January Jones First Auditioned to Play Peggy, Not Betty, on ‘Mad Men’

As troubled ad exec Don Draper, Jon Hamm may have been at the center of Mad Men. But the female actors often stole the show, including Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway, Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson, and January Jones as Betty Draper. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing those roles, but when Jones auditioned for the AMC series, she didn’t go in with the idea she could be playing Don’s repressed wife. Instead, she was up for the role of secretary-turned-copywriter Peggy. 

January Jones was in the running to play Peggy

Betty Draper in Mad Men
January Jones as Betty Draper in Mad Men | AMC

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Betty was a major — and tragic — character on Mad Men. But when creator Matthew Weiner was first working on the show, he had no idea what was in store for Betty or how important she would end up being on the show, according to a 2015 article in the Hollywood Reporter looking back at the history of Mad Men. 

Jones recalled that she initially auditioned to play Peggy on the acclaimed series, which ran from 2007 to 2015. 

“I came in for Peggy twice,” she said. “Matt said, ‘Well, there’s another role, but I don’t really know what’s going to happen with her.’ He didn’t have any scenes for me, so he quickly wrote a couple.”

“It had been years since I wrote anything in the pilot,” Weiner said. “And all of sudden, I need a scene by tomorrow for a character who only has three lines.”

Matthew Weiner promised Jones that Betty would be a bigger character 

Jones elaborated on the experience in a 2011 interview with W magazine (via She Knows).

“Matthew Weiner, the creator of the show, had no intention of showing Don Draper’s home life,” she said. But Jones trusted Weiner when he said Betty would eventually become a bigger character. 

“[H]e 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.”

Jon Hamm almost didn’t play Don Draper 

Don Draper in Mad Men
Jon Hamm as Don Draper and Rich Sommer as Harry Crane in Mad Men | Doug Hyun/AMC

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Peggy isn’t the only Mad Men character who nearly ended up being played by a different actor. Jon Hamm was not everyone’s first choice to play Don Draper.  

“Some people went in once and got cast; there was a little more reticence with me,” Hamm recalled to the Hollywood Reporter. “I was on the bottom of everyone’s list. The one person who was an early champion of mine was Matthew.”

Also on the short-list for the role? Mariska Hargitay’s husband Peter Hermann. But Weiner was insistent that Hamm was they guy for the job. 

Unfortunately, the quality of the audition tapes was poor and “you couldn’t see how good-looking Jon Hamm was,” Christina Wayne, AMC’s former senior vice president of scripted programming said. “We were like, ‘Really, this is who you think?; And Matt said, ‘Absolutely.’” 

“He’d been in the room, and he felt something with Jon,” Wayne added. “We had him come in again. We had to be sold, so we flew Jon to New York and took him for a drink at the Gansevoort hotel. He was nervous, but I knew that he had star potential. I whispered in his ear before he left, ‘You got the job.’”