What would Joan do?

'Mad Men' star Christina Hendricks talks her passion for fashion, envisions her TV character's life in the '70s

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Christina Hendricks' Joan Harris may be the soul of the AMC drama "Mad Men" as she maintains control and her moral center amid a 1960s workplace all too happy to treat women as eye candy. Likewise, the 38-year-old actress, who this year received her fourth supporting-actress Emmy nomination, finds herself balancing her love of the fashion world with some ambivalence about being judged on her appearance.

She said her fashion enthusiasm got her last Thursday's gig hosting the fashion-show kickoff to the Magnificent Mile Shopping Festival, which runs through Monday. But that doesn't mean that the stunning actress, who modeled early in her career and whose red hair and blue eyes glow more intensely in person, is always thrilled to be walking red carpets.

Showing her creative flair in a zebra-print navy shirt, turquoise pants and yellow-toed high-heeled shoes, Hendricks sat down before the event to talk (in her animated, soft, high-pitched voice) about the fun and not-so-fun sides of fashion, the emotion that's hardest to act, the actresses whose careers she most admires, how she might envision Joan moving into the 1970s and how she felt about her head exploding on screen. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: Do you do a lot of events like this?

A: This is the first fashion event I've ever hosted. I'm excited to see all the fall fashions tonight.

Q: Are you a fashion show fan?

A: I am. I'm sort of a designer junkie, like I just love what they do artistically. I love watching "Project Runway," and I love the artistry of it — and how you can come up something new every season and everyone wants to get on board. It's really sort of a very powerful job.

Q: Is this the kind of event you would have been in when you were modeling?

A: I did some runway when I was modeling, but I was always little bit short. I'm 5-8, but the girls were 5-10. I did some in London, and I did a couple in New York, but mostly I did print work.

Q: Do you like the red carpet aspect of your job?

A: (Laughs.) I do, and I don't. It is such a treat to get to wear these beautiful clothes and work personally with designers and get to know them, and then there's a lot of pressure and a lot of criticism, and you wish that you could sort of just wear whatever you wanted, but sometimes there are so many rules about it and expectations about it that you find you're being very, very careful about things. I think it's a shame that people can't just sort of be as creative as they want to be.

Q: Have you tried to be creative and been taught lessons?

A: (Laughs.) I think I still am quite creative, and sometimes people criticize me. Not everyone likes what I wear, but I try to be true to me and wear what I think is beautiful, and it's not always everyone's favorite, but I try to just wear what I like. I think there was only one dress once that I loved, loved, loved, and everyone went, "You can't wear that. That's too crazy."

Q: Did you ever wear it?

A: No. I never got the dress. I had only seen a picture of it. I still think about it.

Q: What was the dress?

A: I'm not going to say. Because maybe I can still get it and wear it some day. (Laughs.)

Q: What was so crazy about it?

A: It was very floral. The reason everyone was worried is because it had almost like a kimono fabric, and it was very, very busy, and everyone said, "That'll look crazy on camera. It'll be so, so busy." And I said, "But it'll be beautiful busy." But I got discouraged.

Q: Are there are any emotions or tones that you find particularly challenging to act?

A: The element of surprise, when you have to do it over and over and over again, I find that difficult. I just worked on a movie that John Slattery (who plays Roger Sterling on "Mad Men") directed, and I was doing a scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I had to walk in and find him laying in a bed and not expect him there and be terrified, so I went to John and I said, "Listen, make sure we really get these first two or three takes because it's going to start to seem rehearsed after that," and he was like, "OK." And we got it right away, and I think we just did two takes, but I was worried about having to recreate that element of surprise when you know perfectly well they're there.

Q: "Mad Men" begins shooting again in November?

A: In November, yeah. Last season.

Q: It's the end of the '60s. So what do you think Joan would be like in the '70s? You could make that up.

A: Well, that's what I'm going to do when the show wraps. I'm just going to stay at home and write little scenarios for Joan because I just miss her. (Laughs.)

Q: Make it a spinoff, like "Frasier."

A: "Joan, the '70s: A Memoir."

Q: What do you think she does in the '70s?

A: Gosh, I would never guess what Joan would be doing. I think she would be doing more of the same, probably higher in the ranks at work, trying to be the best mother she could be, hopefully finding love. Hopefully.

Q: I just read that you'll be co-starring in the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn's "Dark Places." When is that shooting?

A: I'm going to go next week. I'm going to go out to Louisiana and shoot that. I'm very excited to work with Gilles (Paquet-Brenner) the director and to work with Charlize Theron, who I am a huge, huge fan of, and very nervous to meet but excited.

Q: Who are the actresses or actors whose careers you really admire?

A. Julianne Moore. I think she's had a really extraordinary career and been able to play roles that have an extraordinary range. I think Scarlett Johansson has had a really interesting career, doing period pieces to doing Woody Allen to doing action. She really seems to have been able to do everything, which I think is really great. And, you know, Meryl Streep. Give me a break. (Laughs.)

Q: Are there any types of roles that you'd love to get that you're not getting at this point?

A: Oh, I've put it out there: If Woody Allen doesn't know I'm knocking on his door then (laughs) — I would love to do something like that. That's the kind of thing I really enjoy watching. I like to work on things that I would really love to watch.

Q: Serious Woody or funny Woody, or does it not matter?

A: Doesn't really matter.

Q: If you could change one thing about the entertainment business, what would it be?

A: I wish that money didn't affect artistic freedom so much.

(Spoiler alert ahead for anyone who hasn't seen the 2011 movie "Drive" and still wants to.)

Q: Was it weird watching your head get blown off in "Drive"?

A: It was awesome watching my head get blown off. Because I know what went into it, and I'm so impressed with how they can make that look so real. It's so amazing. The funny thing is I took my brother to the premiere, and he loved the movie, and then when it came out a few weeks later, he took my father to see it, and my brother came back and he goes, "They changed it! Your head gets blown off in this one!" And I said, "My head always got blown off." And he was like, "I must have blocked it out." Because he was a very protective big brother …

Q: Did they create your head?

A: They did. I did an entire cast of my head. And then when we shot it, I went up to the mirror, and I stood there, and there was a guy with an air gun, which is pretty powerful, by the way. It's a scary feeling. It's loud, and it hits you like (jerks head) — so there was a shower stall here, and it was filled with pads, and they would blow this air gun at me, and I would react and fall into the shower. And then they went back and somehow blew up my head. (Laughs.)

mcaro@tribune.com

Twitter @MarkCaro

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