Q&A: Darby Stanchfield (Helen Bishop)

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Being talked about may be devastating to some, but actress Darby Stanchfield admits wearing fake nails might have been the greater challenge… greater even than playing mother to the boss’s kid.

Q: Was it tough to play someone intensely gossiped about?

A: It wasn’t hard. It creates really good drama and interesting storylines. From a personal standpoint, playing someone judged negatively by her friends is not difficult. It made it really interesting to come to work to tell that story. It’s really phenomenal how art can reflect life and I was able to draw on situations from my own life in which I’ve made choices and have been judged very negatively for them.

Q: What did you do to prepare?

A: TV goes so much quicker than film, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. The beautiful thing about this world, about Mad Men, is that all the elements — whether it be wardrobe, set design or just Matt Weiner’s brilliant storytelling — are layered in for you. I did do basic research, about the climate, what was going on politically and what was going on in pop culture. The biggest thing I had to do was get down technical details really fast. I got long nails put on, and that was a challenge, along with the smoking and learning to move in this really tight girdle. So I started smoking immediately and as soon as those nails went on, I just had to deal with how that would inform the character.

Q: Was it intimidating to play the mother of the boss’s kid?

A: No it wasn’t. My first and foremost concern in telling the story was that it would be believable he was my son. And as soon as I met Marten Weiner, I was so excited to work with him. I have to say he’s the best kid. He just so well behaved and poised. He’d never worked on a TV show before and he had an openness, a curiosity and an enthusiasm. He also had this really great sense of being a kid and not being full of himself or anything so we immediately got on great. Matt Weiner’s whole family is kind of amazing. There was nothing about it that was intimidating. I think a lot of that had to just do with how great he was.

Q: How does being a divorced mom raising children back then compare to today?

A: The thing that really struck me last season is that nobody locked their door in those days. If they locked their car keys in the car, you could just call on your neighbor. In one of the episodes where I don’t even know Betty that well, I call her up and see if she’ll babysit. There was such an open and trusting environment, like there were fewer risks and less danger in terms of raising children. It seems to me now that our society’s changed in that we lock our doors, and in terms of child care you have to go through much more rigorous standards. So I think there’s an added stress with regards to children in this day and age.

Q: Your character volunteers for the Kennedy campaign. What significance does that have?

A: I learned that the margin of victory in terms of the popular vote was the closest that it had ever been in the history of an American president being elected. I didn’t know that at the time, but when I was doing research, that was one thing that really struck me. When any of our elections are close it seems that people get more passionately involved, voters turn out a little bit more — as we’re seeing in the current day. There’s something really resonant about that.

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