Departing from her sassy femme fatale character Joan Holloway on Mad Men, Christina Hendricks is stepping into the world of action in the upcoming film Drive. The actress stars as Blanche alongside Ryan Gosling, who portrays Driver, a Los Angeles stuntman who works for movie productions by day. At night, he drives getaway cars for armed heists.
After falling in love with his neighbor Irene, played by Carey Mulligan, Driver then finds himself being chased by two deadly criminals. The gangsters, Bernie and Nino, played by Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, are not only after Driver’s money, but are chasing Irene and her son as well.
Hendricks took the time to sit down with us this week to discuss what it was like filming Drive, which is scheduled to be released in theaters on September 16. The actress talks about how she prepared for the role of Blanche and how the part is different from Mad Men‘s Joan, the character she’s most recognized for.
Read on to see what she had to say.
Question: So what was the process like preparing for this role?
Christina Hendricks: Really, it was spending an afternoon with (director) Nicolas Winding Refn, talking about this character. The character doesn’t have a lot of lines, and we have to make a lot of assumptions of who this person is. We wanted her to be a rich character, and when something happens to her, you feel something.
So we spent the afternoon talking about Blanche, and where she probably grew up and what she did, and how she got into this situation, and sort of laughed about it a little bit. We got an idea about what she would probably wear. It was really just a fun conversation with Nicolas one afternoon.
Question: How was preparing for the movie different than preparing for Mad Men?
CH: Well, here we are in season 5 already. Now we all sort of know our characters quite well. We’ve established these people. So now when we go back, it’s sort of nice, actually, because there’s so much information that we have about our characters. There are these full, rich stories. Each time we get a new script, it’s like, well she would behave this way, because in season 2, this happened, and in season 3, this happened. This is how she feels about this person and this person. It’s a very, very textured world, so that makes it somewhat easy to go back and drop back into character, and continue telling these stories.
Question: Your character in Drive is so polar opposite from Joan.
CH: Yes. She literally takes a backseat role. She doesn’t have the confidence that Joan has. Sadly, she can use a little.
Question: As an actress, is it more fulfilling to go through that process with Joan, or to form the Blanche character here?
CH: They’re so different, it’s hard to compare. I was obviously drawn to playing Blanche, because she was so completely different. After seeing Nic’s work, and having seen Bronson, I thought it had a good type of energy and style. It was so modern, and so different, coming straight out of Mad Men.
Of course, the process is so entirely different. There’s security in having so much backstory in Joan, as far as what choices to make. It makes the choices quite simple, because you have so much history. Sometimes it can be scarier when you have very little information. You’re creating so much on your own, and you’re hoping that’s what the director was thinking, and what the producers were thinking, and what the writer was thinking as well. You don’t want to do a disservice to the story.
Question: How do you think this movie is different from other movies in the same genre?
CH: I think this movie is different from everything right now. I think what Nicolas is doing is very different, and that’s why I was excited to work with him. When I saw Bronson, I hadn’t felt that excited about a movie in a really long time. It’s sort of the same way I felt the first time I saw Trainspotting.
It was dark, but there was this energy, and you didn’t know what to feel afterward, and that’s how I felt after I watched Bronson. So I had an idea about stylized Drive was going to be, and what Nicolas would bring to it. Even knowing the script, and knowing Nicolas and knowing everything, when I sat down to watch it, I was surprised and excited. The soundtrack’s fantastic, and there’s an energy about it.
Question: Can you talk about shooting the scene in the motel room?
CH: Well, actually, it was the very first day of shooting on the movie entirely, and it was about 100 degrees. We were shooting in this tiny little motel room, with a crew of people there. I had just met Ryan, and he was throwing me on a bed! (laughs) I was terrified! Rationally, I knew I wasn’t to be scared, but everything felt so real in that room. The danger felt real, because it was uncomfortable, and Ryan’s such an amazing actor. As intense as it looked, it felt.
Question: After spending so much time in the world of Mad Men, and in the ’60s, what was the transition period like to the present?
CH: You know, it’s funny. Now that we’re on season 5 of Mad Men, there’s certain things that we’re used to, and adjusting to, when approaching our characters. I know when I play Joan, and she’s going to react a certain way, I have to remember that she can only behave this way, because the men at work wouldn’t want her to act this way.
Or, it’s only appropriate to act this way. Or a lady would do this. It’s become so natural to me to look at the scripts in that way, and almost immediately become a woman of the ’60s in my mindset. It’s so much in the storytelling of Mad Men and Matt (Weiner)’s writing. So when I read a different script, I’m completely take it out of that, and zoomed into a different storytelling mode, and it feels very specific, and it feels very different.
Question: When you first read Drive, did you think of it in that ’60’s sensibility?
CH: No, I can differentiate quite thoroughly. It’s funny, when we have guest stars on Mad Men, we always do a table read of the script with the entire cast the day before we start filming that episode. The guest cast doesn’t get the script until the day they’re there, because it’s so secretive. They don’t want them to have pages that can get leaked anywhere. You always see this look of surprise on their faces. There’s so many things that are different.
How the audience feels when they watched it, like “I can’t believe these people are throwing trash in the park,” and “I can’t believe these kids are running around with bags on their heads.” We’ve gotten so used to it, we used to laugh, but we’ve gotten so used to it, it’s really fun to see it through the eyes of guests. They come in, and have to smoke fake cigarettes, and they go (makes coughing noises). We go, “Welcome to Mad Men!” (laughs)
But they’re still getting used to all of it, and really feels like home to all of us. But it’s fun to see someone come on set for the first time, and see how all the book shelves are loaded with books of the time. The magazines are from the month. I mean, it really is special on set for the first time, with how meticulous they are with everything.
Question: What is the next project for you?
CH: I just got back to Mad Men! (laughs) I do have a couple of movies lined up that I’m excited about working on. We’re going to see if they come together during this season of Mad Men, we might wait until hiatus. I also went back and did some theater this year. I did a musical (the New York Philharmonic production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company), and I had a blast. Coming back to New York and doing some more theater would be really great.
Question: Mad Men is shooting now?
CH: Yes. I was able to get away for a couple of days (to promote Drive), but I’m going straight back to work on Thursday (September 15, the day before the film is released). We’re already on our fourth episode.
Question: It’s for a March (2012) premiere, correct?
CH: Yes. But it’s strange. Normally, we shoot about four episodes, and then it starts airing. This year, we will have shot the entire season before it starts airing, which is kind of nice in a way, because you don’t know how people are responding. You’re just doing the work, and not thinking about audience response or anything else. You’re just going to work and doing your best, and that’s kind of nice.
Question: Can you give us a little preview?
CH: I wish I could. I’ll tell you it’s good, and there are some surprises. There’s something to look forward to.
Question: In the season 4 finale, it’s just so great watching Joan and Peggy (Olsen, played by Elizabeth Moss) finally having a conversation.
CH: It’s funny, we watched that in a screening here in New York. It was in a room full of people, and we hadn’t seen it yet. Elizabeth and I just started crying a little bit, because we feel so attached to those characters. Her and I have sort of been sisters since the beginning. We always had this power play. It was such a nice moment to see those two characters finally bond, and these two women just sitting together, instead of this power play between the two of them. I think the audience wanted that for a long time. We got a little choked up, it was nice.
Question: Joan seems to be getting more vulnerable. Is that something that continues?
CH: Like I said, we’re only on episode four, so there’s a lot yet to be seen. But I was talking to one of the guys in the crew the other day, and he goes, “I was just re-watching seasons 1 and 2, and Joan was a lot sassier back then.” She was really sassy. But that’s what’s really great about Matt’s writing, and all the writers on the show.
These characters change and grow, and you’re not going to see the same thing over and over again. They’re living as real lives as fake people can live. (laughs) She’s had a couple of rough years, and it’s beating her down a little bit, but she keeps on getting back up. But it’s taken a little sass out of her, I think. (laughs)
Question: How is it as an actress to be in such a cultural phenomenon? With the red hair, is it hard not being Joan out in the world?
CH: Yeah, to be honest, it’s been surreal, it really has. With the slow build of the show, we shot season 1, and not many people had seen it. Every once in a while, we’d be out at a restaurant, and someone would come up and say excuse me. I thought they were going to ask where the restroom is or something. They’d be, I really love your show. I’d go, Oh my gosh, thank you.
We didn’t know people were watching it. The critics were so great to us, and wrote such glowing reviews. So in season 2, people were catching on a bit. Then it was an underground, cool thing, and people were talking about it. So it was this really nice gradual thing, it wasn’t an overnight thing. So at least we kind of had time to get used to it. I can’t imagine some of thees kids, who overnight have a hit show or a hit movie. So we slowly got used to it, a little bit. But it’s still strange, we’re still flabbergasted when someone stops us on the street. I still think someone’s going to ask us for the bathroom. (laughs) I’m ready to give directions at any time.
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank Christina Hendricks for talking to us. You can catch Drive in theaters on September 16.