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Q&A – James Wolk (Bob Benson)


James Wolk, who plays Bob Benson on AMC’s Mad Men, talks about his return to the series, his character’s big proposal and the infamous short-shorts.

Q: How did you find out Bob Benson would be back, and were you surprised to get the call?

A: I had an inclination he’d come back based on the story really being left very open-ended last season. That being said, you know Matthew Weiner and the creators really do a great job with always bringing in new story lines so I wasn’t certain of anything… I made sure my expectations were low so I wouldn’t let myself down, and I was thrilled when I found out that I would be able to come back on to reprise the role.

Q: Bob talks with the GM rep about temptation in NYC. Did you learn anything interesting about what it was like to be gay in the 1960s?

A: The interesting thing is that Bob never explicitly comes out on the show…but there’s certainly some very substantial dialogue that points towards it. I think it’s really interesting why they wrote it like that, keeping that question mark up in the air but obviously really pointing towards that. The GM executive, it’s very clear in that scene that him and Bob are guys looking at an issue from different sides of it. This guy even tries to say to Bob, “You know if you ever have any trouble…” and I think Bob says something like, “I’m not of your stripe.” And you know, even to another man who’s obviously homosexual, Bob is not letting that secret out. I think it’s clear in this episode that he definitely has these kinds of thoughts but what I think is interesting is that he never says it overtly… I have to imagine that it was incredibly difficult then. Incredibly difficult.

Q: Did you have any idea that Bob would propose to Joan?

A: I was shocked. Yes, I was absolutely shocked! And it’s all so exiting, what a great scene! I think that these two people…have a lot of love for each other and a lot of respect for one another, but man, I was definitely shocked to read that. And as an actor, really excited to play the scene in which you see so much layering going on there.

Q: Were you surprised at Joan’s reaction?

A: No, I think the way she acts in that scene is very true to character for her. And I think the scene is very beautifully written. I wasn’t shocked by her reaction, I think I was more shocked by the proposal.

Q: Were you hoping for Bob’s sake that she would say yes?

A: You know, that’s a great question. I think that would be really interesting. That would be a very interesting way to see Bob go. I kind of was detached of what the outcome of the scene was. I was kind of enjoying the fact that we got to play this wonderful scene.

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Q: Were you given any information about Bob’s whole backstory?

A: I know so much and I can never tell you!

Q: What a tease! Do you come up with any of it yourself or do you find out his secrets along with everyone else?

A: You know, it was really a true marriage of getting a lot of information about Bob based on conversations with the creators and based on reading the script, and as an actor I think it’s your job to fill in the blanks for what you need to make this character come alive and really cook and become real for you. Personally there was a lot of backstory I created in my own mind for my own purposes, but it definitely coexisted and nurtured the story that was given to me by the creators.

Q: Bob Benson has built quite a fan base for himself. What do you think it is that attracts everyone to Bob?

A: It’s such an interesting question. I don’t know… I think because he’s so unapologetic. He just has that grin and is trying to work his way to the top. And there is something likable about him, but at the same time you don’t fully trust him. He’s kind of like the Talented Mr. Ripley — you kind of want to watch him to see what happens next.

Q: Have people ever approached you as Bob Benson?

A: I was hiking once and these people screamed out at me like, “Bob! Bob Benson!” You know, they were really excited and I think for a moment they truly forgot that Bob Benson was a character, and I’m an actor who plays that character, and it was really a fascinating moment.

Q: How do you think fans will react to this episode?

A: I think that Matthew Weiner and the creators did a really nice job of bringing Bob back on and kind of coming full circle from last season… There was all this build up, and I think it’ll be nice for the fans to be able to see a bit of a payoff.

Q: I have to ask you about the infamous short-shorts from last season. What did you think when you first tried them on?

A: My first thought was that I never wear shorts. So the fact that these shorts are so short was terrifying me. The more that I wore them, the more comfortable I became, and now all I do is wear short shorts. You should see me — when I walk down the street I’m wearing short shorts. I wear them in my house. If I go to a formal event it’s a tuxedo top and short shorts. I love them now, and I have Bob to thank for that.

Q: Last season GQ named Bob the best dressed Mad man. Were you surprised by that?

A: Listen, I’ll take it where I can get it! He’s a well dressed man. I thank Janie Bryant for that. She’s an amazing costume designer.

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

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