Toward the end of my brief chat with Christina Hendricks, on Tuesday, came a moment of such irony, it felt like a contrivance in an undergrad short story about #MeToo. When I attempted to ask Hendricks about this cultural moment in which speaking out—something she’s been doing for years now—has become part of mainstream discourse, the publicist on the line denied her the chance to do so, twice.
Our conversation was part of a junket of phone interviews during her promo run for The Strangers: Prey at Night, the sequel to 2008's beloved home-invasion flick, The Strangers. These kinds of interviews are something of a nightmare to conduct, primarily because if you have any sense of empathy, you understand they’re also a nightmare for a subject to sit through. Time is limited, as one outlet after another shuffles on the line (in all likelihood, asking many of the same questions). It’s a conversational lightning round, which can’t be comfortable. All junket interviews are besotted with this problem to an extent, but phone interviews are worse because of the lack of human connection, the inability to lock eyes with the person on the other end.
Rarely is there room for rapport in these transactional discussions, in which the interviewer and interviewee’s agendas don’t quite align—the latter wants to promote a product generally without getting in its way, whereas the former wants to use said product as a springboard for something deeper, flashier, and/or more substantive, so people will read it and not just dismiss it as unpaid advertorial. It is, in fact, the journalist’s job to ensure it isn’t that.
A digital marketing company named Submersive Media reached out to Jezebel to see if we’d have interest in speaking with Hendricks. Seemed like a no-brainer—via interviews and her iconic role as Joan on Mad Men, Hendricks has been speaking out about harassment in and its implications for years now. She was ahead of the discursive curve. Also, I like the original Strangers.
After the interview was set up, the company informed us we’d have 10 minutes with Hendricks—very little time to discuss anything substantial. Would the interview even be worth my time? I consulted with my editor Clover Hope, and we decided it was worth a shot.
The publicist who called to connect me with Hendricks was a rep from 42 West, a public relations company that, among other things, shops small-to-midsize movies to digital outlets (they handled press for last year’s The Florida Project, for example); she was not an employee of Submersive. There can be many layers to these promo strategies—Submersive did the legwork, 42 West connected the call, and Hendricks’s own personal publicist at some point signed off on Jezebel’s access. (In the past, it’s happened that a publicity company will approach me asking if I want to talk to so-and-so and then after I say yes, they come back to me saying the request has been denied. This is like inviting me over for pizza and then not answering the door when I show up.)
For the first eight minutes or so of our scheduled conversation, I talked to Hendricks about The Strangers: Prey at Night, which I think is an okay flick. While it looks good, has above-average acting, and a script that approximates how warm bodies actually interact with each other (until they drop dead), I think this is an average sequel at best—given the reputation of the first one, it needs a stronger story and better scares to justify picking up this franchise 10 years later. (It falls just short of Halloween II levels of competent watchability.)
Hendricks was friendly, almost cooing, as she told me that the reason she decided to do this movie was because she’s such a fan of the original. She said she wasn’t intimidated to follow up something so beloved, that she feels this will “stand strongly next to the old one.” If she has any strong feelings about the horror genre’s reputation for being misogynistic, she didn’t express them when asked: “You have to take some of those things with a grain of salt. They’re just ridiculous and over the top,” she said, adding that, as with any genre, some horror movies are “just great films” and, “There’s a lot of Spanish ones that are coming out that are sort of just beautiful films in general.”
I asked her if she’d ever been to a trailer park, as Prey at Night is largely set at one, and she said she’s visited a bunch without elaboration. I wondered if dying on screen as she did in Drive and may or may not in this Strangers movie (keeping this as spoiler-free as possible) changed her relationship with her own mortality. It hasn’t. “I think it’s the relationship with fear to a certain extent because you’re watching it coming at you. You think, ‘What would I do in this situation if I saw that coming toward me?’ It’s more what you’d do to survive in some ways.”
I got the feeling that Hendricks was just doing her job, answering questions from some stranger she’d soon resume never speaking to, just as she had been doing her whole life before a few minutes ago. She was polite and answered my questions to the best of her ability without revealing very much. There was sometimes a delay of up to five seconds between me asking and her answering the question, which felt like a cable-news satellite thing, even though we were on the phone.
In the remaining few minutes, I asked her a question about real life:
JEZEBEL: Going back through old interviews of yours, I noticed that as early as 2014, if not earlier, you were talking publicly about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. Do you feel at all vindicated that that’s become such a topic of discussion with #MeToo and Time’s Up, etc.?
HENDRICKS: Oh gosh, I don’t feel vindicated, don’t need to feel vindicated. It’s been going on forever. I think everyone’s aware of that, it’s just that we’re talking about it a lot more and I’m just so glad that people are using their voice and that people are actually listening, so in that way I’m just happy there’s a conversation.
The representative from 42 West then shut down our conversation.
I started to ask about Mad Men’s discussion of the issue of harassment in the workplace, citing a Boston Globe piece from earlier this year titled, “Before #MeToo, there was Mad Men.” Before I could ask about whether it struck Hendricks that Joan’s final storyline was in many ways prescient in terms of how this conversation would come to play out just a few years later, the publicist interrupted:
“I’m so sorry, but we need to move on from this topic,” she said. “Please.”
“Being that Jezebel is a women’s site I have to ask about Kater Gordon,” I responded. Gordon wrote for Mad Men and alleged last year that the show’s creator, Matt Weiner, told her she owed it to him to let him see her naked. Weiner’s rep said he did not remember saying that, nor is it something he’d say. In a recent L.A. Times piece about Hendricks’s new show Good Girls, Hendricks said, “Matt said he didn’t say it, and I trust him, and I respect him.”
I figured it was worth asking Hendricks about this—after her 2014 observation that in Hollywood there’s “sexual harassment at work every single day, all day long,” it was somewhat surprising that she sided with the man in a harassment allegation. Sure, this is a man she’s worked with and is working with again on Amazon’s upcoming The Romanoffs. Maybe she knows something we don’t, maybe she was going to say something about “due process,” maybe she would have told me to butt out. Who knows!
“I wondered if you were conflicted at all about coming to the defense of Weiner, the comment that you made,” I said.
“We’re not going to discuss that either, I’m so sorry,” said the publicist.
“I have to ask that question,” I said. How would I be doing the bare minimum of what’s expected of me if I didn’t talk to this outspoken woman about such issues? Which is to say: If they didn’t want Hendricks to talk about such things, or if Hendricks herself wasn’t interested, they should have denied this interview.
“I’m sorry but this conversation is supposed to be about Christina’s work and the film and whatnot, so thank you so much for your time, but we’re going to have to move on,” said the publicist, who brought to this conversation a conception of this interview that was neither what I nor Jezebel had agreed to—there was no prior discussion of what would be off limits or even within limits for that matter. “Thank you for understanding.”
“Great,” I said, to no response. That was that.
If Christina Hendricks had any position on any of the matters being discussed, it was unclear, as she said nothing while our conversation about open dialogue was clamped shut.