Cara Buono plays Mad Men‘s smooth and calculated Dr. Faye Miller, a market research consultant who delivers some harsh truths to an increasingly downward-spiraling Don Draper. Buono called EW to discuss Faye’s two episodes so far. (She’s under strict instructions not to reveal anything about upcoming plots.) Check in with the newest cold-hearted blonde (Betty who?) after the jump.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like blending in to an established cast? Had you watched Mad Men before?
CARA BUONO: I’m a huge fan of the show and had not missed an episode prior to this season. My first episode, I had to give a speech in front of the entire cast in the conference room. It was about six in the morning and I looked out at everybody and I thought I’ve watched the show for so long and I had a moment of fear. It was very surreal that they were all listening to me. I had to get over that and be part of the cast. It could not be more of a dream set. The acting is amazing, the writing is amazing. It’s the best you could ever hope for as an actor. You just really surrender to the genius of Matt Weiner while you’re there.
How did you mentally prepare to play a woman in the 1960s?
Dr. Miller is a psychologist and she’s a pioneer. As you know, it was hard enough to get a degree and be a professional at that time. You had to have a tremendous amount of tenacity and a competitive spirit. You start to see some of that between Faye and Don in some of the early episodes and I think that can be interpreted as them having a sort of sexual dynamic or sexual chemistry in the workplace. In terms of preparing for the role, all I got at the beginning was that my character is a psychologist and she’s freelancing with this consumer research group. When I was in college, I took abnormal psychology and read Freud and things like that so I have some background. I was also interested in Dr. Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning, and there’s a wonderful documentary called The Century of the Self. It’s really, really, really fascinating. All of that was important, but Matt really provides a lot in the script.
Did the wardrobe help a lot?
In terms of the period…you know, it’s interesting because I know the ’50s didn’t really end until the mid-60s — and the miniskirt wasn’t introduced until, what, the late ’60s? I really think it’s so interesting that the roles between men and women really start to change as the hemlines begin to rise. In terms of the clothes on the set, everything is period, down to the undergarments and the shape of our fingernails. That just really helps you be in the period. It’s so wonderful to put on those clothes and be transformed.
I thought it was interesting that in last night’s episode, Dr. Miller deliberately changed from a beige and black suit to bright blue and it seemed to give her the license to change her whole persona. Did you feel like you were playing a character on top of a character?
Yes, exactly. I think Faye’s probably had to play a lot of characters in her life in order to get where she is. She changes her clothes and takes off her wedding ring so she appears single to the girls and is much more relatable. She’s very good at her job — she’s running a focus group, not group therapy. She’s trying to get information from these girls and knows how to change herself to get what she needs to get out of her job.
Your character’s name, “Faye Miller,” was also the pseduonym Marilyn Monroe used when she checked into a mental facility. What’s the significance there?
Well, all that information is revealed bit by bit…we’ll find out if that has any meaning. I wondered how this [interview] would be because we can only talk about the two episodes I’ve been in that already aired. But, yeah…Matt Weiner is such an amazing storyteller and I think everything is deliberate, or not. You find out what everything means — if not in this season, then in another season. Sometimes you’ll have to go back to season 1 or season 2 and think oh I remember that, that’s what this person meant…There’s much more to be revealed, I think.
Your character actually reminds me of Rachel Menken from season 1. She’s someone who clashed with Don professionally but ultimately intrigued him…but then rebuffed him! Is Dr. Faye Miller being set up like that?
Faye Miller is self-made, so I think that represents strength like Rachel Menken had. But Faye is not someone who inherited a business. She’s had to go to school and get a title. I think there’s something very similar about Faye and Don so far, and it will be really interesting to see how that plays out.
Definitely! Was the character presented to you as someone who would not only stand up to Don but see through him because they’re so alike?
Well, we talked a lot about the role at the beginning, but then…not much, when it came time to shoot. It’s almost like a Woody Allen movie in that you get the scene on the set and you don’t know what’s going on, don’t have a lot of time to think about it. It’s an interesting way to work on something. In the first episode Faye’s in, when she walks out of Don’s office she says “You’ll be married again within a year” and then apologizes for calling him out on his type. I think she can just size people up. She has a keen sense, because of what she does, of how people are and how they behave, which is similar to Don.
Based on the way Don’s season is going — he’s on such a downward spiral — it seems like Dr. Faye can deconstruct Don and then potentially be the person who helps him build himself up again.
Again, I can’t really say…. It’s interesting from a psychological standpoint — obviously we have to get to our most bottom point to really bounce back and see results. Sometimes, like if you get out of a bad relationship, you feel like Dresden after World War II, completely flattened. You rebuild on that foundation but you’re hopefully better but in a different way. That seems to me like a really fascinating exploration, to see what is bottom — you know, what is bottom for anybody, or what is bottom for Don. How do you get back out? I love watching those kinds of stories.
I almost think it would be cool if Don pursued Faye — even if nothing happens romantically or sexually it seems like a cool dynamic between the two characters.
I hope so. I think so far, what we’ve seen is that they seem equal and she’s really able to confidently stand her ground. I thought something interesting in the last episode was when he calls her in after the focus group. He said something like “You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved. I think that’s such an interesting thing — can people change? You know, going back to ‘Who is Don Draper?’ Can Don Draper change? Do people really change deep at the core, or are they still hiding and pretending to change? I think that ties into the whole marriage issue, too, that whole point about the past not dictating the future. Faye never said anything to those women in the focus group like ‘Do you see yourself getting married?’ She just talked about beauty rituals and routines. But everyone talks about wanting to get married. And that whole notion hasn’t really changed since 1925. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry — weddings, relationships, self-help books…
Yeah — the obsession with marriage is really dominating this season and there is sort of a ‘same as it ever was’ quality to it. That definitely isn’t specific to the ’60s.
I got married last July, when I was 35, and I’m sure it’s the same with your friends — it’s like even though we went to college and pursued those sorts of things, it’s still like, you know — He’s 35 and he’s not married? What’s wrong with him? It’s sort of a conversation that’s not going to change, and she recognizes that as being you know, hey, this is the truth. Why get angry about it? This is just the way it is. We’re not out here trying to change society; we’re trying to sell cold cream. I’m sort of fascinated with that, and how Don feels about marriage too — about his marriage devolving.
I didn’t even notice Betty wasn’t in last night’s episode until they showed previews for next week. I realized that I don’t even want Don to deal with that marriage again. It’s like, well, Dr. Faye is blonde and elegant and stronger and smarter than Betty so…yeah, let’s take her instead!
That’s really interesting. I guess we’ll see if there’s any meaning to the hair color and to the name…
Is Jon Hamm dreamier in real life or on-camera?
He is a wonderful actor to work with. [Laughs] I wish I could think of something witty and funny to sort of disparage his TV reputation but…no. Great actor, total gentleman and he really sets an amazing tone on the set — ego-less and professional and fun.
What does Jon Hamm smell like? This could be a huge scoop for us.
I guess the scent of the herbal cigarettes sort of masks the scent of Jon Hamm!
You played Christopher’s wife Kelly on The Sopranos. Do you miss the Jersey-fied wardrobe?
I love costumes, and I loved doing a role like that, where hair and makeup and accent are so important to the character. That role and my Mad Men role could not be more different. I do love the clothes on Mad Men because my character has been so elegant and I would never have had access to these clothes. I think Janie Bryant is a costume designing genius. They’ll call and tell me, ‘It will only take an hour,” and I’m like, “I will try on the whole truck!”
Like I said before, Faye Miller’s wardrobe stands out a lot to me. Until last night, I don’t think we’d ever seen a black suit on a woman in the show.
That’s a really good observation. Her clothes are different from the other characters’ in a very specific way. She’s so strong and her clothes really reflect that.
The darkness kind of suggests she might be dangerous or deadly….
IS FAYE GOING TO KILL DON DRAPER?
I don’t know!
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