, I hadn't known that," Matt said. "But it helped me enormously."

2. After graduation, desperate to live in New York, Matt took a job with a friend's mother, an interior decorator, who basically hired him to "stand around and make sure the workers weren't stealing stuff." After a while, he decided to move back to LA, where he'd grown up. "Because one day, standing in a room being decorated, I realized I'd be doing the same thing the next year. And the next."

3. Matt is fascinated by the late 50s "which actually lasted through 1962." He felt the same vibe played out when he was in college in the 1980s-- revival of diners, jazz, fashions, etc. He is not so fascinated with the Boomer 60s when "everyone wore the same thing and shouted, in unison, 'I'm an individual!"

4. He chose to set the show in advertising because "that was the glamorous job of that era."

5. On Don Draper's character: "Don is a person from rural poverty who is acutely aware of the fact that he ran away from death, in an act of cowardice. He actually killed someone, by accident, but never took responsibility for it. He is very interested in self-preservation. Fear was instilled in him as a child, by a hobo who told him that death was going to come looking for him, and that he should 'keep moving.' That was where I started the series."

6. Another thing that inspired the Mad Men story was the conundrum of expectations for men at that time: "They were supposed to be great dads and great husbands and work for the Little League and the PTA...but they were also supposed to drink as much, smoke as much and get laid as much as possible."

7. He's grateful for the creative freedom AMC provides, including the freedom to not to have to spell everything out. Like sex scenes. "I'm more interested in "the just before" and "the just after."

8. Don Draper is not an anti-hero. "It disturbs me when people call him that. Don't people have to murder someone to be anti-heroes? Don has his own code, his own moral center. But it is totally situational. Like most of ours. And that is what the show is really about."

9. And speaking of personalized moral codes: "Pete is my Democrat. He's right about everything, but he's from a screwed up background. And I do believe that you are the sum of your experiences."

[SPOILERS ALERT: Proceed at your own caution, if you haven't seen Season 6.]

10. When asked about heroism in the show, he said: "It's Don's support of Peggy. It's Betty going into town after that violinist. Heroism to me is any time you overcome your own weaknesses, push your own boundaries."

11. On Themes. The theme of last season (#5) was Success. One of the themes of this season is: How are you perceived by other people? "When Betty Draper goes downtown, people there make assumptions about who she is based on her weight and her hair and the fact that she knows how to cook. She resents that. "

12. "The show is not judgmental about human behavior, and that makes people uncomfortable, I think."

13. Don can't love the people who love him. He begins to emotionally withdraw from Megan when he sees she can't accept his 50s lifestyle.

14. "1968 was probably the crappiest year in the history of America. I have new respect for people who were there." When asked about how this will impact his characters, he was characteristically evasive about details, but said, “Bad stuff's gonna happen."

15. A question from the audience: Do you believe people can change? Tellingly, Matt paused a long moment before answering, "Yes. But I believe wanting to change, is a change." And we see where Don gets his remarkable ability to finely slice and dice the meaning of words.

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