Maria and André Jacquemetton are screenwriters and executive producers on Mad Men, the cult series created by Matthew Weiner and set in a Madison Avenue ad agency during the 1960s.
Long-time friends and collaborators of Weiner’s, the couple were dividing their time between Los Angeles and Vancouver, where Maria taught at the Vancouver Film School, when Mad Men was green-lit and Weiner called them to work on his new show.
Five seasons later, the show has become a cultural phenomenon with social media abuzz about the new season and Don Draper’s hurried marriage to a much younger woman, receptionist Megan Calvet.
What’s going to happen next? Is Don’s marriage to Megan going to survive?
Maria Jacquemetton: We can’t tell you that. We know the end of season five, but we don’t know the end of the series.
André Jacquemetton: Matt has an idea of what he wants to happen to Don Draper, but getting there, I am not so sure he knows. And he’s curious to hear what we have to say, and that’s why he has 10 people in the [writing]room. Ten different voices.
What is Weiner looking for from those writers?
AJ: He’s looking for a certain surprise. Hopefully the writer can bring something he can’t bring, a certain truth.
MJ: A piece of their life experience
How could there be a surprise if the plot is all agreed upon in the story room beforehand?
MJ: You get an outline, but you don’t get every beat of the scene. The first boy Betty ever kissed was a Jewish boy. He particularly liked that. That was something we brought …well, from my life.
AJ: He likes it when we write the family scenes. It’s something we spark to.
MJ: The Betty/Don dynamic. The married couple dynamic. I guess we do good fights.
Why is this show such a success?
AJ: It’s counter-programming. People have been conditioned to watch television in a certain way and we go out of our way to tell stories in a unique manner. It’s unique, not just because its the sixties, but the way it’s structured, the way we talk about the period.
This season, for example, you don’t actually show the Rolling Stones, just backstage with the groupies waiting for them.
MJ: Or, when was Betty Draper going to cheat on Don? Instead of creating some torrid affair, the Mad Men story is on the day they think the world is ending because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. She goes into a bar and lets some man pick her up so she can allow herself psychologically to take her philandering husband back and be on a level playing field. That’s the Mad Men version of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There’s also nostalgia. We all sort of yearn for better times. I think there also is a measure of decorum that has been lost in society and on some level we are craving that to return.
Which is why everyone is so obsessed with fashion on the show. Somehow if I went to work in a girdle, I would do everything more graciously.
AJ: Try it! I hear all those actors complaining about the girdles.
You’re still landed immigrants in Canada. Do you think you’ll ever come back?
MJ: We had a very nice life here, but the work is in L.A.
AJ: We still have a show we are trying to work on here.
MJ: It’s called Versailles – our partners are Canal + in France and Incendo, a Montreal-based company. We have got a pilot written.
AJ: It’s about Louis XIV.
An international co-production about Versailles, Megan in Mad Men … André, is this a bit of a francophone conspiracy?
AJ: We hired Jessica Paré. She’s from Montreal, she’s Canadian. We loved that about her. We said why don’t we use her nationality. When you talk about the sixties and you think about what was going on, French literature, French film were such an influence during that time. It just feels very organic to the show to go there.
Megan isn’t a French name though.
MJ: We did not know [the character would be French] We built the character after the role became more important. Season 4, Matt had this idea that he wanted Don Draper to get into a relationship with Dr. Faye Miller, who was going to be good for him emotionally. But at the last minute – when it became clear that being with her was going to be a lifetime of the work that he needed to do to heal himself – this beautiful young thing was going to catch his eye. We wrote to that. We cast Jessica and really her character did not come into form until the last episode of Season 4.
AJ: And Calvet is a good French name, a good Canadian name.
You were just in Toronto doing a master class at the Canadian Film Centre. What do you tell students?
AJ: We play good cop, bad cop.
MJ: You’re bad. I am more nurturing.
AJ: I try to be good. I warn them it’s a difficult business, and I warn them about the soul-killing aspect of the business, but I cap it off by saying it’s a business that I love.
This interview has been condensed and edited.