In season 5 of Mad Men, Gilmore Girls‘s Alexis Bledel played a sad suburban housewife that Pete Campbell couldn’t resist. Last season, Don Draper had an affair with his neighbor’s wife, played by Freaks and Geeks star Linda Cardellini. So it made some sense that last night, during the season premiere of Mad Men, the mysterious beauty who shared a red-eye flight with Don was played by none other than Neve Campbell — also known as the star of Party of Five. If Don Draper doesn’t have a specific type, Matthew Weiner does.
Campbell plays a young widow returning home after depositing her husband’s ashes at their final resting place — Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. (Pebble Beach golf course, his first choice, didn’t work out.) On the flight home, she and Don engage in boldly intimate conversation about their spouses as if they were long-lost friends, and there’s more than a little flirtation back and forth.
She falls asleep on his shoulder, and when the plane begins to descend, she makes him an offer… one that the old Don Draper wouldn’t refuse: a ride home with the promise of romance. Don graciously declines… this time. But it might not be the last time we see Campbell on Mad Men. The actress and her character seem like too much fun for a one-and-done cameo.
Campbell spoke to EW about joining the Mad Men team in its last season, keeping secrets, and that dreamy sequence with Jon Hamm.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In these days, where everything is documented online and on Twitter, it was impressive that the show managed to keep your role under wraps. Was it difficult to keep a secret?
NEVE CAMPBELL: When you’re given a threat by Matt Weiner, [laughs] it’s not that tough to keep a secret. They’re very good at keeping things top secret on the show. When I first got to set and was in the hair-and-makeup trailer, someone said, “Oh, Matt Weiner’s coming down to talk to you,” and the hair-and-makeup people said, “Oh, he’s coming to give you the super-secrecy speech.” I said, “What’s that?” They’re like, “You’ll see.” And he did. He came down and gave me a big speech about the importance of keeping things hush on the show, and keeping things entertaining and fresh for the audience, which I completely respect, and how much they need people to not say a word. And then I had to sign a waiver as well. [Laughs] That’s how it goes.
So you didn’t tell anyone? Not your friends or family?
I think it would be compromising for me to tell you that. [Laughs] Because I had to sign something saying I wouldn’t tell anyone.
Was the process of being cast like any other job you’ve had?
My manager called me and said that Matt was interested in a few people for this role, that I couldn’t see a script, but [asked] did I like the show? I said, “Of course I like the show. I’m a big fan. I’d like to do anything on the show, to be honest.” And he said, “You have to audition. He auditions everybody.” I said, “That’s fine.” I have no ego about that. I got some sides and I went in and auditioned.
What was the audition like?
It was on my own with the casting woman and with Matt. It’s actually a really nice process. I had heard that he was very creative in the room, and that was correct. Often you go into auditions and you don’t get much direction. You say your lines and they say, “Thank you very much,” and you leave. But Matt actually cares a great deal about the characters he’s creating and about casting and every single detail of the project. He was very specific. He knew clearly what he wanted with the character and he knew what he was looking for and he was able to express that in a helpful way.
Was he open about your character’s backstory, or was it strictly on a need-to-know basis?
He was very open about the background of the character. I think you can only help an actor do a good job by coming up with the history of a character and helping to have that conversation with them. He certainly was very expressive about what he felt she was about, and who she was, and what her history was, and why she is the way she is.
Was there a table read or rehearsal?
I wasn’t a part of that if there was. I’m sure they probably did have them. My first time was on set.
That’s exciting… or terrifying.
I was really excited to be a part of it. I got there, and that was a bit scary going on to a set where everybody knows each for so long. It’s a bit like the first day of school. But everyone was really open and welcoming. What I loved about the show is that they all really dig each other, and they’re all really great friends. I was surprised, actually — outside the hair-and-makeup trailer, they’ve built a big porch with couches and food and tables. So everyone really gets along, they’re friendly with each other, they enjoy themselves. They’re all sad that this is the last season, you can see it. It’s a chapter of their lives that’s meant a lot to them and it seems like it’s been a positive one for them, so it was a really nice vibe.
And then you spent how long sitting in an airplane set next to Jon Hamm?
I think we did two days. We shot one scene on one day, and two on another. We spent the afternoon shooting the scenes and getting to know each other and coming up with the energy between the characters. And he’s so talented and he knows his character so well, and is very very clear and so present in the character.
There’s something oddly dream-like about your scenes together. In fact, it reminded me of the train sequence from The Manchurian Candidate between Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh. Did it feel that way at all?
Interesting. No, it definitely felt that way. It is sort of, I don’t want to say, out of place with the rest of the episode, but you’re supposed to feel that there’s possibly the beginning of something. Or that he’s about to step into something that he’s not been a part of in the past and possibly make some changes to his life. So I think it’s good that there is sort of a dreamlike quality to the scene. I think also the styling of the set — you have these big cushy airplanes, which would’ve been so lovely. [Laughs] I think that lends itself to that feeling as well.
It must’ve been fun to step back into 1969, what with the hair and fashion. Was everything handed to you or did you have some input?
I had fun with wardrobe. I was able to express what felt good and what felt right. Matt is so detailed oriented that he chooses the hairstyles and makeup for every character. So when I got to the hair-and-makeup trailer, there was a picture of a woman in an old article from the ’60s and that was the hairstyle that we were doing. That was really interesting because normally you have some room for a voice in this. But at the same time, there’s a reason why the show has done so well, and a big part of that is obviously how specific and detail-oriented he is in what he does.
You know, your character never mentions her name to Don, but in the closing credits, we learn her name is Lee Cabot. Typically, you wouldn’t get that recognition unless there was more of her story to tell…
You’re hilarious. I’ve been instructed that I’m not allowed to talk about any future episodes, whether I’m in them or not. I loved how cautious you were trying to be about it: “If I word it this way, maybe she won’t get it.”
Well, perhaps we’ll chat again after your upcoming episodes…