There’s a creative madness about Matthew Weiner that stems from his penchant for listening to people talk. Even as he typically remains tight lipped about the upcoming split finale season of Mad Men, a development that he admits wasn’t his own making. Weiner is most delighted to dissect the characters’ personalities with you and even seeks your perspective on them. It’s a make-believe world that Weiner as the writer, creator and producer of the multiple Emmy-winning show, has built from real experiences. And it doesn’t surprise him that the fans of the show are as emotionally invested in it as he is.
Matthew Weiner. (Photo credit - AP)
“What I didn’t anticipate was just how successful the show would get around the world. It is an inherently American tale set in the backdrop of an important decade in American history. When I first started work on it, which was before the Sopranos, I was told that people wouldn’t be interested in something like this. Today I find it overwhelming that there are fans of the show in India and other parts of the world who track it closely. It probably has to do with the fact that the people on the show are people we’ve all encountered at some point in time or are an amalgamation of people we know,” Weiner says in a telephonic conversation from Los Angeles.
Weiner believes that India’s age-old storytelling heritage has a big role to play in the way we in India receive his characters and storylines. Multi-layered personalities in intricately woven, lengthy tales form the framework of a lot of mythological and religious fables, as well as modern Bollywood films, he observes. “In the US, such complexity (as Don’s) does not have a type. He’d just be a villain or something. In India, Don could totally be the hero of an Indian mythological tale because of all the layers to him.”
With most successful television shows, fans tend to focus largely on the actors essaying the roles, so it comes as no surprise that Don Draper is as loved as Jon Hamm is. Weiner, who admittedly relates most to Peggy, acknowledges that Hamm’s portrayal of his protagonist has been a big draw for the show. “It is as much about Jon as it is about Don,” he laughs at the rhyme, and then adds, “I love how people are not judgmental of his actions even though he really asks for it sometimes. In his case, we have really experimented with the whole nature versus nurture debate. He is a product of his difficult childhood. I read a lot about famous people’s lives and I noticed that not many of them have been forthcoming about their childhoods. But clearly those difficult times made them the strong personalities they grew up to being. When I read Marilyn Monroe’s diary that her psychologist gave me, I thought to myself ‘God, Don is so much like Marilyn!”
Promotional still from Mad Men, season 7. (Photo credit - AMC)
A person’s childhood goes a long way in shaping his future and Weiner would certainly know a thing or two about that, what with his son Marten playing a minor but notable role in the series. Ask what it was like about conceptualising the role of (creepy) Glen Bishop and directing his son to essay it, he laughs aloud, “I swear he’s not creepy in real life. I didn’t set out to cast my son in the show. Someone else suggested that Marten could play Glen. It’s later that I realised that he’s naturally talented to pull off that role that people find so peculiar. People find him creepy but Marten just says: ‘He’s not me.’ Once I told him that the role from the beginning is quite a reflection of my childhood and in fact I had done some of the stuff that Glen has done on the show. Marten in turn said: ‘Dad, now THAT’s creepy!”
Working with Marten and watching his other two sons do cameos in the show meant that Weiner could spend more time with his children while being fully absorbed on the sets. “It’s so nice to have lunch with them on the sets and include them in such an important part of my life. I love the fact that it is also so important for them,” he says.
With such a crucial portion of his life drawing to a close, Weiner is trying hard to not think of life after Mad Men. “It feels strange that it’s going away. I want to reach a conclusion on the show that is satisfying to both me and the audience. Personally, I hope to emotionally survive this experience of finishing the show. And I hope to achieve that with some dignity.”
The series will premiere exclusively on Star World Premiere HD on 14th April.