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Q&A, Baltimore's Stephanie Drake of 'Mad Men'

On our TV Lust blog, we recently dubbed Stephanie Drake's character, Meredith, the Most Oblivious Employee on "Mad Men."

Does the scene where Joan throws a model airplane at a helpless receptionist ring a bell? That was her.

But Drake insists her character has more guts and work ethic than meets the eye. After chatting with her, we’re starting to agree. But will this plucky secretary continue to butt heads with Joan?

This is your second season on ‘Mad Men.’ What’s your favorite part about working on this show?
I guess any [scene] that I have with Christina Hendricks is wonderful. She is amazing to work with. Even in our downtime she’s so sweet. We love to talk and catch up. When we start working she gets right into character, and I get into mine. I think we work really well together. Our characters seem to clash a bit. [The writers] seem to like to showcase that in the show and it makes for some really good comedic relief.

I was just about to ask you about that. In season five Joan threw the model airplane at Meredith. That’s one of my favorite scenes. What was it like filming it?
[Laughs] Thanks, I love that scene, too. It was funny — I actually had a stunt double for that day, because they weren’t sure how dangerous it was actually going to be. There also was a stunt coordinator on set. He made sure that everything went right, and that the airplane was thrown at the spot where there was going to be no harm to me. Pieces would fly every which way, but I never felt uncomfortable. It actually helped because I never was sure how the plane would break, or where it would break, so it helped me to be scared. So it all came together and it was fun to shoot.

It looked like a piece of the plane hit you in the face!
Nothing ever hit my face. There would be pieces in my skirt, but it never came close to my face.

What was it like with Christina Hendricks on set afterward?
Fine! She’s just the sweetest, and it was completely fine.

Your character can be a little, well, spacey at times. Where do you find your inspiration for Meredith?
It’s so well written that honestly it just comes naturally to me. But the thing about Meredith is that she’s very polite and she wants to do her job well. I think those are characteristics that I, Stephanie, have. And then her humor is very subtle. She’s not trying to be ditzy, she just kind of is. It just comes naturally to me.

There are a lot of secretaries on ‘Mad Men.’ Is there a sense of unity, or sisterhood, between you and the other actresses?
You know, there is. It’s funny because I have kept in touch with almost all of the secretary gals and we get along really well. We talk on set and we hang outside of work, and there is like a little sisterhood, because we’re all kind of in the same place in our careers. Not everyone can be the star of the show, and we’re so thankful for the parts that we do have.

Meredith gets a bad rap at SCDP, at least with Joan. On your Twitter page you’ve created the hashtag #TeamMeredith. Personally, I’m a fan of Meredith, but why should others join Team Meredith?
I don’t know where that [hashtag] came from. I think a friend of mine made that after Joan threw the airplane at me last year. My character stood up to Joan by saying, “You’re not allowed to do that.” No one else in the office really stands up to Joan, since she’s very intimidating. So it kind of came from there and it’s kind of a fun thing to do for Meredith. No one else has to do it. I just thought it was funny and cute.

You’re set to appear in two more episodes this season. Will Meredith redeem herself?
I think Meredith and Joan have fully recovered from the airplane incident. Now Meredith just takes her job a little more seriously. But still, she's young and likes to have fun in the office as well. I think you’ll see that in the next few episodes. She’s still going to clash with Joan, but for some reason, Joan keeps Meredith around.

I was wondering that, too. If Meredith weren’t doing that good of a job, then Joan would have fired her.
I think it’s because Joan must think that Meredith is a hard worker. Or maybe she just feels bad because she did blow up at her. But I’m happy Meredith is still there.

One thing’s for certain: Meredith dresses well. What’s the one item you wish you could take from Meredith’s wardrobe?
Oh gosh, everything [laughs]. One dress — well, it’s not even a dress -— it’s a gold bracelet. I don’t even know if you can see it on camera, it has a little charm that hangs off. And the charm is the size of a quarter and it is so cute and something that I would wear every day if I had it. All of Meredith’s dresses are just the cutest. I love my wardrobe.

That’s what’s so great about Janie Bryant [‘Mad Men’ costume designer]. There’s so many details that even if the camera doesn’t pick it up, you still get the sense that it’s there. I wish I could have the entire ‘Mad Men’ wardrobe.
Me too!

As we’re fond of mentioning, Matt Weiner [‘Mad Men’ series creator] is originally from Baltimore. What’s it like to have a fellow Baltimorean as your boss in L.A.?
It’s great! I didn’t know he was from Baltimore when I originally found out about my audition. It actually came up in our producer’s session, or our callback for the parts. The first thing Matt asked me was where I was from. I said, “I’m from Baltimore.” He said, “Me too.” And we just talked about Baltimore for a few minutes. I had no idea that’s where he’s from, so it was a nice connection.

Does being from Baltimore help get the part, or is it just a way to build camaraderie on set?
I mean, it definitely didn’t hurt, that’s for sure. I think I did a good part with the role as well, but it’s nice to make a connection like that.

For high school you attended Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Baltimore County. What was the most important acting lesson you learned there?
I think honestly the most important thing I learned from going there was, and it’s in the most helpful in my career is for sure, [is that] if you don’t get the part, you can’t dwell on it and something better is coming along. In high school I didn’t always get the part I wanted in the plays or I didn’t get in [the play] at all. I think it gave me the thick skin that I needed to do this job. I mean, there are so many times when you’re disappointed, but you just have to keep going and [remember] something really good is right around the corner. I think I learned that at an early age in high school and it gave me the realistic view of how the business is. It helped me a lot.

You moved to L.A. after attending University of Southern California. What’s the one thing you missed most about Baltimore?
The crabs! You cannot get a good crab cake [outside of Maryland]. There is nothing like a Baltimore crab cake.

On your website, you said that you moved around a lot when you were younger. Do you still have ties to Baltimore?
You know, I do. Not a lot of ties anymore, but my best friend got married there in September and it was so nice to go back and be there. My parents moved when I was about to graduate from college, but my mom still has friends there, and I think very fondly of Baltimore. I’m so lucky we moved there when I was 13, because I always say if I hadn’t gone to Carver, there’s no way I’d be out here.

What places did you see when you were in town for your friend’s wedding?
I stayed at Harbor East, which was not built up at all when I lived there. It’s so nice and I couldn’t believe all the nice hotels and shopping. I had a crab cake for every meal when I was there, except for breakfast. They didn’t have it for breakfast.

Nice! Next time you should try Baltimore eggs Benedict with crab and Old Bay on top.
I have had that, but it was too heavy before a wedding. I had to fit into a bridesmaid dress.

Point taken. Favorite Baltimore bird: Ravens or Orioles?
Orioles.

Favorite Baltimore cookie: Berger or Otterbein?
Berger.

Favorite Baltimore French Fry topping: Old Bay or vinegar?
Oh, Old Bay!

And final question: Are will we see Meredith in Season 7?
I hope so! I don’t know, but I certainly hope so.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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