In the new issue of Rolling Stone, we go behind the scenes with the cast and crew of Mad Men, the winner of three consecutive Outstanding Drama Series Emmys. In this exclusive bonus from our cover story, writer Eric Konigsberg sits down with the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, to discuss the influences behind Mad Men, from Paul Newman to author John Cheever, and Weiner's decade-long struggle to get a project made in Hollywood. Weiner also has some harsh words for legendary ad guru George Lois — who many believe inspired the character of Don Draper — even comparing him to Tony Soprano.
How do you define your role as the creator of Mad Men?
I’m a writer — I direct on paper, but I’m a writer, that’s my job. I’ve worked for other people, and you see the boss in a very limited way in the time that you spend with them, and then when you get the job, you think, “How does anybody do this?” because it’s really got 80 parts, but 50 percent of it is writing.
So you probably do much of your best work in front of a computer or with a pen.
Or verbally, because I dictate, because I’m a talker. I wrote for years at the computer, but I’m a procrastinator. When I started working on the Mad Men pilot, I had a day job. I was exhausted, so I hired somebody to take dictation from me. Since then, I’ve found all these famous people who wrote this way. I just read that Mark Twain dictated his memoirs. So did Joseph Conrad. And Rod Serling and Billy Wilder dictated. Jenji Kohan, who does Weeds, thinks that it’s cheating. The good thing about it is you’re not looking at the computer — the dialogue is spoken, so the language is more natural. Also, at the end of the day, let’s say everything you did was crap — you have 25 pages to rewrite as opposed to five pages.
It must be hard to find an assistant. You put a lot of trust in that person, and spend a lot of time with them.
Yes, and it’s chemistry. In my career, I’ve had five, I think.
Have some of them gone on to big careers?
There’s sort of the tradition that if they work the whole season, I will let them write the finale with me. It’s not a given, and they know that. There are certain things I learned as the process went on. This may make me sound like an old person — I don’t know if it’s generational, but I’ve found that with a lot of people between 25 and 35 there’s sometimes this real sense of entitlement, a real sense of “Why don’t I have your job?”
I’ve heard this from people in other professions too. A lot of these young people kind of overstep their bounds almost immediately and do not understand — it’s a very hierarchical business. I was 30 when I started and was told by my boss, “No one cares what you think, you’re here to learn and to write drafts.” On some level, I became a better writer because I struggled. When I pitched the show to the network and they thought it was good, that was a great moment, but it was all from a screenplay I’d started right after film school and had been working on for10 years. I still cannibalize that thing. That’s the Don Draper bible, and it’s horribly written.
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