Matt Weiner Interview, Part 2


And I’ve always been interested in existentialism.  But I mean real existentialism.  The emotional existentialism.  Not the intellectual existentialism.  But like Nausea, the Sartre book.  There’s a moment in Nausea where he sees this tree.  The self-taught man sees this tree and it vibrates in front of him and there’s another life force interacting w/ him and you think oh, this is so pretentious and stuff but then you don’t.

You think, I’m liking my life.  But it’s finite. I’m aware of that.  What reason is there to have any rules at all?  Well, I do not want to destroy myself.  I am going to follow the rules but I cannot pretend that’s not living inside me.

And I saw that in this kind of cruddy movie.  Glenn Ford is not a great in this movie, this movie is very glib, but he is seeking love.  And when I was talking about this generation now, what I was trying to say is - we will do a scene where men are dining w/ women and the actors will come in a loosen their ties and roll up their sleeves and I said no, there’s a woman in your presence, you should pull your tie up. 

Mary:  In other words, courtship was more ritualized then?

Matt:  There is the idea that you need to be something to attract someone.  It’s not just expected that a woman will just give this to you.  And women value it more too.  As coin of the realm it’s a great thing for office politics and all of these sorts of interactions and high tension.  But as an emotional journey to sleep w/ someone and say there are no consequences is RIDICULOUS.  And when I saw that movie, it was being taken very seriously.  This idea of jumping into bed w/somebody.

Mary:  So you wanted to go back to period of time where this WAS taken more seriously then?

Matt: YES!

Mary:  And yet, you have also chosen a moment in time that’s right on the cusp of radical change in those notions.

Matt:  Well, I wonder about that.  From what I can tell, that’s a myth.  There was nudity in the movies in the 1930’s and that’s when the production code came out.  Or the 20’s and the flappers.  Or the Victorian era where a woman’s ankle is so scandalous – there’s plenty of unwanted pregnancies and infidelity.  Human beings are human beings.  What I liked about it [1960] was that we have this idealized version of it.  Because we’d like to believe that things have gone downhill and we’ve disintegrated.  That there was an innocent time. ….

I think for me my JFK assassination was Polly Klass. I just thought – oh my god!! – I had a child already.  I was like: I cannot believe that someone came into her bedroom and did that to her.  And then the man who was caught tried to blame her father.  And I watched that whole thing go down and I just think there is a moment of innocence in this country’s history but it’s very particular to how old you are. 

People have not changed. I can use this [1960’s] environment like a Jane Austen novel so that when a man leans over and touches a woman, it’s meaningful.  We don’t treat it that way, especially not in entertainment.  A lot of it has to do w/ post feminism.  Women are not as protective of their sexuality - because there is no reason not to be.

Mary:  This is an interesting conversation to be having right now in contrast to HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me which is very graphic.

Matt:  I haven’t seen it’s but cold on some level, correct?

Mary:  Yes, very cold.  And rather depressing.

Matt: I  won’t say my show isn’t depressing.  I can’t claim that.  But I don’t think it’s cold.  It’s filled with want.

Mary:  Yes, the characters have so many secrets, so many desires and yearnings.  And they’re trapped and, of course, the first thing I thought of was Organization Man.

Matt:  That was not important to me.  I discovered that after I wrote it.  My references quite honestly – Wade Manchester wrote a social history of this country called the Glory and the Dream.  Which is very much about how people are vs. how they’re being quantified.  He uses all these statistics and everything but he tells you a lot of information that you don’t know.  He tells you for example that there is a woman - I can’t remember her name – who was forced to go to Mexico, she’s a Jewish woman, to get an abortion.  Because it’s illegal in the United States.  And what an outcry there was. 

Gone! Non-existent! That idea does not exist that we are a country that was so repressed that half the country could not believe that in a modern country like the United States you would have to got to a country like Mexico to deal w/ something like this.  She’d been raped, I think.  So this forgotten history, what we choose to remember, or not remember. 

We couldn’t work it into the show.  But before the election in 1960 for a month there was a series of bombings in Grand Central by anarchists.   It had to do w/ Puerto Rico actually.  We tell our history the way we want to tell it.  The way JFK has been taken – and you can see where my political leanings are – but Richard Nixon is this remarkable human being. Who for all of his lack of scruples in the political arena graduated the Navy – someone said this in the show – got out of the Navy in 1946, he’s from nowhere and six years later he’s the vice president of the United States. 

John F. Kennedy is a wealthy, Harvard educated person whose father helped him publish a book, who is handsome, who is very charismatic and has a beautiful wife and who used an ad agency!  And Nixon did not.  Nixon sat at a desk and acted presidential.   And JFK had Harry Belafonte and Frank Sinatra and a catchy song and the election was still decided by a 100 votes.

(click here for part 3)