Despite the Golden Globes, the endless doxologies from critics, and the blandishments from members of its cult who tell you that you of all people would love it because it's so smart — there's a chance you haven't seen Mad Men, which enters its third season this month. And if you haven't seen Mad Men, then you can't understand the totality of Christina Hendricks. On the show, she plays a 1960s secretary, her relentless curves tamped into tight dresses and her hair architected into a copper ziggurat. She bosses around the other girls in the office and electrifies the men who run it, just by sashaying down the hall. The pieces that make up her presence — her voice, smooth as the highway; the look in her eyes, sweet or cunning or both; the way she glides around the office, presiding — make her tower over everyone around her, whether she's wearing heels or not.
Here, in a hotel restaurant in Los Angeles, the elements are the same — the red hair, the pristine, pale swath of skin between her shoulders, the long legs, the doe eyes. But the hair is loose, pinned up in a hurry. There's a high-pitched laugh. The thirty-four-year-old actress is sitting comfortably in jeans and a loose top, in a private dining room, at a long table that's set for ten. It's an odd time to eat — three on a Saturday — but Christina's day is just beginning. Shooting for Mad Men ran late last night, and she went to bed close to sunrise.
CHRISTINA HENDRICKS [scanning the menu]: It looks like a lot of food, but I have to assume they're smaller portions, right? [To the waitress] I'm going to do the celery soup and then the carbonara.
WAITRESS: The celery soup is not vegetarian. It has some pancetta, and guanciale. And the carbonara is served classic style, with egg yolk. So when you mix it, it cooks itself. We can skip the egg yolk.
Hendricks blinks. She has a talent for delicate blinking — she blinks to communicate. When she does it on Mad Men, it usually means she has just made a stinging comment that's lingering in the smoke-filled air while she blinks innocently, her eyelids crushing some hapless officemate. But in real life, it's nice, for the most part.
CH: No, no, that's okay.
The waitress leaves.
CH: "Would you like a carbonara without the carbonara?"
ESQUIRE: She was concerned about a lot of things.
CH: And two kinds of pork in one soup? Bring it on. I just learned what guanciale is, when I was in New Orleans. It's the pig jowl. I went to this butcher there, and I came home with lots of sausages: a big andouille and a blood sausage.
ESQ: You know your pork.
CH: I can see it in Esquire — "I know my pork!" Oh, my gosh, you've had chocolate-covered bacon, right? It's so perfect.
ESQ: Do you like to cook?
CH: I love to cook. I just got a deep fryer, and it's amazing. The first night we got it, we made homemade poppers. I mean, what's the best deep-fried thing ever? Cheese poppers.
ESQ: Do you drink while you cook? Watching Mad Men always makes me want to drink.
CH: I love cocktails. My specialty drink is a gimlet with a little egg white in it so it gets frothy. I really like rose water — sometimes I'll add it to champagne. I was at a bar recently and the manager came up to me and said, "We have a drink named after you!" The Joan Holloway. There was Campari in it. People are throwing these Mad Men — themed parties because, I think, it's an excuse to get dressed up and drink and smoke.
ESQ: What do you smoke on the set?
CH: Herbal cigarettes. They're disgusting.
ESQ: Do you wear the undergarments of the day?
CH: Oh, yeah, they're all the authentic girdles, and we wear the longline bras, with boning.
CH: It's like what's in a corset — it has these long strips of plastic or metal that keep everything [pauses], you know. Oh, yeah — it's supercomfortable. And then the authentic stockings, with the garters, and then a slip and then our dress. From my girdle and my garters last night, I have two bruises on the top of my legs. From being in it for seventeen hours. Women did that.
ESQ: Why do you think you got the part of the bossy secretary?
CH: Matt Weiner, the creator, had thought of Joan as pinched and tightly wound, but she's more of a sort of sexual character. I just went in and did the character as I had read her, which was bossy, brassy, everyone-listen-to-me. And then when wardrobe got involved, doing the pilot, I put on this dress, and all of the sudden I had a different walk than I normally had, and Matt turned to me and said, "That's Joan." I have my hair brought up a couple inches, and I have heels. I look like an Amazon.
ESQ: But you seem to embrace the fact that you're not this little waify nothing.
CH: This is the way I'm built, and I feel beautiful. It's funny, because I don't feel like I look that different from anybody. Everyone's always like, "You're so much smaller in person!"
ESQ: Must be the boning.
CH: And the bras and all that.
ESQ: Even besides Joan, the show drips with sex.
CH: Because there's something in what you don't see. There's restraint. I've had people say to me, "My husband and I watch it and we always have sex afterwards." I think it's really hot that some of the things it's stirring up in people are very naughty things.
The waitress asks how everything is and Hendricks is honest. She says the noodles are overcooked. While blinking.
CH: I have this habit of, when they ask me if it was good, I tell them when it's not.
ESQ: I think they'd want to know.
CH: I don't mean to cause a ruckus. They're probably saying "God, that girl from Mad Men is so fussy."
ESQ: Are you a ruckus-causer?
CH: I have a problem keeping my mouth shut. I usually speak my mind. I'm trying to learn my lesson.