I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.
– from “Diving into the Wreck”, Adrienne Rich
She is the kind of person who has always jumped. She sees something she wants, that she thinks might be interesting, and she jumps.
But these days, January Jones dives. It’s a deep dive, deeper than I think she expected to take, and it sends her to places even she doesn’t always understand. When she asks questions — trying to clarify a scene where Betty sleeps with a stranger in a bar, for example — what she gets is not exactly what you or I would consider help.
“Stop thinking about anything,” Matt Weiner tells her. “It could be that the world is falling apart or maybe she’s just horny. She’s pregnant and she’s falling apart, so she sleeps with a guy. You don’t have to think about it.”
So not-thinking is what January does, and her not-thinking is memorable: The young wife out in a bar, alone and secretly pregnant, tipsy from one drink, dragging her head against a wall as she heads for the ladies’ room. I remember that head-drag better than I remember her fumbling assignation with the young man, moments later. For all her terrible statements and impulsive lashing-out, Betty Draper’s silences impress me most.
January does not really have time to think. As she told Interview Magazine in 2009, the cast receives scripts two days before they shoot. She literally has 48 hours to ingest the things Betty Draper Francis will say and do in each episode.
And when she asks questions, she might get: Don’t think.
“I’ve never been trained as an actress, so it’s all instinct,” January said, in that interview with Jack Nicholson. “I just let myself go into this kind of a free fall. Sometimes I feel scared, or out of my element—like everyone else knows what they’re doing but me. Maybe I function well with fear.”
She must. January Jones does not do many interviews, and I can see why. Type her name into Google, and this is what comes up: January Jones accident. January Jones walk of shame. January Jones boyfriend. Mad Men, Emmy nomination, and Betty Draper do not appear among the top search terms.
I wonder how that feels to her.
But who knows? Honestly, she might be nuts. This is the person who “hurried up and finished high school” so that she could go to New York City to model. Who left, fresh out of school, with two hundred dollars to her name. This is the person who says things like, “I was eighteen. There was no brave.”
How can a web site hurt someone who chooses to swim with sharks?
There are lots of things I want to know about January and her acting. I want to know how she generates the moments that have stuck with me: The woman in the living room, asking her husband if he hates her. The young mother who chooses to hide her tears from her children — not when the President dies, but when she and their father are getting a divorce. The grown woman, in labor, who sees her dead parents in a dream and is suddenly a child. Or where January learned how a new mother feels, well enough to move with post-partum precision. But what I most want to know I’d never ask: Do the things people say hurt you?
I have come to see January as a woman who is, first of all, comfortable taking huge risks. Second, she works hard: in some kind of black-box, unrepeatable way. Third: she does not expect people to be particularly kind to her. They haven’t really been before, and things haven’t materially changed now. Despite the accolades of her castmates and many, many reviewers, despite the critical success of the show, January Jones continues to get … the press she gets.
Still, she dives. Dives and dives and keeps plunging, to places the other actors on the show simply do not get asked to go. Betty Draper Francis is now one of the most polarizing, if not the most hated character on television … still, down January goes.
When I was small, there was an exhibit at Sea World where you could pay money to send divers, dressed in filmy white, into a large tank to dive for oysters. If the oyster your diver retrieved held a pearl, you got to keep it. For me, watching the divers was the fun part. The tank was room-size, and we stood at one side of it, watching the divers plunge in, arms at their sides until they reached the bottom. Then they reached, chose an oyster, turned and headed like arrows to the sunlight.
All the divers were young women. I don’t know why. But I was a child, and from where I stood, it looked like they were flying.
It still does.
Dive, January. Dive.