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Linda Cardellini joins 'Mad Men' with a bang

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Don and Sylvia’s affair is the big surprise of the premiere. How does it feel to return to TV in such a big way?

I didn’t know when I’d work again after having my daughter [13-month-old Lilah-Rose] β€” then this came up. And it’s really exciting because no one knew about it, even my friends and family. When people figured out I was working, I just said it was an independent film, and nobody had further questions. [Laughs] I had to grow my fingernails out to play Sylvia, but in real life everybody wanted to know what had come over me. I just said it was something I was interested in doing, which makes no sense when you have a tiny baby.

Did you have to arrive on set incognito?

Yeah, [Mad Men creator] Matt [Weiner] asked me to wear a hat to set, and there were times where I’d be in a van with the windows covered or someone would take me to set with an umbrella. Matt was really excited about it being a surprise that I’m on the show.

Was it awkward having one of your first scenes be a love scene with Jon Hamm?

It’s a strange part of the job. The great thing about Mad Men is that it can have a very sexual presence, but you don’t really see anything. Maneuvering the sheets wasn’t something I was used to, you know? But Jon was very kind in that situation. I was as comfortable as you can feel with 40 people watching you do something that’s supposed to be intimate.

Don-and-Megan fans will be angry. But you’ve come between power couples before β€” you caused trouble as Lauren on Boy Meets World in 1998.

One of my first big jobs! I was so new to acting, and being able to work seemed like a dream to me, so I didn’t realize what I was stepping into by breaking up Cory and Topanga. I didn’t realize how vehemently people would react to my breaking them up. People are still mad about it! That show is actually coming back [as Girl Meets World] where Cory and Topanga are married and have children, and I think people have fears that Lauren will come back and haunt them.

Was it hard dealing with angry fans?

It was the first time I was really recognized. Afterwards, I remember I went to a carnival in my hometown, and a bunch of young kids ran up to me and called me a home wrecker! I had no idea that little kids would even understand what that meant.

Your time on Mad Men isn’t over β€” do you anticipate run-ins with Megan fans?

Yeah, I think I’ll have some harsh words coming my way. You can’t really concentrate on that or you’ll be afraid of trying anything.

How will you tell your friends about your Mad Men debut?

They’ll get a text maybe an hour beforehand to turn on AMC and watch ”a show” for an undisclosed reason. But they might understand at that point.

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