Although she was named after January Wayne, the prototypical Seventies heroine of Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough, January Jones projects the cool but complicated leading ladies (Deneuve!) of the Sixties: gorgeous but mysterious. Beauty has its own undeniable power, and the 33-year-old Jones uses her looks to seduce and agitate. Her portrayal of Betty Draper on Mad Men, the ultimate trophy housewife, is complex and disturbing. Betty could have been just a lovely, lonely clotheshorse with social aspirations, but Jones imbues the character with a mix of barely stifled rage and longing. Similarly, Emma Frost, Jones’s character in X-Men: First Class, is much darker than her pure-white ensembles. Frost can read minds and transform into a diamond: a diabolical and alluring combination. “Emma Frost was not in the earlier X-Men movies, so I wanted to make her true to the way she is in the comic books. I’m one of the most powerful mutants,” Jones said, laughing. “It’s fun to imagine what life would be like as a diamond.”
Lynn Hirschberg: Despite the fact that you are perfectly cast as the chilly, gorgeous
WASP-ish housewife Betty Draper on Mad Men, you originally auditioned
for the part of ambitious plain-Jane Peggy, the lapsed Catholic career
January Jones: There was no Betty in the pilot when I auditioned. Matthew Weiner, the creator of the show, had no intention of showing Don Draper’s home life. I read for Peggy two times—it was between me and Elisabeth Moss, who eventually got the part. At the end of the scene, there was a casual mention that Don was married. Matt went home that night and wrote two scenes that featured Betty. I auditioned a couple of days later, and he made me a verbal promise that the character would grow. I took the part on faith—there was no script or fleshed-out character or Betty plotline.
Do you like Betty? She’s superficial, strange, and often mean, and yet
I don’t judge Betty or necessarily understand her. The audience is passionate about her. After season one they wanted her to speak out against Don and his infidelities. Then in season two, when she did, there was a huge reaction against Betty. They want her to talk—just not too much.
Like Betty, you started out as a model. You left South Dakota at 18 for
New York City. Were you nervous?
Not really. I was excited to be independent, but I was also naive—I just wanted to be rich and famous [Laughs]. I lived in an apartment near the Empire State Building. There were a billion girls in New York City who wanted to be models. After a while I was immune to rejection, which helped when I went out to L.A. to become an actress. In modeling, the criteria is purely aesthetic. So when I got to L.A., I didn’t care if they said I was too small, too blonde, too pretty, or not pretty enough.