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Matthew Weiner Talks Writing Women and Race in ‘Mad Men,’ Criticisms of Don’s Storyline and More

Matthew Weiner Talks Writing Women and Race in 'Mad Men,' Criticisms of Don's Storyline and More

As Part 1 of “Mad Men” Season 7 debuts April 13 (trailer here), James Poniewozik of TIME sat down with showrunner Matthew Weiner to talk everything about the show — from viewer criticisms of Don’s story arc last season, to writing women, race and how to handle those those too well-known moments from 1960s history without succumbing to cliches. Interview highlights below — and don’t worry “MM” diehards, there are NO SPOILERS.

On the criticism that we were seeing Don’s same old cheating
story again in Season 6:

There was so much new story last year, I don’t think that
that was what people were responding to. I think what people responded to is
that they were really in a state of powerlessness and anxiety in 2012 and ’13
in the United States. And they want to see Don kicking ass and taking names.
When Don said “Please” to Sylvia in that hotel room, that was hard for the
audience. That’s what I think they were responding to. I have no defensiveness
about it. We repeat things in life all the time.

On writing women characters:

I don’t write like, “A woman thinks this way and a man
thinks this way.” People think this way. And they think in their own interests.
And yes, men and women are different on some level, but the crossover is
ridiculous. I mean there have been very few things that have been gender
specific behavior in the show. I learned them from having a strong wife and
working with a lot of women. And there are plenty of gender-specific things
about men that I don’t know. I don’t play sports; I don’t know a lot of that
shit. I type for a living.

On race in ‘Mad Men’:

As long as I’m in that world of this white majority that is
insulated, that is learning about civil rights on TV, unless they’re activists,
you’re not seeing a world of specific prejudice or individual prejudice. But
you are seeing segregation. And I chose to do that and I chose to do that to
remind people that it was real. And there is an entire parallel universe. There
are black ad agencies and there are obviously so many African-Americans in New
York City. But I really chose to not lie about the interaction that these
characters are having with different kinds of people.

…Let’s put it this way, I’m proud of the fact that not just
guilty liberal white people noticed that black people were not in the show. And
not just black people also. That there was a kind of confusion about whether it
was some oversight, but I’m not telling the story of the civil rights movement.
I’m telling a story of the mass culture and their experience of the civil
rights movement.

On recreating cinematically well-trodden events from the ‘60s:

Oh, it’s horrible. Yeah. I mean believe me, you know, that’s
why I go to primary sources as much as I can. And I also just try and remember
the way we experience things now. The Kennedy assassination is the hardest;
it’s such a well-trod thing. And the first time you have your first hippie
you’re just like, well, am I just doing Dragnet here? Are there hand-painted
signs down in the prop department? I don’t want that. But in fact, when you go
to the archival footage and Life magazine, Time magazine, Newsweek, when you
see what was really going on – you can’t re-create that without looking like
one of these clichés because it really looked like that.

So it’s a challenge, but I’m always sort of looking for the
average person’s experience of it.

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