Since the halcyon days of Mad Men, when she played the vixenish Joan Harris and fulfilled the fantasies of millions of men the world over for tall, curvy redheads, Christina Hendricks doesn’t seem to have made it her mission to storm the beaches of Hollywood acceptance and the tabloid pages.
She’s worked in low-key movies for alt and indie directors like Nic Winding Refn (Drive, The Neon Demon) and Ryan Gosling (Lost River), roles in more commercial fare like Bad Santa 2 and Zoolander 2 less successful.
But in Fist Fight she returns to teaching, although it couldn’t a more different movie from her role in Tony Kaye’s searing drama about teachers at the end of their rope in 2011’s Detachment. She spoke to Moviehole.net on the Atlanta set about French teachers, Mad Men and classic 80s teen drama.
Tell us about your character.
I play the French teacher, Miss Monet, who comes across as quite demure and she has a good relationship with the kids but turns very quickly when she suspects there’s some bad behaviour going on. She goes a little crazy, she definitely has a dark side.
Tell us more.
She turns very, very quickly and she’s the only person really rooting for Strickland [Ice Cube] in the fight. She’s got a switchblade in her pocket and she’s ready to use it at any moment.
Did you have any teachers of your own in mind when you created the character?
If I had a teacher who might pull a knife I don’t think I’d go to school. No, I didn’t have a teacher like Miss Monet. Not anyone with as much style, certainly.
How’s your French, then?
You know, they wanted me to do it with an American accent. I think it was sort of an idea that she pretends she’s a bit more French than she is. She’s just a girl from the Midwest teaching French. I don’t think her real name is Miss Monet.
Was it fun to get involved in comedy again?
It was. For the last year or so I think it’s the third comedy I’ve done, so it’s been really fun and refreshing and different and I’m learning a lot. Nice to not be crying all day long, you know?
We often hear from actors that comedy is actually harder than drama.
They’re entirely different, the way you do a scene is quite different. You really do need to play a joke. I find it to be much more like doing theatre because you have to have to give a bigger performance. It’s about the framing of the whole scene to me a bit more.
Who’s funnier, Ice Cube or Charlie Day?
Completely different and both hilarious. Perfect for the roles.
What’s it like being back in a school environment? Does it bring back happy memories?
I hate it. I hate high school vibes, it gives me the heebie-jeebies. Now that I’ve been here a month I’ve calmed down but when I first walked in I was like, ‘oh someone’s going to make fun of me, someone’s going to say something mean, I just know it’.
What sort of stuff did you get teased about at school, anything in particular?
Well, I was in the theatre department so I was an open target. And I was a goth kid, I looked different from the other kids. My friends were eccentric and that’s what kids do, bully each other. So I was on the wrong end of the deal.
Do you think Fist Fight will enter the pantheon of beloved high school comedies that a generation really loves?
This is just one of those classic comedies. I mean I had Three O’clock High, which I loved and this obviously conjures up a lot of that. It’s a fun romp, you know, and there will be lines and moments that I’m sure that will be quoted for years to come and it may be one of those ones you watch over and over and over.
What are your favourite high school movies?
Pump Up the Volume was a big one for me. Heathers was a big one. But then there were the 80s movies we all love, even though I was young for the 80s movies. Of course Pretty in Pink was my first love.
How bittersweet was it leaving Mad Men behind or was it exciting because it was opening up new chapters in your career?
It was really hard. I was very, very attached to the character and the cast and crew. I had to give myself a pep talk and go ‘this could be really great and exciting’, but it was still sad. It was a really extraordinary experience but everything must come to an end. I’m glad we ended when we did because I think we went out with a bang.
Would you like to do something that long and that committed again or are you enjoying movies because of the variety of characters?
I like both but if I found something as magical as that, absolutely. I mean there is something to be said for being home and knowing where you’re going to work for 9 years and having a parking spot and knowing your family will be comfortable in this crazy gypsy world we live in. That can be really, really nice. So yes, if I found something that I thought was that special I’d definitely do it again.
At what point did you realise how important a female character Joan was?
It was a slow build, Even though we were winning Golden Globes and Emmys and stuff I don’t think it was until season three the general public started to notice. You know, people started dressing like Joan for Halloween and Saturday Night Live did a spoof on us and I remember thinking ‘I grew up on SNL and someone just played me.’ That felt really great.
You’ve worked with Nic Winding Refn twice now (Drive, The Neon Demon), it must be a completely different film experience than something like Fist Fight?
Yes, of course the scenes couldn’t be more different but he’s very lively on set, he’s fun, the atmosphere is usually quite light and the crew seems all very happy. It’s a nice experience, you go and do some crazy shit and then you’re done.
Any genres or styles you still really want to tackle that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
I want to try everything. I’m looking into theatre a lot right now, that’s been a big focus. So that might be something you might see me doing soon. Enjoying the comedies right now. I’m going to probably go back and do another period piece again if timing all works out. But just like I said it’s project to project, I don’t really have a grand scheme.