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January Jones: Saying goodbye to 'Mad Men' character Betty 'like having a death in the family'

January Jones as Betty Francis in Mad Men,

January Jones as Betty Francis in Mad Men, Season 7, Episode 13, which aired Sunday, May 11, 2015. Credit: AMC / Michael Yarish

January Jones knows a thing or two about inscrutable men. She's worked alongside them -- or, at least, the mysterious, tight-lipped characters they play -- for years now, most famously as Betty Draper Francis, ex-wife to the mighty adman Don Draper in AMC's critically acclaimed "Mad Men," which after seven seasons airs its series finale Sunday.

But Jones also has her work cut out for her on the big screen in "Good Kill," an intense, evocative military drama about drone warfare, which stars Ethan Hawke and hits Long Island theaters May 22. Directed by Andrew Niccol, the film gives a behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to be an Air Force fighter pilot, ejected from a cockpit and transferred to sheds in the desert outside Las Vegas, where pilots operate drones via remote control. Jones plays Molly Egan, a young wife and mother whose pilot husband, Tommy (Hawke), is slowly unraveling, unable to handle the surreal transition that these soldiers must complete each day: dropping bombs on villages halfway across the globe, scrutinizing the carnage, then heading home to pick up the kids after school.

Jones, 37, who lives in Los Angeles, recently met with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio to discuss the film, and saying goodbye to the Drapers.

This is a powerful movie.

Thank you. The first time I saw the completed film I was sitting next to Ethan and Ethan's mom. She was crying the whole time and I was like . . . a wreck.

Must've been like sitting next to your pseudo mother-in-law.

Yeah, it was bizarre.

Your character grows in such subtle ways with each scene. I assume you didn't shoot those scenes in order.

No, we never get that luxury.

So how do you pace yourself? How do you know on any given shoot day what level of energy or emotion you need to have?

Ethan and I -- and our director -- gave each other reminders about where our characters had been before that moment. In the scenes, he never tells my character much. It was like acting with a brick wall. I was being given nothing, but that's exactly what I needed. You'd see the frustration in her face. One of my favorite scenes is when he finally does open up and tell her what a typical day for him is like. It's very sweet of him. But crushing. Because she realizes then that it's much worse than she ever imagined.

Did you do any research on military wives?

I read some literature on military people dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. And then I eavesdropped in a few chat rooms online. But I didn't meet anyone -- I felt that would be a little too personal.

We hear about drones a lot now, but I don't think people know what they are or how it all works.

I was naive to everything. I mean, for military families, the drone program must sound great -- the soldier doesn't have to go away. But these pilots used to drop a bomb and fly off. Now they drop bombs and have to stick around and see what the bomb does . . . count the bodies. The film doesn't force an opinion down your throat either way. It does a really good job of just giving you both sides of the coin. But it's tough.

It's maybe weird to switch subjects so radically but I have to ask about a certain TV series set in the 1960s.

You mean "Mad Men"? [She laughs.]

I don't want any spoilers, but I'm curious. Do you think of Betty differently now than when you started?

I feel like I've grown up with her. And I miss her a lot. It's like having a death in the family, in a way. So I've been feeling a bit nostalgic and melancholy for a while. I was talking to [her "Mad Men" co-star] Jon Hamm the other day and it was just . . . well, we were just talking about regular everyday stuff and I started feeling like I was gonna cry. I couldn't stop thinking about the last scenes of the show. That was nine years of my life. I've never played a character that long, and probably never will again. It's a bizarre way to work, and live, because you don't know what's going to happen to her just like you don't know what's going to happen to you.

Any idea where she is today?

Weeeell, most likely she's not with us, right? I mean, how old would she be?

She'd be in her 70s or 80s now.

Oh, that's right. I've met a lot of Bettys. I mean, I've met a lot of Bettys. In this town especially. Hmmm, maybe Betty's now a world-renowned psychologist. [She laughs.] But she's still got the same hairdo and the pearls, I bet.


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