Question about January Jones acting performance in Mad Men

She’s gorgeous, but her acting kind of confuses me. She is absolutely dead on her character, and inhabits that role like no one else I could imagine, but her range as the character Betty Draper is so constricted, as Betty is an emotionally compressed and relatively affectless personality I wonder if is it an amazing acting job, or does it not really just not require much acting (but a lot of scowling) so maybe it’s not such a tour de force and any competent actress could handle the role.

It is less is more in this case or not?

I really don’t think you can look at a role and determine whether it requires ‘less’ or ‘more’ acting, unless it’s one of those cases where an actor plays such a similar role so much it’s hard to believe they aren’t that way in real life.

In this case, I think most if not all of the actors on Mad Men owe so much to an amazing script, careful direction, art direction, wardrobe and their fellow actors, it’s almost impossible to determine who has the real chops. Jones seems perfect in her role, at least perfect enough to make many viewers feel torn between hating her character for being a brat and realizing exactly why she’s that way.

I suspect that Jones doesn’t have much range as an actress, although it’s hard to say for sure because I haven’t seen anything else she’s done. I think it’s probably not too difficult a role to play, but looks-wise she is absolutely perfect for Betty. She reminds me of Grace Kelly. If Hitchcock were alive, he would adore her.

Usually she seems okay, but sometimes she, in particular, seems very wooden and obviously acting.

Now–is this her character? The wooden acting bit often seems to occur in those scenes where she’s been recruited for her Charming Wife Act, although I thought she seemed fairly wooden in the whole episode where they went to Italy. (Could have been the hairdo!)

She’s a lot better when she doesn’t talk (i.e., shooting pigeons).

That’s it exactly. Is he doing brilliant wooden, because her character is kind of wooden, or is she just a limited range actress and that happens to work just right with this character?

One thing I use to judge an actor’s skill is how different they are in other performances. E.g., Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise no matter what. Hugh Laurie is a completely different person from “House” in everything else he’s done.

All I’ve seen Ms. Jones in recently other than MM is something called “Swedish Auto.” Even though I knew she was in it (which is why I recorded it) I still had a hard time believing that was actually her.

I consider that a good sign.

Well, the only other role I’ve seen her in (The three burials of Melquiades Estrada) was very similar (a distant, unhappy young housewife) so I can’t say I’ve seen much of her range.

In any case, with actors like an excellent John Hamm, who makes art of containment or Christina Hendricks, who will ace any tour the force the writers present her with and then some, it’s hard not to be outclassed. But yeah, her classic Grace Kelly looks probably were a bigger reason to cast her than her acting chops.

I think she is doing a fairly brilliant job as Betty. She does so much more with the script than what is written on the page and I think it’s unfair to say that what she is doing is simply wooden. She is subtle and restrained, but that isn’t the same as wooden, and you don’t have to see other performances to convince yourself of this either. The work she does on the show speaks for itself because there is real depth there. Think about how much we know about who Betty is without having ever been explicitly told. That’s all January Jones and it’s not an easy thing to pull off.

Take the recent trip to Italy. She eases into coming out of her shell on that trip. The shell never really goes away, but it softens and she starts to become a little more human for a minute, and then they get back home and you can almost watch the walls go back up while she is talking to Francine. It’s brilliant. She doesn’t go for the easy trick of transforming into a totally different person while on vacation, but she is very clearly not the same Betty we see on a regular basis. She keeps it grounded in who the character is, but shows us another side of that reality.

Here is what I had to say on the subject before talking about the acting in general on the show and comparing her to her character analogue, Pete Campbell:

Staring daggers at Don at the end of the last episode was great acting. Sure she didn’t say anything, but the venom popped right off the TV screen.

Does that mean she is a great actress, not necessarily, but I think she deserves credit because of her ability to portray certain emotion, without even speaking often, within the confines of her “proper” life.

I think of her like I think of Andie MacDowell in Sex, Lies and Videotape - the role works to her strengths…

Not really seeing this “one note” stuff at all in Kartheiser’s performance. His portrayal of Pete is perfectly crafted across a range of emotional situations. With the dialog and scenarios he is given he has woven a character of considerable complexity. Granted he is the opposite of Betty in that his emotions are usually all on his sleeve, but that the way he’s written.

If you’re a big fan of deciphering restrained performances I can see why he’s not your cup of tea, but it doesn’t mean he’s not doing a brilliant job with the role.

That looks worse that I intended it to taken out of the context it was originally in. I have nothing against him, but I would say that, for my money, he is the weakest link in the cast, which is not to say that he is weak, but just less strong than the other major players, if that makes sense. I don’t know that there is a weak member in the group.

I disagree that the writing of Pete Campbell makes him that on the surface though. To me it would seem that Pete is written as a younger version of Betty, and that they are (I believe intentionally) the same fundamental character but fliped from female to male and with a different set of adult experiences. Betty is a bit older and has done more in her life, but they share similar backgrounds and upbringings and the real difference between them is that one is a man and the other a woman. That’s what the writing gives us at the start of the series.*
The actors take the same basic ideas to totally different places though, and I think that January Jones handles things more deftly than Kartheiser. He is much more of the switch on switch off type, which is not a knock against him but is simply easier to accomplish then what I am seeing Jones do.

Some of that choice could be written off to what makes the most sense for the age and sex of the characters as well as the ability of the actors. So don’t think that I am saying that the choices are totally weak. A brash young man in New York it is much more believable that someone like Pete would have total reversals and mini explosions then it would be for a suburban mom to have the same. The guard is more important for someone like Betty, and it is more firmly established. So while I think that Pete could be played with more subtlety, I think that the way he is played *does *work, and just because something is easier doesn’t mean it isn’t the stronger choice. Still, I think what Jones does is both the stronger choice for her character and the more difficult trick to pull off for an actor.

Also, while the writing is *very *good, I think you do the acting a disservice to say that it’s all there in the script. The actors are bringing an awful lot to this party.

*they have diverged more as the series has progressed but I still believe that Pete= young male Betty, Peggy=young female Don is more or less the intention

You know, I got so wrapped up in what I was talking about in my last post I actually ignored the meat of your response and accused you of saying something you didn’t actually say (that it’s all the writing. Sorry about that). I wander sometimes, again sorry.

I have now totally missed the edit window so if you could mentally add this in to my last post, sometime toward the end of the second to last paragraph.

That said, Kartheiser plays Pete like he is nothing more than a wide eyed kid, until the script tells him not to. Take the incident with the German Nanny for an example. He essentially rapes her, but it really does come out of no where. Yes, we have seen Pete do stuff like that before, but I don’t see anything in the performance that encompasses that sort of acting out. We don’t see that element of his character at all until it’s necessary. It’s there because the script says it is, but until Pete does something horrible like that I don’t see him as being capable of doing horrible things. It’s all one way or all the other and everything is wrapped in the wide eyed “a thing like that” childishness. That’s the one note I am talking about, and it’s a damn good note. But it’s very black and white. So, yes, while that works very very well for the character I think there are stronger choices and that you can look to what January Jones does with Betty to see some of them. Not everything she does with Betty is applicable to Pete, but a lot of it is. I totally see the person who went out with a shotgun to kill her neighbors pet birds every time she is on screen. I don’t see the person who is capable of drunkenly raping the nanny down the hall every time I see Pete Campbell.

I also think Jones’s Betty is brilliant; think of the scenes on the psychoanalyst couch. It’s not easy to play that kind of uptight character (though admittedly Mary Tyler’s Moore’s performance years ago in Ordinary People probably broke the mold…

I think we won’t know if she is a good actor or just well cast until she does something after Mad Men.

Any particular reason her prior performances don’t count? (In addition to what’s been mentioned before, she was also in a little thing called “Love Actually”.) There might even be a problem with future performances due to type-casting. (The “Gilligan Effect”.)

I vote for brilliant and amazing. Betty doesn’t show much emotion. Look at the way she told her grieving child to go watch tv, or how she calmly beat the crap out of that dining room chair last season. We know she has a thing for Henry Francis, but she doesn’t show the usual outward signs of infatuation. Betty keeps the emotions on lockdown. What woman would not come completely unglued after discovering that her husband stole someone elses identity? I think JJ is perfect in this role - beautiful, frail and delicate to the eye, but cold and heartless on the inside.

On top of that, you actually can judge the quality of an actor without seeing them in something else. I tried to outline how in my posts above. *Just *the Italy episode is enough for me to say she is one of the most gifted actors on television today. What she did in that episode is not easy to pull off and not something that someone who is simply “well cast” would be able to accomplish.

I can’t provide a site, but in an interview in Entertainment Weekly January Jones said that the reason she broke up with Ashton Kutcher (long before Demi obviously) was he sat her down and told her he really thought she should reconsider being an actress. While Kutcher isn’t exactly Lee Strasberg in talent gauging, I wondered if it was because of the limited range.

Whatever the case, she’s good for the character. Tony Curtis and Melanie Griffith are two examples of awful actors who had roles in which they were great.

ETA: Correction: while I couldn’t find the EW article her “Ashton told me I suck” comments are all over the web. Here’s one.

And Ashton thinks Demi Moore is a great actress??