Matthew Weiner talks about casting loathsome characters and how to get the audience to show sympathy in a great interview about his hit show “Mad Men” in this week’s The Onion AV Club:
The other thing–and writers can say whatever they want–is casting. You need to find a person who can inhabit that role, who can not sugarcoat the bad stuff, and not be too hard on the good stuff, but who can come across as a three-dimensional human being with some depth and some thought about what they’re doing. When you find James Gandolfini or Jon Hamm, someone who can inhabit this role but still has a natural humanity to them, no matter what they’re doing? It’s a gift. That’s what audiences are responding to, and it’s got to be at least 50 percent of why the character works. You wouldn’t expect a writer to say that, I know, but it’s really true. With the wrong person in this role, you’re going to think Don is this callous sociopath. And I think because Jon’s in there, and you look at his eyes and see how he behaves in these interactions, you realize that he is trying to do the right thing, and he does have love in his heart, and is capable of feeling. And he wants to be a better person, he wants to feel better, and he doesn’t want to have to do the things he does. That is something you can’t write.