I saw Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, speak last night at the MFA. He was witty and very chatty. He wore bright red socks with his dark suit.
He told us that, like all writers, he draws on his personal experiences when writing. He had a crush on his babysitter when he was young, and walked in on her on the toilet. (= Glenn Bishop walked in on Betty.) His parents have a photo of themselves sharing a hot dog. (= photo of Don and Betty sharing a hot dog, during Season 1’s Kodak carousel scene.)
When asked why he thought the show was so popular, he mentioned the fact that the audience never knows what is going to happen. He doesn’t believe in “spoon-feeding” the audience. He wants the audience to feel the anxiety of not knowing what to expect, and then the relief once they find out.
Everyone can relate to the show in a way, because as he said, it deals with the stakes of everyday life. People’s private vs. public selves. Being tied to people when you share a secret. Being in a minority group and wanting to belong.
Regarding casting, he said that he didn’t want to cast anyone with prior associations. He also joked that he had no money. Seventy men tried out for the role of Don Draper. He chose Jon Hamm because he was intelligent, and he was funny AND goodlooking. He quipped that goodlooking people don’t need to be funny…Jon has both qualities because he doesn’t know he is one of the most attractive men on the planet. Weiner could also tell that Jon wasn’t raised by his parents….he intuitively picked up on that somehow. Which matches the circumstances of his character, Don Draper.
Weiner’s wife was in the audience, and he gave her a big shout-out, which I thought was nice. He credited her for many insights into the scripts, and “he doesn’t even have to pay her.”