Adored by men (and envied by women) for her hourglass figure, Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks is loving every minute of her success. She talks to Lina Das about relishing her curves, marrying ‘the best husband ever’ – and modelling Vivienne Westwood’s new jewellery collection
Can there ever have been a more magnificent TV creation than Mad Men’s Joan Holloway? The indispensable office manager of Sterling Cooper and its breakaway ad agency, Joan is a woman capable of filleting secretaries with a single glance and subduing men with her incredible embonpoint (‘How does she not fall over?’ one potential client enquired).
Her majestic curves and waspish pronouncements seem to give Joan all the approachability of a lipstick-wearing crocodile, so it’s a pleasure to find that Christina Hendricks, the actress who portrays her, is not only approachable
but fun and girlie, too. ‘I love playing Joan because she’s such a departure from who I am. In season one I thought, “Oh Lord, this woman is terrifying – I couldn’t be her friend!”, but now I think I would be friends with Joan because she’s so strong and pretty wonderful,’ says Christina, adding: ‘I’d just ask her not to tell me what she really thinks all the time.’
But while Joan radiates impenetrable glamour, Christina herself is even prettier – softer and fresher (and at 5ft 8in, taller than you expect), but still exuding the creamy voluptuousness that has caused fans of both sexes to sigh in disbelief. Today her Mad Men wardrobe of fitted skirts and pillbox hats has been replaced by jeans, purple heels and a cream top (with cinched-in waist, naturally). Though it took her a while to get used to putting on Joan’s accoutrements, Christina is now a seasoned pro. ‘I was huffing and puffing into those things initially,’ she says, ‘but now I’m flipping on the garters with ease. It’s so great at the beginning of each season to see what’s in our characters’ wardrobes!’
We meet in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles in a charmingly unassuming café far from the glam environs of Beverly Hills, hours before Christina, 36, is due to attend the opening of a new Vivienne Westwood boutique. She’s a longtime fan of the British designer, ‘because her clothes allow you to show your waistline and shoulders and accentuate your bust,’ she says. ‘As a woman with curves, I love that her clothes unapologetically celebrate women.’
It appears that the admiration is mutual, as Christina, described as the ‘embodiment of beauty’ by Dame Vivienne, has now joined forces with Westwood as the new face of her Get a Life palladium jewellery collection. ‘Vivienne is doing a lot of eco-conscious work these days,’ says Christina, ‘and if you look, each piece is a symbol of the earth. I love that she uses symbols such as the oak tree and acorns and hearts to represent strength and inspire change. They’re reminders that we must stay conscious about making our environment better for the future.’
The collection makes dazzling use of the precious white metal palladium, ‘which I didn’t know anything about before,’ Christina admits, ‘but it comes from the same family as platinum and is so light and so beautiful. There’s a kind of laurel wreath that I loved so much, I was thinking: “Is this too much for the supermarket?”, because I wanted to wear it all day. I’m a big jewellery fan anyway – I love the fact that we have adorned ourselves like this for centuries. It’s such a ritualistic act.’
For ritualistic adornment, one need look no further than Mad Men – a show that is positively fetishistic in its attention to the detail of the 1960s it inhabits. It’s a show that, Christina freely admits, ‘changed my life, and it’s opened doors for more and better work [including last year’s hit film Life As We Know It opposite Katherine Heigl], which is ultimately what you want as an actor. Saying that, I’d be happy if the show never finished,’ she adds. ‘Before I got the role, I was a little jaded – I’d worked on series that I’d loved but which didn’t go [forward] and when I got the script for Mad Men, I was also offered another project. You can never predict what’s going to be successful, so you have to do the one you really love and I picked Mad Men. When my mum came with me to watch the pilot we shot, she said: “I don’t know if I like the fact that Don Draper cheats on his wife”, and I said: “Well, you’re going to be in trouble then, because he does that a lot!”’
Ah, Don Draper, a man who could unhook a bra while wearing a straitjacket. Played by the divinely handsome Jon Hamm, Don perennially has an eye for a pretty lady, which rather begs the question why he and Joan have never had an affair. ‘Well, I think they have a mutual respect for one another,’ says Christina, ‘but because they’re both very good at reading other people, they’ve sort of got each other’s number.’ Can Christina herself see the appeal? ‘Who wouldn’t? I mean, come on!’ she laughs. ‘Jon feels more of a brother to me, but listen, I’m a woman and I can look at that man and say he’s astoundingly talented and astoundingly attractive. But so are all the guys on the show. I mean John Slattery [who plays Roger Sterling, Joan’s sometime lover] – he’s dashing and charismatic as can be.’ And are the Dons and Rogers of this world Christina’s type? ‘No, I’d run a mile! I like a man with a nice, self-deprecating sense of humour.’
Christina married a man with a nice, self-deprecating sense of humour two years ago, and her face lights up at the mere mention of his name. Actor Geoffrey Arend, best known for his role as the geeky best friend in (500) Days of Summer starring Zooey Deschanel, has been described as ‘the luckiest man ever’ on various websites (and, it must be said, by Geoffrey himself), but listening to Christina talk, it’s clear the luck runs both ways. ‘I [did] a production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company in New York,’ she says, ‘and even though my husband got offered a very nice job at the same time, he turned it down, saying: “I’m not missing your Broadway debut”. I mean,’ she grins, ‘he’s just the best husband ever.’
The couple met after being introduced by Mad Men actor Vincent Kartheiser (who plays Pete Campbell), and though it wasn’t love at first sight, ‘because we were both coming out of other relationships and weren’t in that mindset, I loved his energy and his spirit and I was always saying to friends: “You’ve got to meet my new friend Geoffrey – he’s so much fun”. Then my friends invited him to dinner and he was late – he’s always late – and they asked me if I wanted to save the seat next to me for Geoffrey and I went: “No, no – it’s not like that”. Of course, as soon as I said it didn’t matter, it suddenly did matter. I think my brain just had to catch up with my heart.’
His proposal sounds like, well, something out of a movie. ‘I moved to New York as a teenager when I started to model, and there was a restaurant called Il Buco which was filled with gothic-looking chandeliers that had weird apples and flames coming out of them. I’d been trying for years to get the owner, Donna, to sell one particular chandelier to me, but she wouldn’t. Geoffrey and I went there one New Year’s Eve and I happened to point it out to him. Then months later, I came home and every inch of our dining room was filled with flowers. Geoffrey was on one knee, so one part of my brain was registering that he was proposing, but then I looked up and saw the chandelier, so the other part of my brain was going: “How the hell is that chandelier in our house?”. He’d commissioned the artist to make Donna a replacement, so she finally relented and sold it to him. I was just crying so much when he proposed. I mean,’ she smiles, ‘what can you say about a man like that? He’s just so old-fashioned and kind and dreamy.’
The couple, now based in Los Angeles, haven’t yet decided whether children will feature in their plans, ‘though I probably need to think about that soon because I’m getting older, but I’m not letting that determine any decisions. I’m on this wonderful show with all these opportunities,’ says Christina, ‘so it seems crazy to jump out of it. I want to really experience the career for a while, and then I’ll see what happens.’ Joan Holloway – now Joan Harris after marrying the frankly undeserving Dr Greg Harris – did end the fourth series of Mad Men pregnant, after an illicit romp with old flame Roger Sterling. ‘She’s been very naughty and I was shocked when I got the script,’ says Christina. ‘My first fear was that she’d quit her job, but also I wondered, if she did become a stay-at-home mum, how would she manage that? Maybe she’ll carry on working – just strap the baby to her back and carry on bossing people around!’
For Christina herself, it’s been a long journey to the glamorous offices of Madison Avenue’s Mad Men. Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, she is the younger of two children to parents Robert and Jackie Hendricks. Her British-born father (originally from Birmingham but now an American citizen) worked for the US forest service and the family would move every few years as he worked from state to state. ‘I started doing community theatre as a way to make friends,’ says Christina, ‘and that was when I caught the acting bug.’
Her school days, she admits, ‘were not a happy time, and I’m always amazed when people say they loved their time in high school. My husband did, but he attended the LaGuardia school for the performing arts – the Fame school! – and had dance class instead of PE, so no wonder he had a great time. But I went to a very mean school and was bullied like crazy. I was a bit of a goth with purple hair and I was also part of the drama group, which was filled with actors and writers and wasn’t really accepted by the rest of the school. There was a long corridor with lockers on either side and kids would sit on top of them and spit on you. It was like something out of Lord of the Flies, but if I learned anything it was to remain true to myself and not to conform for the sake of it.’
Fresh out of school, Christina was persuaded by her mother to enter a competition to appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine. Though she didn’t win, her photos so impressed modelling agencies that, at 19, she headed off to New York to pursue her career. ‘I’d always felt awkward,’ she says, ‘and having those pictures done was the first time I really felt pretty. I loved the idea of travelling and having a new world open up, so I took advantage of the opportunity. I’d done ballet for years and was tiny then, a size 4 [UK size 8], so I didn’t have any problems about conforming to a certain body type. As you get older your body changes, and I’ve tried to embrace how I look at every stage. But I loved modelling. I lived in London for a year during the Britpop period when there was a real energy in the air and the fashion was [Alexander] McQueen. I did a season of shows there – one with Tyra Banks and Björk. I lived near Holloway prison, which was not nice, but was clearly a foreshadowing: if I could survive living next to Holloway prison, I’d get to play a fantastic character with the same name,’ she laughs. ‘Modelling taught me how to be professional and responsible at a young age. Plus, you experience a lot of rejection and criticism, which is a great boot camp for Hollywood.’
Christina embarked on an acting career in her mid-20s, working steadily in series such as ER, and the Joss Whedon-penned drama Firefly and Life, featuring our own Damian Lewis. But then Mad Men came along and life changed for ever.
She admits it’s been ‘the first time I’ve felt appreciated, because it’s the first time I’ve been on a show that people have been so excited about’. And Christina has elicited adoration from all quarters, including, bizarrely, our own Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone, who giddily pronounced her curvaceousness ‘absolutely fabulous’ and decreed that, ‘we need more of these role models’. ‘That was incredibly flattering but very, very strange – you think no one knows who you are and then a British politician says something like that,’ she says.
It was reported this year that there had been a sharp rise in breast augmentation in the UK because British women were longing to look more like Christina, though she says: ‘I hope I’m not encouraging that. If there’s anything to be learned from me it’s that I’m learning to celebrate what I was born with, even though it’s sometimes been inconvenient. Having larger breasts has made it harder for me to shop throughout the years, but I’ve learnt to love it. It’s so bizarre that people are constantly asking if my breasts are real or fake,’ she adds. ‘They’re so obviously real that anyone who’s ever seen or touched a breast would know.’
With films coming up such as I Don’t Know How She Does It alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Drive with Carey Mulligan, there seems little danger of the adoration for Ms Hendricks abating any time soon. And Christina even has her own Joan Holloway Barbie doll to play with in her free time. ‘I have one in my office,’ she says, barely concealing her excitement, ‘but Mattel are also making a one-off Christina Barbie for me too – wearing what I wore to the Golden Globes last year. I mean, how awesome is it to have your own Barbie?’ she smiles. Pretty awesome, actually. Even Joan Holloway would be impressed with that.
Source: Daily Mail
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