‘Mad Men’s’ prim Betty Draper takes on dangerous curves and expectations as Emma Frost: ‘I’m sure,’ she tells our Rebecca Keegan, ‘I will still disappoint someone.’
When January Jones was initially cast as mutant telepath Emma Frost in “X-Men: First Class,” she was eager to for the chance to break out of the retro 1960s world of Betty Draper, her character on “Mad Men.” Imagine the actress’ surprise when she learned that prim Betty and the vixen Emma could be partners in time.
“When I heard that this installment of ‘X-Men’ was gonna take place in the ’60s I was like, ‘Oh my God, you must be kidding me!’” Jones said. “But I read the script and familiarized myself with the character of Emma Frost. She’s so, so far from Betty and from ‘Mad Men,’ and it takes place in that time but it doesn’t feel like a period movie.”
A Kennedy-era prequel to the three previous X-Men films, “X-Men: First Class” finds Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the man who will become known as Magneto (Michael Fassbender) discovering their powers for the first time. The plan is to present them as onetime friends who are pulled down very different paths by life experience and their own worldviews. Some members of the creative team have said that the public-life trajectories of two 1960s icons — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X — have informed the story arc. Emma Frost, meanwhile, is a member of the villainous Hellfire Club, and she possesses the mutant power to morph into a diamond form.
Frost’s form is well known to comic book fans — IGN readers once voted her “the hottest comic babe,” picking her ahead of Black Widow, Power Girl, Elektra and Catwoman. The reason, no doubt, is Frost’s penchant for especially revealing outfits and the curves beneath those meager threads. “The costumes are insane,” Jones said.
“It’s a lot of very body-conscious stuff. If you look at the comic book, she’s barely dressed. She’s got quite the bod, which is very intimidating.”
Jones, who said she is encouraged to avoid the gym while shooting “Mad Men” to maintain a body typical of the period, flew to London to start shooting “X-Men: First Class” the day after her show wrapped.
“I’m thinking, ‘I’m supposed to be doing crunches on the plane,'” she said. “How am I gonna get buff in one day? I’m a petite person, so I didn’t want to go into a strict workout and eating regime. I would have disappeared entirely, and she’s very busty, very voluptuous, so I didn’t want to get rid of any of my curves.”
The workout-averse Jones lifted some weights for the role, but otherwise struck flattering poses and hoped for the best. She did have some advantages over the other actors when it came to costumes. “I don’t have to do all the crazy prosthetics,” Jones said. “When I morph into my diamond form, it’s all done on computer.”
One of the first things Jones wanted to understand about her character was the source of Emma’s anger, an answer she found by steeping herself in “X-Men” lore.
“Emma was a bespectacled, mousy child who had this power when she was young that she couldn’t quite harness, the telepathy, the mind-twisting stuff,” Jones said. “She had a falling out with her father and went her own direction.”
It wasn’t just learning Emma’s back-story that was important to Jones, but being able to reach hard-core fans. “Fans of the X-Men comics have a very set idea of these characters in their heads,” Jones said. “I wanted to know as much as I could about her so I wasn’t disappointing anyone. I’m sure I will still disappoint someone.”
The film, which opens in June, has about a month of shooting left. For Jones, it’s a welcome chance to branch out from 1960s housewife to 1960s bad girl. “I’m riding around in helicopters, I’m in a boat one day, I’m in all these fight sequences, we’re all over the English countryside,” she said. “I feel like I’m a kid playing mutant.”
– Rebecca Keegan
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