LOS ANGELES — With every ad campaign won or lost by Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, every whiskey swigged, every cigarette smoked and every errant lipstick stain that turns up on the wrong collar, “Mad Men” draws nearer to its end. That AMC period drama begins its second-to-last season Sunday with a two-hour premiere.
As audiences prepare to get reacquainted with Don Draper, the enigmatic executive played by Jon Hamm, and his colleagues and family, Matthew Weiner, the “Mad Men” creator, isn’t taking any victory laps.
Having spent his hiatus directing his first feature film, “You Are Here,” a comedy with Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler and Zach Galifianakis, Weiner returned to “Mad Men,” battling to keep the narrative fresh and the budget intact. Despite his penchant for secrecy, he could not prevent the leak of a subplot about Don and his wife, Megan (Jessica Pare), traveling to Hawaii. And he was stunned when “Mad Men,” which won the Emmy for outstanding drama in each of its first four seasons, was shut out at last September’s ceremony.
. In a recent interview, he talked about preparations for a new year of “Mad Men” and the differences between his film and television experiences.
Q: The previous season concluded with Don having an ambiguous interaction with a woman who is not his wife. Does that represent any kind of promise to the audience to pick up where you left off?
When the season ends, that’s the end of the show for me. I’m out of stuff. I never know what’s going to be the tension in between the seasons. I didn’t know that after Season 3 the audience would not be convinced that Don was divorced. As soon as I heard, “Will he get divorced?” I’m like, well, I guess they don’t know. That’s the tension. What I start hearing over the break starts to inform where I start the next year.
Q: What did you hear from viewers during this hiatus?
A lot of it, obviously, is about that last moment – a lot of it was also realizing in the last moment that the season had been about Don and Megan. Even in the writers’ room last year, we had to reframe our storytelling so people understood that when we were telling a story about Megan, we were telling a story about Don.
Q: Had you wrapped the movie before you started work on Season 6?
I finished the movie on June 29, my birthday. We went on a trip with the family for two weeks, which I don’t remember. I was really in a fog. And then I opened the (writers’) room again, and started fighting with the studio for money about a week later (laughs). That’s my job.
Q: What was this fight about?
The cast had finally been paid. I felt very comfortable with the idea that everybody who put in their time on the show for nothing at the beginning, had now gotten the rewards that they hoped they would get. But then there was a desire to say, OK, we’re not just going to accept the fact that the show costs more money. It has to come from somewhere, and I have to do my thing where I say, I’m not making the show any cheaper than I make the show.
Q: Were you disappointed that “Mad Men” went from winning four Emmys in a row for dramatic series to winning none last year?
I’m a human being. It’s an honor to be nominated, we won a ton. I thought, I guess in my heart, that it would taper off. Not end abruptly like that. But yeah, it was a hard night. And honestly, it’s hard for me to watch even an episode from any season of the show and think that Jon Hamm’s never been recognized. How has Elisabeth Moss not been recognized? It was a bummer. It was a bad night. It was unpleasant.
Q: It’s no secret that Peggy Olson is back this season.
I told people that she was.
Q: And Betty Francis has a substantial arc in the premiere. Were you trying to shine a light on characters that viewers thought might be in jeopardy?
I see them as characters. I do not count their screen time. I learned this from David Chase: You get bored of the character, and you want the audience to be bored of them. You want to parcel it out so that, OK, you had a lot of cello this week, next week is about drums. Don always has to have a story, and he has to have a business story and he has to have a personal story, but there’s no rules for the rest of it. I don’t want to just check in on everybody. My whole thing is, who’s the most interesting to me, and what goes with Don’s story? I was interested in the shift in the period, in showing Betty’s life, where it is and where she fits into the world.