Christina Hendricks has shown that her aura carries just as far amongst the French as it does amongst fans of Mad Men elsewhere on the planet.
Joining Ryan Gosling on the fabled Croisette for the world premiere of LOST RIVER, his debut film as a director, the statuesque actress proved to be an enchanting presence at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Though the film earned mixed reviews, virtually all the critics were unanimous in their praise for the 38-year-old redhead.
‘It was a scary story but that was part of the fascination I had for it,’ Hendricks says. ‘Ryan first spoke about his idea for the film while we were working on Drive together and it was really a great compliment that he wanted me to be part of it. He’s very relaxed and collaborative in the way he works but he also has an interesting perspective on the world that makes you want to share in his vision.’
The film stars Hendricks as a single mother of two who lives in a strange and surreal neighbourhood of a city (a dystopian Detroit) called Lost River where she struggles to make ends meets while her house faces foreclosure and demolition. Heavily influenced by David Lynch and his Drive director, Nicolas Winding Refn, Gosling tries to create a surreal context in which reality takes on a psychedelic twist. Saoirse Ronan co-stars as Hendricks’s friend and neighbour.
Meanwhile, Hendricks is counting down the days in the final season of Mad Men, the critically-acclaimed series that turned her from an unknown actress into a full-fledged star. Though she is fabled for her red tresses on the series, Hendricks is a natural blonde who recently admitted that she had decided to go back to being blonde once the final episode of Mad Men is shot this summer.
Hendricks lives in Los Angeles with her actor husband Geoffrey Arend (500 Days of Happiness). They have been married since 2009 after being introduced to each other at a party by her Mad Men co-star Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell).
I caught up with Christina Hendricks in Cannes. She was wearing a dark green Dior dress and black heels for the interview.
Christina, how did Ryan Gosling entice you to star in his directorial debut?
CH: It was the kind of story where you’re not quite sure what is happening and how far you get pushed to the edge of reality. While we were working on Drive, he told me how he would love to direct one day and how he was looking forward to working with me. He sent me the screenplay after we finished working on Drive and as soon as I read it I was very anxious to make the movie with him.
What kind of director is Ryan?
CH: He likes to involve you in the development of the story and make you a part of the creative process. We spent two weeks working together and discussing the film prior to arriving in Detroit where the rest of the cast began rehearsing. That gave us a wonderful opportunity to sort out how we would approach certain scenes and that was important because Ryan wanted to create a very dense and disturbing atmosphere and that time before shooting helped put us in that kind of mindset.
Have you ever played in this kind of a story before?
CH: No. It’s different from how Nicolas [Winding Refn] tells his stories although Ryan has said that he’s learnt a lot from working with him. But Ryan has his own style and it was interesting to watch him try to blend the surreal with phantasy elements. I’ve always enjoyed watching those kinds of movies and so to get a chance to be part of one has been a great experience.
What has your Cannes experience been like?
CH: It’s been very exciting. The crowds are very warm and appreciative and I’ve gotten used to a lot of people screaming my name. It kind of makes you want to turn around and wonder what I did to deserve the attention. It hasn’t quite dawned on me how popular Mad Men is around the world and the French obviously appreciate the series over here just as viewers do in the US and in other countries.
Are you getting to the point where the reality that your days as Joan on Mad Men are about to come to an end?
CH: Sadly, yes. I’ve loved playing her and I could play her for another seven seasons – that’s how much I love her and the way I’ve been able to develop the character and explore many different sides to her over the years. It’s very rare to have the chance to be able to do that because even on TV most shows don’t give you that freedom. But Matt [Weiner] had a long-term vision for the series and he’s carried out his plan beautifully. I never imagined that Joan have as central a position in the series but I guess Matt liked what I was doing and he just kept on giving me so much interesting material and storylines. It’s been the greatest experience of my career.
Did you gain a sense of empowerment yourself during your time playing Joan as the series went on?
CH: Her strength and journey has been very empowering… Joan was part of the workforce in an era before many women did such a thing, and she excels at it. She really has all these men on their knees in terms of needing her professionally, and I think there’s nothing wrong with how she has gone about getting there. I think she had every right to use every tool she had to succeed, and part of that is being a woman—presenting yourself in a certain way. And yet she had a frustrating personal life and I often asked Matt to give Joan a break and allow her to enjoy some kind of personal happiness. She had a very fierce sense of how to move ahead in business and how to use office politics to her advantage. But in her home life, she still clung to old-fashioned values and somehow it was hard for her to find the same satisfaction at home the way she did at work. That was the great contradiction in her life.
Are you as tough as your Mad Men alter ego Joan?
CH: No! [Laughs.] I’m much more mild-mannered. Joan can be so confrontational and frightening when she needs to be or when she’s angry. You wouldn’t want to cross this woman! [Laughs again.] When I first started playing her I was worried that she’s too intimidating but then all the feedback from audiences and critics was so positive and appreciative that I began to understand how interesting she was and how I could really throw myself into her very direct and commanding sense of being. She also has a tremendous reserve of inner strength so that she can deal with all the putdowns and disappointments she has had to face and accept, as much as it kills her on the inside. That’s why it’s so fascinating to be able to play a woman living through that some of the conflicting and repressive attitudes of that time. But we get to see her evolve just as the other women in the series fight for their identities, too.
Your physical presence has been much remarked upon. Do you ever get tired of that kind of attention?
CH: Only if it becomes the whole point of the conversation. I was raised with a very open and celebratory attitude about one’s body. My mom told me to be proud of everything that God gave me and just use it to my advantage rather than worry about whether people thought I was too heavy or whatever. Earlier in my career I had so many people tell me that if I would lose weight it would help me get work. But I never believed that. I felt beautiful the way I was and in the end that faith in myself has paid off. There are so many different body types. Why should there be only one concept of beauty?
You’ve talked in the past that you rebelled against your looks as a teenager?
CH: I went through a Goth phase in high school when I was angry at the world for no particular reason and I just felt aggressive and anxious about everything. I was probably also trying to get guys to stop staring at me and making stupid comments so I would try to hide my breasts with big jackets and sweaters and not try to attract more attention than necessary. You become very sensitive about your appearance and it can really affect you. That’s why I needed to get to the point where I embraced my body and just learned to feel good about myself in every way.
Are you still a big fan of pencil skirts?
CH: Yes. I still love pencil skirts and I think a woman can never have enough of them in her closet. I think they’re very unique and those kind of clothes have helped me define a look for myself and opened up a lot of doors for me. It’s important for women especially to find a look and a style that’s going to work for them and make them happy and ready to take on the world. That’s kind of how Joan looks at things. Your clothes are a statement of who you are and what you want to accomplish.
You’re a natural blonde yet Mad Men has defined you as the ultimate redhead in a way. Are you ever going back to blonde?
CH: I’ve been a redhead since I was 10 and fell in love with this wonderful series Anne of Green Gables. Once I went red I never wanted to go back to blonde. But after Mad Men is over, I think it’s time for a change and I’m going to see how far blonde will take me. It’s kind of exciting to see what the reaction will be!