Matt Weiner Interview, Part 3

Mary:  Per precinct in Illinois, something like that, correct

Matt:  Yes, Richard Daly.  There were corpses that voted etc.  But the issue is that, it was that close.  That means the country is bifurcated.  And it always has been.  So immediately, in advertising, you have this old white guard in advertising.  And in 1959 this Volkswagen ad comes out and it’s done by a Jewish firm.  And a German art director and eventually there are Italians and Jews that start doing this subversive advertising that is an ethnic sense of humor which is making fun of advertising …

American is subversive.  We love it.  You can’t have a country based on jazz w/out subversion.  We’re an opened minded people as long as business is getting done

What I loved about the whole thing was to say that I was a television writer who was basically working in the mainstream but I was constantly trying to alert people to feelings of…what I love about the show…to me the show says two things, all of the men are asking, is this it?  Which is a very natural male instinct.   Maybe because they can’t have babies. But men are very much obsessed with death and the ending of it, of life and the limitedness of it and it make us behave badly. 

Actually one of the characters says that at some point.  They say, it’s just an excuse for a lot of bad behavior.  And I think the women are asking what’s wrong w/ me.  And that has not changed and advertising knows that you think something is wrong w/ you.  And the people who are great at it are drawing that from real life.  And Don is someone’s identity we will learn to know, his identity is part of what makes him great.

Mary:  This is such a complicated character, Don, because he’s so contradictory to me because he’s very honorable on one hand….

Matt:  He is honorable!  And virtuous.  He rejects Peggy.  You’ve seen a bunch.  You know that he has a code.  But he’s a dinosaur.

Mary:  And he protects her.

Matt:  I think that he’s merit oriented.  But he’s still a product of his time.  I think he’ll take a good idea from anywhere.  But I do believe he’ll – the first line I had in the show – before I even knew who Don was: “I’m not going to let a woman talk to me like this.”  And I hate to say it but that will be there forever.

Mary:  The characters remind me so much of the adults I knew as a child.  I’m wondering how you got there w/ that. 

Matt:  I wish I had an answer for you.  I don’t really want to question it because it’s happening.  It’s related to fiction. The writers that I admire have spoken to me. 

And the other part of it is - they’re exactly like people are now.  You think about Joan.  And she’s a sex pot in the office and she has this very old fashioned sense of decorum.  And she’s a complete sexist.  She’s a Helen Gurley Brown.  She’s an enemy of women.  At the same time Helen Gurley Brown is a huge success.  You’re mother has friend like Joan and she may weigh a lot more and not be curvy any more and they’ll tell you how hot she was when she was young.  That woman understands men.

Mary: Where did you grow up?

Matt:  I lived in Baltimore until I was eleven.  And then we moved to Los Angeles and I’ve lived here since then.  And I went away to college and I came back and went to graduate school.  And then I got married and then I got to have my dream which was to live in NY for the four years I was on The Sopranos

My father’s a physician, a neurologist.  And my mother went back to school in the early 70’s and became an attorney and then abandoned it when we moved to Los Angeles.  After passing the bar exam she worked for a judge for a year and then she didn’t really work.  My father supported her during all that time. 

Still, my father is very old fashioned.  I remember asking him in college we spent the might in a hotel room together   He had come down to visit me and I was in love with this woman and [laughing] I had a huge hickey on my neck and I was wearing a scarf the whole time because I didn’t want to embarrass him and we don’t really talk that way that much. 

He’s kind of a preppy and he’s very mannered.  He has good manners.  My father doesn’t like swearing.  My mother is the exact opposite.  They got married in 1959.  But anyway he said to me, “you have to let them do what they want to do.”  I was at Wesleyan. This was 1985.  There were classes there, this woman came to speak at the school and she would not talk to men.  And I have two older sisters and a strong mother and I thought, I’m not like that!   I don’t objectify people. 

At the same time I was so subversive.  I remember that as a joke - I was on the speakers bureau at Wesleyan and we invited Gloria Leonard, the porn star, and she and Andrea Dworkin or someone like that, they would tour together and they would have a debate about pornography.  And there were five hundred people there and Leonard and Dworkin got into a huge argument and I stood up and said “Girls! Girls! Please calm down!”  I was almost lynched!  

I love Adrienne Rich and I took feminism very seriously.  And it was the most exciting intellectual idea.  It’s probably what Marxism was to people in the sixties.  And what was it?  Was it about difference?  Was it about men and women being the same?  There was this whole theory that men can’t have babies so they become virtuosos.  And they have to be individuals and women are community oriented. 
(click here for part 4)