Posts Tagged ‘mad men’

Words and Movement from January Jones

May 15, 2011

I caught Unknown at the dollar theater recently and it got me thinking about January Jones’s strange performance style, as it’s very similar there to her Betty on Mad Men. She has a weird cadence that is nearly the makings of flat, terrible acting but isn’t—and that’s one reason why I find her so interesting. She brings you out of her fictional circumstances a little bit and makes you think about the way in which she’s saying things. Normally I hate this in actors but with her the distraction actually adds a level of enjoyment in thinking about how she fits into the work (speaking mainly at this point about Mad Men since there’s not much in Unknown to think about).

With her terse enunciation, her words come out quickly and feel confined to a small range of possibility, as if she doesn’t really care what happens once they’re out of her mouth. But in action she can be deft and forceful. She is by far Mad Men’s most seductive smoker, much more effortless and hungry than Don and his showy switch of fingers taking cigarettes into and out of his mouth. And who can forget Betty shooting the pigeons in season one? That moment was also a dip into the surreal, but indicative of this inner force January Jones taps into sometimes to give her actions a merciless feel. When she begins to carry out the assassination plot in Unknown—stealing things and smashing through a wall to get to a bomb—she moves confidently and almost with irritation at the novelty of her reversal of energy. I think irritation is actually one of the most successful, visceral emotions she communicates as an actress. Normally it would feel utterly useless and dumb to parse an actor’s “successful emotions” but she invites this kind of critical thinking and it doesn’t detract from the emotional potency of her work.

One of the most electric moments in all of Mad Men so far is when Betty is fighting with Don in the bedroom about disciplining Bobby and she pushes him and he pushes her back. The way she takes the push, her chest like a hollow block as she spins and is forced to take a couple clumsy steps, was more startling than Don’s actual act of pushing. Her movements have the bluntness of  shock, less at Don’s audacity and more at the lack of impact caused by her initial action. When you watch January Jones you get the feeling that she doesn’t really trust speech. Her commitment to it is technical; she never lets a syllable get swallowed. As an actress she just seems more comfortable with movement, and perhaps that is why her actions feel so purposeful. So when she moves with intent and doesn’t get what she wants, her body doesn’t quite know what to do.

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