Anxiety awaits in sixth season of ‘Mad Men’

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When he was up for the role, Hamm said, “Matt, and really no one else, fought for me. … For whatever reason, Matt’s trust in me worked out. And that’s why I have trust in him.”

He credits Weiner’s probing, self-analytic nature with producing the richly complex world of “Mad Men” and its parade of human and cultural foibles.

“Matt is a wickedly smart, very curious and deeply flawed person, and he likes exploring those flaws and pulling them apart and examining them,” Hamm said. “All writers are wonderful observers, (and) Matt sees everything at a micro level and macro level.”

Like a master magician, Weiner clearly relishes toying with his audience and his characters. When he talks about Draper and others repeating old mistakes, he chortles.

When he recommends facing down one’s lifetime of errors — “Every person who goes through that process with me gets a horrible feeling in the pit of their stomach” — he cackles.

The thought of those who complain about how he’s switched up the “Mad Men” world elicits a Weiner giggle.

Reflect back on the show’s pilot, and you’ll see his most beguiling trickery at work. We are introduced to Don, looking the picture of the carefree bachelor, as he makes a late-night visit to lover Midge and casually suggests marriage. Poor guy; she just brushes it aside.

It’s not until the episode’s last moments that we learn the truth. As the exotic jazz strains of “Caravan” play in the background, Don returns home to his wife and sleeping children, and the family is framed in a mockery of a Norman Rockwell moment.

While “Mad Men” has flipped through the mind-bending ‘60s, Don has remained steadfastly true to the music, liquor and tie-and-shirt dress code of his generation while his colleagues let it all hang out with Beatles albums, pot and turtlenecks.

But don’t mistake Draper for a lead-footed dinosaur on the verge of extinction, Weiner said.

“The world has finally caught up with Don. The world is in a state of identity crisis and he is the ultimate survivor,” he said. “He’s comfortable because he’s used to disaster.”

Hamm, close to wrapping up work on this season’s 13 episodes, has found himself tested over the years by his character’s dark side.

“There’s no vicarious thrill for me as an actor to doing any of this sort of bad behavior. I don’t get off on it. … There’s a psychic toll it takes,” he said. “I’m not comparing myself to a bricklayer or construction worker or miner. But it does take a psychic toll.”

Those in the “Mad Men” audience cheering for Don to fall off the marriage wagon, or looking to him for guidance, give Hamm pause.

“The central conundrum is why people think this is a good person to model their lives after,” he said, citing one area of exception: “Don, I feel, strives for excellence and doesn’t settle for mediocrity, and demands that of people who work for him.”

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