Don Draper, the central and serially seductive character of the hit TV show “Mad Men”, is actually a “very weak man”, his creator told a Paris audience on Sunday.
“Shame is his lifeblood,” Matthew Weiner said of his intriguing main character, who is the engine of his influential and stylish series about an ad man of the 1950s and 1960s that has won multiple awards for its cinematic quality and near-literary writing.
The comments by Weiner — the show’s producer, chief writer, frequent director and, though he dislikes the title, showrunner of the series on the air since 2007 — were made to a packed theatre in a French festival on world TV called Series Mania.
Weiner, who was notoriously cagey about “Mad Men” during its run, let loose about its creative input now that the landmark programme is coming to an end. The seventh and final season — split in two by the AMC network over Weiner’s objections — is being broadcast right now in the US and other territories, and will wrap up next month.
Commenting on the end of the 6th season, which saw Draper’s character implode under the weight of his several layers of lies and mystery, Weiner said “I wanted him to commit to change”.
While viewers have watched the alcohol-dependent, womanising but brilliantly perceptive Don Draper try to invent himself several times, Weiner warned against seeing the protagonist, played with suave nuance by Jon Hamm, as a hero or anti-hero.
“Don doesn’t fill the typical hero mode because he’s more like a regular person, and his flaws have to do with being shitty, and not coming through,” he said.
That is something of a comedown for a character who Weiner has said he partly created from James Bond, but who has proved a flawed — if charming — centrepiece of a series that sought to capture the zeitgeist of its period with non-politically correct humour.
– ‘I’m a writer’ –
Weiner himself, though, said he was delighted at the impact his show has had, emphasising that it took seven years from when he wrote its pilot to finally seeing it made. He worked in-between as a writer on the much-vaunted “The Sopranos”.
“I’m a writer — that’s my job,” he said, downplaying the other hats — producer, director, showrunner — he had to assume to see “Mad Men” made.
“It’s a rare talent that I never take for granted.”
With disarming honesty, Weiner suggested no other show he might write in the future would soar as high as “Mad Men”, but he hoped his star profile in the TV industry now meant he would no longer have to wait years to see his projects get off the ground.
“I hope I have this again in my life — I don’t mean success like that (‘Mad Men’), that’s insane — I just hope I get a situation where everything I write gets shot.”
A recognised master of TV now, Weiner hasn’t made a successful shift to making feature films, however. A 2013 comedy movie he made starring Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis, “Are You Here?”, was generally panned.
But Weiner appeared confident as he discussed what it took to make it in the industry.
“Kiss ass — you know that expression? OK: you’re going to need it if you’re in show business. I’ve kissed a lot of ass. That’s why I’m here.”
That phase, however, can be said to be safely behind Weiner, who has become seen as something of a pioneer by bringing film-like qualities to TV, opening the way to other shows today like “House of Cards” and “True Detective”.
And that is the crux of the change Weiner has wrought: starting a revolution that has made the small screen the new place to be to see sharp and deep drama once reserved for cinema.