Ida Blankenship, we hardly knew ye. Dotty secretary, “queen of perversions,” crossword puzzler, and now, permanently enshrined in Mad Men great character hall of fame. We caught up with actress Randee Heller to discuss the tragically short reign of Miss Blankenship.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did the role of Miss Blankenship come to be? What was the evolution of Ida Blankenship?
RANDEE HELLER: It’s a hard question. We never know what’s going to happen [on the show], so every week, she evolved by surprise…It was just me and my persona, my abilities to interpret something — an essence of a character — and the brilliance of the writing [that helped the character] evolve week to week. When I first read [the part], I thought, “I think they’re gonna killer her off.” She served a purpose. She was Joan’s punishment [for Don] — and [the show got] very dark there, so maybe she was there for some levity, too, and that was part of her evolution as well. She wasn’t a rule follower, and that probably helped. Everyone’s going by the rules in that world, but she had no agenda: just get up in the morning, breathe air, go to work. She didn’t want to go on any rise in her career. She’d been there.
So you didn’t know about her being the queen of perversions?
[Laughs] It was a big surprise! I’m glad I didn’t know that she had those kinds of talents. That’s part of her backstory that I didn’t know, but Matt [Weiner] must have known.
What did he tell you about how to play her? Anything?
He kept telling me, “Keep doing what you’re doing!” I had my own free will most of the time, I would say. Every week there’s a different director who just went along with that energy. Matt was very encouraging. I guess I was on the right track because he told me later, “We didn’t realize how funny you were when we cast you.”
Wow, really? I think of her as this season’s go-to joke machine.
They gave her such great lines. Every week there’s another one that I love, and it’s not necessarily what I say, it’s what other characters say about her. On last night’s episode, when [Joan and Roger] got mugged, and John Slattery says, “Miss Blankenship, you’re not missing anything,” I thought that was so funny. And I loved the whole astronaut thing. Oh, and someone on Twitter put her head on an astronaut. I thought that was so funny! I’m just enjoying the heck out of this whole thing.
Did you get any advance notice that Miss Blankenship was going to die, other than your strange inkling?
Not at all. I found out about a week before. And when I found out, I was like, “Oooooh, nooooo!” But I knew I wasn’t going to sleep with Don, so there’s nothing else for her to do except croak! [Laughs] So many Twitter fans kept saying, “One night Don Draper’s going to get really drunk…” [Laughs]
Well, she could have reconnected with Roger, right? He could sort of take a walk down memory lane?
It would have been a long walk! The story is that she took his virginity, so he could have been 14 or 15. I don’t think Ida even remembers that she slept with him. But it was sweet that Bert and everyone looked so sad.
So are you done completely, or might Ida appear in a flashback or something?
Oooh, I hope so! Let’s put that out to the fanbase. That would be so funny, even if she’s a ghost. I wouldn’t mind it — she could come in flying in as an astronaut.