January Jones has become a byword for impeccable, ice-queen cool but as ShortList’s Andrew Dickens finds out, it’s more about beer, chewing tobacco and football for the real Ms Jones
January Jones hangs out with very stylish people. As Betty Draper in Mad Men, she inhabits a universe of sharp suits and even sharper wit in which one out-of-place hair could get you killed or, worse, spurned socially. Dressed in well-loved jogging bottoms and a hoody, I’m therefore very happy that this is the 21st century and that she (Los Angeles) and I (London) can conduct our interview on the telephone, vision-free, 5,437 miles apart.
It’s Super Bowl Sunday, so I’m extremely flattered that she, an American, is taking time out to call. That said, she’s working; more precisely, she’s promoting her new film Unknown, a Berlin-based thriller in which she plays Liam Neeson’s considerably younger other half. Neeson, a bioscientist type, is involved in a car crash, falls into a coma and wakes up four days later with huge holes in his memory, only to find that the world and his wife — and his wife — are denying his existence. Jones’s character is a great deal sassier than Betty, but it’s still the long-suffering, sartorial utopia-residing Mrs Draper that I picture on the line.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” I say. “Been a long day? Actually, no, it won’t have been. It’s only half 11 where you are. Have you had a good day?”
“Yes, thank you. Have you?”
“Yes thanks, just relaxing into Sunday evening…”
“Waiting for the Super Bowl?”
Most certainly not. “Maybe, but, you know, I have work tomorrow…”
“Oh yeah, I remember when I was in London last year it was pretty tough to see football,” she says, referring to the four months she spent here filming X-Men: First Class and the sport Americans call football.
“You know the answer, don’t you? Just do vampire films,” I suggest.''
“Oh yeah!” she says, laughing a bit. “All-night shoots.”
This is nice. We’re getting along and she has no idea that I’m sat on an unmade bed in south London. What does she do with her Sundays, I ask. Something cool on a cool street like Rodeo Drive or Sunset Boulevard?
“This time of year I sleep in, watch football,” she says. “I’m very good at being off. You know, running errands, having lunch with friends, taking my dog to the park.”
A little less glamorous than I’d expected, but maybe that’s the small-town girl in her. Los Angeles is a million miles from the 33-year-old’s home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Or 1,314 miles if you don’t like metaphors. Sioux Falls is the archetypal Midwest city we know from films, the kind that has suburban streets with inexplicably large house numbers, each containing at least one comically troubled teen, one serial killer and one ghost who combines teens and killing. Everyone drives everywhere, it’s all very close-knit and people do a lot of sport.
Jones tells me she “excelled” at tennis and swimming, but she also played basketball, softball and volleyball. It all sounds very Breakfast Club — so did she have all the familiar high-school factions: the geeks, the stoners, the bitchy quarterback-dating girls, who live in the same town today with their abusive, gas-pumping ex-quarterback husbands?
“Yeah, definitely,” she says. “The clique thing is sort of irritating. And then I entered a job in which everything is a clique, so I wasn’t too smart about that. But I didn’t really bother with the politics of that. I kind of just hung out with the people that I liked. I didn’t try to weave my way through the high-school society.” Eschewing the traditional college route, at 18 Jones moved to New York to become a model, and thus entered for the first time the world of the ‘Beautiful People’. There, she dated the son of a billionaire investment banker, posed for the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch, travelled the world and smoothed her Dakotan edges; she had a ‘culture buff’, if you will.
“I missed my family, my routine, but I had a blast,” she says. “I wasn’t there to do anything in a professional way. I was able to work enough to pay the rent, pay for food, but that was about it. It was sort of my college years, where I was experimenting with different cultures, meeting people, travelling, seeing other places, writing in my journal. Those introspective things that people that age do. “I started venturing out into commercial auditions, maybe soap-opera stuff,” she continues. “I never got any jobs, but I realised I enjoyed doing it and that I wanted to try it out in LA. So I’m grateful for that. The biggest advantage I have from that background is that I’m able to deal with rejection well, which has helped immensely with this job.”Take one look at her acting CV and you seen why. Early parts include her 1999 screen debut as ‘Number One’ in a TV movie called Sorority (not a cool, Star Trek-style ‘Number One’) and ‘Girl’ in The Glass House (current IMDb rating 5.7 out of 10).
In fact it was eight years before she was cast as Betty Draper: eight years in which she had very few career highs. She played a lesbian porn star in Anger Management and one of the hot American girls who hit on Kris Marshall in Love Actually, plus major roles in The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada, which was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and American Pie: The Wedding, which was not.“I thought about giving up or moving on,” Jones admits, “but every time I was on the verge of packing it in because I was out of money or just disenchanted, something would happen to keep me in it. I would get a job or a Screen Actors Guild residual cheque to keep me afloat. I’ve always taken that as a sign that I’m in the right place and need to just stay strong and work hard.”