|January Jones in "Unknown."
LOS ANGELES -- In most Hollywood fare, when a woman is complicated, it just means she can throw a punch.
It's a point not lost on January Jones as we sit down for an interview in a Beverly Hills hotel.
"That's so true," she says in a Canadian newspaper exclusive. "Female complexity does mean you have to be masculine in a way."
Jones, if you haven't guessed, is the decidedly unmanly exception.
Consider her role as brittle, miserable, graceful, rigidly feminine housewife Betty Draper in TV's Mad Men. In the past four seasons, the suave 1960s-set series has both celebrated her demure genetic classicalism -- Alfred Hitchcock surely would have cast her as a chilly, inscrutable blonde in one of his thrillers of obsession -- and subverted it.
The results have earned Jones both acclaim as an actress (she's been nominated for an Emmy) and status as a style icon (Donatella Versace hailed her as the most glamorous actress of our time).
"For an actor, especially for a woman, it's a dream come true because there are so few roles that are written so complex and layered and strange and ugly," she says, calling the decision to sign on to Mad Men "the biggest risk I've ever taken in my career. You're signing five years of your career and life away with two lines in a pilot. And I'd never done TV. It could have gone so horribly wrong."
After all, back in 2007, Mad Men was the first series launched by then-upstart cable network AMC. Its star, Jon Hamm, was an unknown. And its creator Matthew Weiner, while a veteran writer of The Sopranos, had never run a show before.
"Matthew wasn't even sure Betty was going to be a part of the show. So for him to take not two lines in the pilot and have him verbally promise me he'd give me something interesting, and to have what I've gotten over the past four years with Betty, is amazing. It keeps challenging me.
"It keeps giving me harder, weirder, more emotionally challenging things."
It has also put Jones -- whose pre-Mad Men credits included The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and American Wedding -- in high demand.
Case in point: On Friday, she stars opposite Liam Neeson in the psychological thriller Unknown. She portrays another strong spouse: the wife of a doctor (Neeson) who, after a car crash during a business trip in Berlin, wakes up from a coma to discover he's been replaced by an imposter (Aidan Quinn).
Confounding the mystery and his dilemma is the fact his wife doesn't recognize him. (What was I saying about Hitchcock blonds?) Eventually he's aided by a cab driver (Diane Kruger) and a former East German spy (Bruno Ganz) in unravelling the conspiracy.
"It was something I hadn't done before. I hadn't done an action film before," Jones says. "The character was undefinable in that you don't know whether she's a good guy or a bad guy or what the reality is. And getting to shoot in Berlin with Liam and Diane, it just seemed like a fun time. It was a really smart script and a director I really liked. Everything just added up. Sometimes you take that chance and the movie could just be so-so, but I'm very, very pleased -- it's a great film."
And she will follow Unknown with two more big-screen roles: opposite Nicolas Cage in the thriller The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, and as the manipulative mutant Emma Frost in the prequel X-Men: First Class.
"The whole fun part of this job is the risks you take. Sometimes you may not succeed, but the times you do, it's so much fun and exciting. That's what makes it worth it, I think."
Despite the burgeoning film career, she also expects to return to Mad Men for a fifth season in the near future. As of yet, there's no word when the series will be back.
"I never know until they tell me to be at work, literally. Each season, there's always the drama of whether Matthew Weiner will be back and is he going to sign a deal and he always does.
"So it's just a matter of time. We don't have a set pocket of when we have to start shooting or need to air. I'm not too worried about it."
Nor does she think just because Betty and advertising executive Don Draper (Hamm) have divorced and re-married that her role will be reduced.
"I think she'll come back a lot more this season. I think because Don and Betty aren't together you're not going to see the home life as much. I'm not sure what will happen there. I think somehow their lives intertwine more."
When I suggest Don and Betty should start cheating with each other on their new spouses, Jones smiles. "That's what I said too. That would be awesome. You always want what you can't have. I've already put my two cents in about that storyline.
"Jon and I get along really well, so we'd have fun with that. We wouldn't have to yell at each other all the time."
Then again, because it's such a tantalizing prospect, it probably means it will never happen.
"Matthew doesn't like to write for an audience. He's not going to give you what you expect ... It's fun for him and it's interesting for everyone that way."
Jones thrilled with 'X-Men' prequel
LOS ANGELES -- The new X-Men prequel continues to mutate even though it's scheduled to open in June.
"Poor (director) Matthew Vaughn is going to have to edit it in three days," January Jones says, laughing. "That's been a blast. We've all had so much fun making that movie."
Entitled X-Men: First Class, the film chronicles the origins of Marvel's super-powered mutant population. Set in the 1960s, it stars James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as a youthful Professor X and Magneto, respectively. Jones joins the franchise as Emma Frost aka The White Queen, a scantily clad blond with telepathic powers.
Vaughn's previous credits, including Kick-Ass and Layer Cake, may inspire confidence, but usually when a film is still shooting this close to its release date, it signals trouble.
Jones, however, predicts fans will be pleased.
"I think it was unrealistic for them to think they were going to make such a huge movie in whatever we had -- two months or something. So of course we went over (schedule). I think I have a couple more days to shoot.
"We're almost done. The fact we've had to push the wrap date but they haven't moved the release date is really interesting to me. I guess they must know what they're doing. I have a lot of faith in Matthew as a director and an editor; I think his movies are great. And I think they've been cutting as we've been going. We should be fine."
As is true of most female comics characters, Frost isn't known for being over-dressed. And neither apparently will Jones be in the movie.
"Everybody wants to know about the costume," she says. "I didn't really know much about her beforehand, but when I did my research, she's a very -- specifically visually -- iconic character. Nobody talks about the fact she's got the most bad-ass powers.
"But yeah, she has very skimpy outfits. So we had a lot of fun with that."