I spoke with the lovely Alexa Alemanni, who plays Allison, Thursday night (August 5). She was sweet and forthcoming and just really nice. Also, she started right away, without any prompting from me (I swear!) by praising Basket of Kisses. That always feels good.
Alexa is a thoughtful actress who has really considered who Allison is; her insights are worthwhile. I’ll start with some excerpts and link you to the whole five thousand word extravaganza!
About her increasing visibility on Mad Men:
Alexa: I always joked with Matt that my career seems to follow Allison’s career. And you know, there’s a lot of similarities between the two. I was just always so happy to be there and to be working on that set and to be working with those amazing actors and the incredible scripts, and working with Matt. And I think to a certain extent, Allison was the same way. She’s just really happy to have that job, and feels really happy to be there. Yeah, we kind of grew up together on the show.
…it’s funny, every time I go to Italy, Mad Men calls me back. It’s happened like three times now. I go and visit with my family, and I get a phone call that they want me back on Mad Men, and I change my flight and I come rushing back. So even Season 3, I remember I was at the table read, it was like Episode 2 of Season 3, and I was flipping through the script; I hadn’t gotten it the night before, and it says “Allison is sitting outside of Don’s office.” Like, ‘Oh my God! Really?’ And then I was kind of freaked out, because it’s not like they tend to last very long. So I was a little concerned, but I kept coming back, week after week, so it was really pretty amazing.
On Allison moving to SCDP:
Alexa: With this season, you see him very lonely and missing his kids. I think she kind of steps in this season as his work wife, essentially. She cares about him and she looks out for him and he relies on her for that. Conversely, he’s always respected people who work hard. I think that made it a pretty unique relationship.
Deborah: Even at the point, at the beginning of Christmas Comes But Once a Year, when he is telling her she’s going to get a bonus, as horrible as that was later, that impulse in the beginning was really good and very professional.
Alexa: I think that first scene, with the letter from Sally, it’s really important, just in the arc of what happens in the episode, just the fact that he lets her read the letter from his daughter to him out loud. All these details, I think that’s the brilliance of Matt’s writing in setting that up, you get that without anything explicitly being said, how much their relationship has changed, how much she’s stepped in to fill this role. You get that just from sharing the letter together.
On sleeping with Don:
Alexa: [Matt Weiner’s] writing is so restrained. But..I mean it’s Don Draper, so it’s hard to imagine that she didn’t have a little crush on him when she first started working there, a long time ago. And then that physical contact, just grabbing the hand, kind of brings back all those feelings in this big rush. So that kind of leads to where it goes from there.
Deborah: He’s a hard person to say no to. And he’s also her boss.
Alexa: She definitely at a certain point makes the decision to kiss him back. But I think it’s very understandable how it really just kind of happens for both of them.
…It’s interesting, because it’s funny how so many people are debating that scene the next morning, especially how strongly women have responded to it, [about] what her expectations were. I think that she knows the place that he’s in emotionally. She knows he’s her boss. So she’s not expecting to be swept off her feet or anything, but I think it’s pretty natural that there’s this kind of excitement when you see that person the next day. Like, “What is he going to say? Is he going to look at me?” and “What’s he going to do?” What she wasn’t expecting was for the whole thing to be ignored. It’s one thing for him to say to her “This shouldn’t have happened,” and it’s a something totally different to say it never did. I think that with the Christmas card, she walks out of that office still trying to digest what happened, and the card is really just a reinforcement of what he implied, which is that it never happened. She gets that and she puts the card away and she goes back to work. And so that’s where it ended for me.
On the stresses of filming a sex scene:
Alexa: Well, I’m married. My first thought was, should I say anything to my husband? I decided not to, and I’m really, really glad that I didn’t, because it helped me stay focused on my work. I mean, he would have been lovely, had I told him, but it helped me focus and do what I needed to do. I told him afterwards, and at that point, there wasn’t anything he could do about it. So his answer was like, “Oh. Okay.” But you know, they’re always going to be strange and awkward, those scenes. It’s a very intimate experience and you’re sharing it with some twenty-odd people. But I was really lucky because I’ve known Jon since Season 1, and I worked with him a lot in Season 3, and he was so great that day. Just funny, and relaxed, and we had a lot of fun, and he cracked me up a lot of times. On top of that, it helps that when you look up between takes, that you’re not looking at a stranger holding a boom over your head, but it’s crew that you’ve known for a couple of years. I can’t imagine going in there and not knowing anybody and having to do it for the first time. For me it was a really wonderful experience.
On Allison’s relationship with Ken:
Alexa: Aaron [Staton] and I always wondered about that. It was kind of like this long running joke on the set for a while, because it was always implied at different points over the years. Like any time there was a party scene, they’d stick us next to each other. But then it was never really explored. I think it was maybe more fun to have people wonder about it.
On filming the Belle Jolie lipstick scene:
Alexa: Oh, it was unbelievably complicated. The trickiest thing about it is that it’s really two separate scenes. It’s the scene going on on the other side of the mirror, and the scene on the focus group side of the mirror. But the problem is, when you’re on the other side of the mirror, you can see everything through it. So, as an actor, there’s so much going on, and there’s so many people, that you have to be really careful about remembering–even if it’s not your part of the scene—that if you were putting your lipstick on at that point in the scene, or if you were doing something with your hair, that you have to do the exact same thing when they’re on the other side, when nobody’s paying attention to you, because they can see it through the glass.
About Basket of Kisses:
Alexa: You really approach everything in a very intellectual way. I mean, there’s so much analysis that goes into the work that you do, and Mad Men deserves that, so it’s pretty cool to see.
…And as promised, here’s the full transcript.