The Mad Men actress is our February cover star
I’m obsessed with a quote January Jones posted on her Instagram. It reads “Crawl inside this body – find me where I am most ruined, love me there.” I read it and cried. It’s the first thing I bring up when we meet, and she says she cried when she found it, too.
We’re in Le Pain Quotidien in Woodland Hills, California, which is so generic I don’t know if I’m in LA or Brent Cross. It’s the last place you’d expect to find Betty Draper: Mad Men’s steel magnolia and a woman known to walk around the house in a cocktail dress.
Jones has chosen Le Pain because it’s local. She lives in Topanga Canyon. There is no tulle up there. No twinsets or pearls. Just hippies and goats.
From the neck up, Jones looks like a Hitchcock heroine: white blonde hair and translucent skin. But her clothes tell a different story. She’s a funky 1990s throwback in black and red lumberjack shirt, Paige jeans and chunky Choo boots. Jones looks like she should be carrying an axe, not Givenchy shades. She orders Quiche Lorraine and coffee “with cream and sugar”. She’s fresher, funnier, more open than I expected. Unlike Betty Draper, she laughs a lot.
Then again, Jones has long moved on from Mad Men. She’s currently shooting comedy series The Last Man On Earth. Created by and starring Will Forte, it’s about a man searching for survivors after a virus wipes out the planet. A professional idiot, Forte has married the first woman he meets and then regrets it when he finds the second woman on earth: Jones’s Melissa. She says, “It’s dark and different and I love that challenge.” And, since it shoots in LA, “It has enabled me to provide stability for my son, Xander.”
She moved up to Topanga Canyon three years ago, driven out of town by the press scrutiny surrounding the identity of Xander’s father [she became pregnant in 2011, after filming X-Men: First Class, and has refused to discuss her son’s paternity]. Instead of a house in Silverlake permanently dogged by paparazzi, they now live in a gated community with their Yorkipoo, Max. “It’s like in a Spielberg movie,” she describes. “The adults have more drinks and the kids are dirtier… but it’s safe. Photographers don’t follow us up there, so Xander has a pretty normal life now.”
She may not be willing to disclose the identity of Xander’s father, but she is open about the tribulations of being a single parent. Having Xander on her own was scary. All her family came to the birth to support her. “My younger sisters [Jacey and Jina] and my mum and my doula were in the room. My brother-in-law and my dad were next door. I only wanted women with me,” she remembers. “Female energy. And I was embarrassed – your body does all these crazy things. It was a 30-hour process but it was awesome. I’d love to do it again.” She says motherhood has only changed her for the better. On Xander’s birthday she posted: “Five years today I became whole because you came into this world.”
Xander is still surrounded by strong women. “Maybe too much,” she smiles. Four of her closest girlfriends all had their children at the same time. She counts Rose Byrne and Amy Adams as inner circle, and follows Naomi Watts, Diane Kruger and Marion Cotillard on Instagram. She likes powerful women. “Maybe I should get a manny soon,” she says, a tad concerned. “But Xander has a lot of bro time with the neighbour dads and my dad, who is super young.”
“It’s good to have strong women around a man,” she continues. “To teach him to respect women. He doesn’t have a male person in his life saying ‘don’t cry’ or ‘you throw like a girl’. All those shitty things dads accidentally do.” Her male friends “want to be around him because he’s such a fun kid”, but she’s candid about the fact that she doesn’t have a partner.
“People want to set me up all the time and I’m like, ‘No way.’ If I meet someone and we go out, then fine, but I’m not going to go look…” She makes a puke noise and grins.
Speaking of men, she remains close to her Mad Men co-stars. She tells me she and John Slattery are tied at the top of the Fantasy Football League she plays with the Mad Men boys: “We don’t play for money. If we win, we just get to gloat. It’s how we keep in touch.” And Jon Hamm in particular is a pal. “The problem with working with January,” Hamm has joked, “is that she is so damn hideous!”
Off-screen, Jones’s ‘leading men’ are rumoured to have included Ashton Kutcher, Josh Groban, Jason Sudeikis and current co-star Will Forte. But she’s been single since having Xander. It’s all about Xander and the work, she says firmly.
I get it. She has worked extremely hard to get where she is today. After graduating as a straight-As student in small town South Dakota, she was spotted by a modelling scout who asked her to do some tests in New York. “My mum made sure it wasn’t a prostitution ring,” she remembers. It wasn’t – and off she went.
She was just another gorgeous struggling actress in LA until Mad Man creator Matthew Weiner cast her as Betty. In the pilot, Betty had three lines. “But her audition was spectacular,” says Weiner. “I made sure that, starting with the second episode, she would be placed front and centre.” It was a defining role that garnered her Golden Globe and Emmy nominations.
She’s 39 this month. “I’ve done so much more than I ever would have hoped for,” she says. “I don’t have a 40 by 40 list. I have no New Year’s resolutions. Everything I’ve done is everything I would have dreamed of. I have had the most wonderful, unexpected, joyous life. Bizarre to me. Maybe because I never asked for it.”
Perhaps this accounts for how relaxed she is. She has her work/life balance right. She credits her rural background – her mum worked in a sports shop and her dad was a PE teacher. They had no money; it was all Midwestern pragmatism and being kept in check by her sisters. “If I’m complaining, they still say ‘Shut up Jan, I don’t want to hear it.’” And her mother was a tremendous role model. “She’d had three kids by the age of 26 and then went back to work. I don’t know how she did it.”
Weekends, she says, it’s all about family. She and Xander hang out with their neighbours. “I love to cook a soup on Sundays for football. Have the neighbours over – the kids play.” Weekdays, she says, “It’s just me and a nanny. No one lives in the house with us. I go to work, always leave at 5pm, come home, let the nanny go and then I’m mum. I put Xander to bed. Watch two hours of reality TV, then go to bed myself.” I laugh about the reality TV and she smiles. “It’s escapism. The Bachelor, Bachelorette, The Housewives of Whatever – all of them.”
Imagining her, night after night, watching TV and going to bed alone makes me push her on the absent man question. Her eyes roll. “The moment I see someone who I think is cute, I google him and, oh, he’s 25, and I’m thinking, what is my problem?!” She’s laughing a lot now. “My sister, too. She lives in LA and we both like tattoos, guitar, kinda dirty…” I say, what’s wrong with younger rocker men, surely the sex would be great? And she says, “Is the sex great though? Do they know what they are doing? I guess you can teach them. I guess they are mouldable. But I want a manly man in flannel, with a beard and an axe. But then there’s always something wrong with him. Like he’s a Republican.”
Joking aside, she continues. “Something else would suffer if a relationship came along. Yes, I’m willing to make that sacrifice for the right relationship – I just don’t feel I need a partner. Do I want one? Maybe. But I don’t feel unhappy or lonely. It would have to be someone so amazing that I would want to make room. Someone who would contribute to my happiness and not take away from it. I realise I have very high expectations and will probably have to compromise – but my life is so full. It’s not like, ‘Aww, I wish I had a man.’ After I had Xander, I went on a couple of dates and I was like, ‘I’d rather be at home sleeping, or watching TV or hanging out with my kid.’”
Jones has little time for traditional expectations. She has a bunch of tattoos that she had done in her thirties. “I have a white one on my wrist [that spells Bellatrix – Latin for female warrior]. A little ‘5’ on my ankle, which is my lucky number.” And a new one, concentric circles on her forearm done by legendary LA tattoo artist Dr Woo. “It’s Xander and my moon dials with a little heart in the middle.”
Appearing so fearless and comfortable in her own skin, I ask if there is anything she’s afraid of? “It’s mostly about being a mum. Am I failing at life? Am I failing him? There are other ways to be brave,” she says. “Emotionally. Vulnerably.” I say intimacy is brave and she says, “I don’t remember.” We laugh again.
As a fellow single mother, we talk about how frustrating it is to never have anyone to hand over to; being good cop and bad cop in every situation. “I don’t want to be bad cop,” she says. “But to have his respect, I have to be both. I mean, I’m an emotionally immature person. I’m an actor for God’s sake. I see myself behaving like a child all the time.”
Only this morning, she threw her toys out of the pram. “I made Xander eggs, toast, a smoothie. And he spat out his blueberries, threw the eggs into the sink, was playing with his toast, and I just lost my shit. I was like, ‘Mummy made this breakfast for you!’ And he was like, ‘I don’t want it.’ And I took the plate and threw it in the garbage, in tears. I’m fighting with a five-year-old and acting like one. Someone needs to be the mature one here, but I had a full tantrum.”
As she gets ready to go and watch Xander in his dance class [“a performance called Wobblin’ Goblin, it’s a bit Thriller-esque”], I ask if she has any regrets? She says, “I don’t believe in regret. I just try to be a better person. Try to be a better mum. Maybe it’s an ego thing. But I think even missteps are done for a reason. I have déjà vu a lot and someone once told me that when you feel déjà vu a lot, it’s because you are living your life the way it should be lived. And so I feel – even if it’s been a mistake – it has led me to where I am now. Which is great. So, no, to answer your question: I don’t believe in regretting anything.”
January Jones is the face of Kérastase Nutritive. The first two series of The Last Man On Earth repeat on Dave this month, with the third series starting in the spring