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Q&A – Remy Auberjonois (Dr. Emerson)

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Remy Auberjonois, who plays Dr. Emerson on Mad Men, talks about staying true to the family business (acting) and compares Mad Men to Star Trek.

Q: In the first episode of Mad Men that viewers ever watched, you’re shown on screen smoking a cigarette in the examining room. Tell me a little about this moment.

A: It’s funny it’s such a memorable scene… whenever I tell anybody I was on the show and they ask me who I was, I say I was the smoking gynecologist and everybody knows who that is. I think it signaled that what the show was doing was really interesting.

Q: What did you find compelling about Dr. Emerson as a character? Did you model him off any particular doctor from your past?

A: I wasn’t so much performing as a particular type of doctor but more as a particular type of man. What I found compelling was his attitude towards his patients and birth control. It was obviously a shifting moment: the pill was relatively new.

Q: The majority of Mad Men takes place in a time period before you were born. How did you relate to this era?

A: Some of the younger women in this show would be contemporaries of some of the older women in my life and I think I had a sense of the shifting ways in which men and women relate. The second time I was on the show was with Christina Hendricks [who plays Joan]: Dr. Emerson has a much more personal and intimate relationship with her and there’s a greater equality between them. Over the course of a few years it’s as if he’s treating women now with a little more respect.

Q: While the characters on the show don’t speak with an accent, was there a different way you prepared to talk like a character from 1960s?

A: It’s not so much accent but word usage. Like Dr. Emerson says in the first episode [about birth control]: “Don’t think you have to go out and become the town pump just to get your money’s worth.”

Q: Your father and sister are both actors. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like to be from an acting family.

A: To me it’s almost more interesting if your father sells automotive parts and you somehow end up in the entertainment business — how did you get there? For me the apple didn’t fall that far from the tree. It’s the family business. You don’t spend that much time talking about it.

Q: Your father played Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, one of the most iconic TV series in history. Mad Men has developed a similarly devoted following. Do you see any similarities between the shows?

A: I would have never had thought of them as the same! I guess they could sort of be weird inverses of each other; Star Trek was a show made in the past about the future, Mad Men is a show made in the present about the past. And they both broke new ground for TV at the time in very different ways.

Q: There was a time when audiences were more interested in shows about the future and now there’s a stylistic shift towards all things retro…

A: I wonder: are we going through this retro moment because we’re fascinated with retro or are we fascinated with retro because Mad Men came out and has been successful? It’s tapped into something… Deep Space Nine was spun-off of Star Trek, so the comparison would be more like if Dr. Emerson had a series: Dr. Emerson: OB/GYN.

Q: Dr. Emerson gives Peggy a lot of paternal, unsolicited advice. Can you give a young actor some similarly unsolicited guidance?

A: I would say focus, commit, have a thick skin and don’t take it personally. There’s always the next thing. And have fun.

Click here to read an interview with Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan on Mad Men.

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