Mad Men’s Christopher Stanley (Henry Francis)

Betty’s second husband and greatest supporter

May 12, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


[As a tribute to AMC’s award-winning drama Mad Men—which wraps its seventh and final season this Sunday, May 17th—we’re speaking with the actors who played several of our favorite characters on the show. We’ll be discussing specific moments and episodes from the entire run, so please take warning: these interviews will contain many spoilers for those not caught up on the series.]

Henry Francis was introduced to Don and Betty Draper at a Kentucky Derby party hosted by Roger Sterling during Mad Men’s third season. The handsome, divorced public relations director to New York’s then-Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, is smitten with Betty from their first meeting—it’s apparent soon that the attraction is mutual. She calls him to see if he can use his political connections to stop a development from destroying the local reservoir; he pulls some strings to win her favor. An affair begins, which eventually leads to a marriage proposal. The season ends with Betty and Henry on a plane to Nevada, where she can swiftly obtain papers in order to divorce Don.

Christopher Stanley became a regular Mad Men cast member after Henry Francis became Betty’s second husband. For the past four seasons, Henry has been Betty’s most stable supporter and a surrogate father figure not only to the Draper children, but to Betty herself. In turn, she boosts Henry’s confidence and supports and encourages him to further his own political career.

Stanley is a 25-year veteran television actor, and has also appeared in as acclaimed films as Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. He spoke to us about his Mad Men role as Henry Francis, a part that he’s played for the past six years.

[Note: This interview was conducted prior to the airing of last Sunday’s episode, “The Milk and Honey Route.” Several of Stanley’s comments have taken on new meaning given that episode’s revelations.]

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: Mad Men wrapped up shooting a while back. Was it an emotional goodbye for you? What were your last days like on set?

Christopher Stanley: The best word to describe it, for me, at least, was “bittersweet.” It was a mixed soup of emotions. You’re saying goodbye to years of your life and to the people that you worked with, so you’re sad and melancholy about that. But at the same time, it’s a celebration of something that we all created collectively. We made something that I think was a pretty important piece of television, and there’s something about that to be celebrated.

Also, something about it felt very complete to me; very honest, and it was very done. I was looking forward to what was ahead and what was coming. So, it was sort of a combination and contradiction of different emotions.

You joined the show part way into its run. Can you talk about your audition? How much did you know about Henry Francis from the beginning?

The scene that I received to audition with didn’t have Henry’s name, so I didn’t know it was going to be Henry. That was a thing that was very common. Matt [Weiner] did that in order to protect the material and so that things wouldn’t get out. I just knew it was a scene between a man and a woman; a man and a woman meeting. It was just a scene between these two people, and for some reason I’m not recalling what it was. But, it was only supposed to be for two or three episodes, as far as I knew. I think it was after I shot my second episode that Matt came up to me—actually, it was the casting director, Carrie Audino, who came up to me and said, “Your character is going to recur. You’re going to be around for a while.” And I was like, “Wow, that’s fantastic.” I was very excited. And then another couple of episodes went by, and Matt came over to talk to me and said, “You’re going to be on the show, and you’re going to marry Betty.” We had a long discussion about that.

As far as the audition process, it was great. It was Matt directing the scene, asking me to do it three or four different ways. It was a good experience; I enjoyed auditioning for Matt and for Carrie. It was one of those auditions that just went really well.

What’s interesting about Henry is that while he came in and swept up the hero’s wife, he’s not really a villain on the show. If anything, he’s probably the most sympathetic character in that Don-Betty-Henry triangle. Is that something you agree with?

I absolutely agree with that, and it’s actually nice to hear someone say it. [Laughs] Because I’ve heard all kinds of things: “He’s a homewrecker, he’s this, he’s that,” and “What kind of man steals another man’s wife?” and all this B.S. But, the truth of the matter is that the marriage between Don and Betty was over long before Henry showed up, and she was ripe for the taking. He fell in love with her. I can state a zillion different reasons why he was attracted to this woman, but the truth of the matter is that he just fell in love with her and saw her as a woman he could build a future with, kids an all. He wanted to do that. I think once he realized the state of her emotional condition and the state of her marriage to Don, Henry just thought it was the right thing to do. There was a bit of a savior in him, I think, and he was willing to take on that challenge and be a good husband and good father. Depending on who you are, your perception and how you view that kind of thing is going to determine how you feel about Henry, but that’s how I feel about it.

It’s clear Betty isn’t always the easiest person to be married to.

No, she isn’t. [Laughs] She’s a very complex woman.

What do you think it is—either, something in Henry’s character, or something that he sees in her—that’s helped them stay together for so long?

Well, you touched on it—you said he’s a sympathetic guy. I think, for that time period, he’s a very progressive guy. He’s someone who’s very willing to see the value in women; in particular, in Betty. I think he sees in her a woman who hasn’t had the benefit of fully discovering her strength in life—her purpose in life—beyond what she does as a mother. I think he’s very willing to support her in those endeavors, and he wants to see her succeed. He sees her as more than a trophy piece, and he wants to see her grow and be a woman in every sense of the word, and not just being a mother. He’s very willing to support her, and I think she’s resistant to a lot of that. She has trust issues with men, given her trainwreck with Don. She’s a very easy woman to judge—she’s probably the most harshly-judged character on the show. Sometimes that’s warranted, and sometimes it’s not. Henry just loves her and wants her to succeed in any way.

One moment between Henry and Betty that a got a lot of people talking is when Sally invites a friend over, and she impresses Henry with her violin playing. Betty later makes an extremely inappropriate remark regarding the girl to Henry. Was that line as shocking for you to read, as it was for viewers to hear?

You’re talking about when Betty and Henry were in bed, and she makes the rape comment? When I read it, of course, at the first read I went, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. What is this?” But once I read it over a few times it started to make more and more sense to me. I talked to Matt about it, and I became less and less reactive to it. It’s just a scene where I think you see Betty trying to get under Henry’s skin a bit. It’s just so Betty to say something like that, and to go over the top and say something extreme. It might be her way of expressing a little bit of insecurity, as well.

If you’ve been married or know married couples, these seemingly-inappropriate, kind of weird, strange comments sometimes fly back and forth between married couples. Either as a way to get under each other’s skin, or to poke fun at each other. It’s nothing they’d ever say in public, because it would be misconstrued, of course. But it was an innocent comment, and I think it was her way of trying to get a rise out of him. Which succeeded. [Laughs]

Not only is Henry’s relationship with Betty interesting, but I like seeing him interact with the kids—especially your scenes with Kiernan Shipka (Sally). Do you think Henry was able to give the children something that Don never could?

Yeah, I do. If you recall, Henry is divorced himself. He has a fully-grown daughter, and I think he realizes how much divorce can affect children, and how hard it is on them. As they’re searching for their own identities, they can turn to self-blame and self-loathing about why their parents separated. I think Henry’s sensitive to that; he’s been through that with his first marriage, with his daughter. And I do believe that he has something to offer them, in the way of stability and giving them a foundation, and being there for them as much as he can. In an emotional sense, it’s something that Don always struggled with, I think. The thing with Don is that when he was there, he did his best and tried, but he’s struggling with his own demons. It’s hard to be there as a father to someone else when you’re tortured; he’s a grieving man who’s tortured by his past, and it was very difficult for him to be the father that he would have liked to be. I think Henry stepped in and was very willing to fill that void. I think that Don accepted that, as time went by, though we never really saw it completely.

One of the great things about the show is how much the characters change over time. Henry’s evolution is subtle. What do you think are biggest ways your character changed from his first appearance until now?  

In terms of his character, I don’t think he changed much at all. The man that you saw coming in is the man you’ll see going out. I think he is who he is. Henry’s the kind of guy who’s been to the puppet show and seen the strings. He’s going to be the man he’s going to be. He may be a bit more worn-out from his relationship with Betty, and maybe questioning himself a little bit more about why he decided to get into this marriage. He might be a little bit more weary and a little less tolerant of some of the things that Betty does, and some of the things that she resists. I think we see him—sort of uncharacteristically—lose his patience a few times with her. I think that’s him trying to negotiate this marriage, and I think he finds it difficult at times.

Do you have any personal favorite scenes from the show that your character was part of?

Well, one of my favorite episodes from the entire show, actually, is one from season four called “The Summer Man.” It’s this interesting dynamic that happens between Don and Henry. You see for the first Don journaling, and hear a voiceover as he’s trying to find himself. I like the sort of push-and-pull between Don and Henry in that episode. I really enjoyed that episode for a lot of reasons: it was a very introspective episode, and it had this dreamlike quality that I liked. For the first time, I think you really see Don going on this inward journey trying to see what he is and why he’s making the mistakes he’s making. As he struggles with that, it’s interesting because you see his juxtaposition with Henry, who’s going through the same sort of journey, but in a different way. They’re clearly two very different men, but they share some qualities and have things in common. That episode was beautiful, and I thought it displayed that very well.

What are your favorite scenes you that you weren’t in?

Oh, there’s so many. I think the scene—and it’s something simple, and not big—where Grandpa Gene is teaching Sally how to drive. It looks like he’s driving the car, and then the camera pans over and you see Sally behind the wheel. There’s something about that. I don’t know. I think it reminds me of when I was a kid, and my father would let me sit on his lap and steer the car. For some reason that scene really touched me, and I love it.

And, of course, any scene with Bobby Morse (Burt Cooper) I love. [Laughs]

What’s up next for you? What should we be watching for once Mad Men is over?

I did an episode of Comedy Bang! Bang! that was really fun, and it should air [soon]. It was great working with Scott Aukerman and Reggie Watts. It was so different from the seriousness and heaviness of Mad Men, and it was good to sort of let my hair down and be a goof. That was really fun. [The episode will premiere on IFC on June 5th.]

What were your favorite things about working on Mad Men? What are you going to miss most about working with the cast and crew?

What I’ll miss the most is the writing. Getting those scripts every week was such a joy. Reading each script was like reading a chapter in a great novel. I loved the way each character was written, and I loved the way Henry was written. I’m going to miss Henry. I love the subtext of it—and that’s the sort of thing you don’t see a lot on television. That kind of detail, and specific character attributes. I’m going to miss that so much. And I’ll just miss going to work, to be honest with you, and having such a great job to look forward to, and to be a part of something that was really groundbreaking in so many ways. I’m going to miss that creative process, and seeing how these people develop and where they go.

There are just so many things. The crew was outstanding. They were the best crew I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with quite a few. They were wonderful, and professional, and they worked hard, very long hours. They never faltered.

***

For more information about Mad Men, head to AMC’s website



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Lee
May 15th 2015
11:10am

This was an interesting episode, but I would have liked to know his views on some of the more “difficult” aspects of Henry’s personality . . . or what Betty may have viewed as difficult.

Mary Caputo
November 24th 2017
8:25am

Henry is my favorite character.  He is a good man, human and warm, also ambitious and hard working.  The kindness and love he extended to Betty’s children was a beautiful thing.  Christopher Stanley was marvelous in this role.  I will watch anything he is in from now on.