When Christina Hendricks walks into the restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in a crisp white top, red cropped trousers and black flats, laden with shopping bags full of homewares for the new place she and her husband have just moved into nearby, she looks so much like a young starlet from the 1950s that it’s hard not to wonder if she arrived in a DeLorean. (In fact, at the end of the interview she is picked up in a decidedly unsci-fi olive green Chevrolet by her husband, the actor Geoffrey Arend, whose gangly profile and mess of curly hair are just visible in the front seat.)
Even without the 1960s pencil skirts and beehive do that her character, Joan Holloway, currently models in Mad Men, Hendricks, 36, looks like something from a different age who has somehow landed in the modern day. This is not, I should add, a veiled reference to her frankly over-discussed figure. Since Mad Men began in 2007, some critics have been so busy noting how we live in an era so different from the sexist workplace of Sterling Cooper — in which women’s bodies are lustily discussed in front of them — that they have apparently not noticed they often do the same thing with actors, especially Hendricks. It’s hard to think of another female star whose body has come under so much scrutiny of late. While most of the attention has been positive, there is a thin line between celebrating someone’s appearance and reducing that person to nothing more than her physique. And this would be unfair to Hendricks because her performance as Joan is very subtle, lifting the character beyond camp and vamp.
And anyway, Hendricks’ retro quality is not simply due to her womanly shape. It’s also down to her ramrod deportment — probably a hangover from her teenage years spent doing ballet — and her voice, which is more Marilyn Monroe-ishly girlish than it is as Joan, rising to high-pitched babyish when she talks about Arend (“I am kinda crazy about him,” she concedes, when she catches herself smiling when his name flashes up on her phone). Her walk is pure Joan sashay.
“Yeah, my husband says, ‘What Joan walk? You’ve always walked that way!’” she laughs.
Her old-school look makes her a canny bit of casting in her new film, Drive (which opened in Taiwan on Friday last week), about a stuntman, played by Ryan Gosling, who works occasionally as a getaway driver, a part-time job that plows him into a heap of trouble. Part of that heap is Hendricks who, even though the film is set in the present day, plays a double-crossing femme fatale named Blanche.
She says she took the job because she wanted to work with the director, Nicolas Refn Winding, who directed Bronson and Pusher, and he has since returned the compliment by saying he would love to cast her as the eponymous heroine in his possible next film, Wonder Woman. Would she do it?
“Absolutely!” she says, her big blue eyes widening in astonishment that the question even has to be asked.
Aside from the aesthetics, there is a level-headedness to Hendricks and a lack of interest in celebrity that seem anachronistic in Hollywood today. Even when she was working as a model in her early 20s, she maintained a cool self-possession reminiscent of Joan’s approach to her secretarial colleagues. She started modeling after school when she won a contest in a magazine: “But I didn’t do it because I wanted to be a model — I did it because I wanted to get out of Virginia,” she says emphatically.