Mad Men may be valued for its anti-hero dramatics, but it also gets laughs that rival some of TV’s best comedies. In Season 7, a lot of those jokes have come from Meredith (Stephanie Drake), Don Draper’s well-meaning but head-in-the-clouds secretary who doesn’t always seem to understand the subtleties of the workplace.
Take a scene from the first half of the season when she breaks the news to Don that the other partners are planning to vote him out of the firm. “I know you’re feeling vulnerable,” she says with gravity, “but I am your strength.” Then she leans in and plants a kiss. It might be the most unwanted pass he’s seen since Peggy’s awkward hand-touching in Season 1.
But the goofy run-in doesn’t seem to have affected their professional relationship, and she was back with more sass in Sunday night’s episode (“Casting always starts on time. Can’t you smell the cheap perfume?”). We caught up with Stephanie Drake to talk about the costumes, the jokes and the big finale.
TIME: Meredith has become a fan favorite over the last season. Do you think the writers started adding more bits for her because she was playing so well?
I think so. When I first got the part three years ago, at the beginning of Season 5, I don’t think anyone really knew where the character was going. I think they were inspired by how funny the character was, and they must have been getting some good feedback, because they kept bringing me back for more and more.
One of the best things about Meredith, which goes as far back as the scene where she backtalks Joan and gets a toy airplane thrown at her, is that she’s a little insubordinate for a secretary, but she seems innocent enough that she gets away with it.
I know! Her ditziness definitely gets the best of her sometimes, but deep down I think she still is good at her job, or else there’s no way she would still be around, you know? But I think even from my second episode, I chase right after someone who walks right through reception without letting me announce them. She really does take her job so seriously. It’s just unfortunate, when these things come up and Joan calls her an idiot, I think that really tarnishes her reputation!
Do you think her traits make her the best secretary Don has had?
She thinks she is! I think Meredith really cares about Don genuinely and she wants what’s best for him. She is the best thing for him. In her mind.
That makes me think of the scene at the end of last year when she has what she thinks is a love scene with Don, but he thinks it’s an awkward moment. What did you think when you read that script?
I was so excited. All of my scenes up until then had been fantastic and funny and I’ve loved them, but I feel like that scene was the first time that I got something that was uncomfortable but amazing. I was nervous and excited, and probably so red in the face the first time we did it. But that’s the kind of scene that actors dream of having, especially at the level where I am, where Mad Men was my first big part on a TV show. To be able to have a scene like that with the main character was just a dream come true. To continue on after that, I feel like the scene I had with Jon [Hamm] in this past week’s episode where I gave him the information that Rachel Menken died—that was another amazing scene. I feel like I’m so lucky to have the writers keep writing me these great parts.
How is it working with Jon in those scenes?
He’s great. He’s so on top of his game, and ready to work, and very supportive. Every time we finished a big scene like that he would congratulate me and give me a big hug and tell me I did a good job. You can’t ask for much more from a scene partner. After the kiss scene he gave me the biggest hug. It just took all the breath out of me.
What did you say?
I don’t even remember! That whole day is such a blur. I probably said, “Thank you!” I do remember at one point just looking at him and saying, “I can’t believe we’re kissing!”
I think a lot of people watch the show and say, “I’m a Joan,” or “I’m a Peggy.” Is there a character you particularly relate to?
Meredith is definitely my favorite character! I just adore her. In real life, I think I see myself mostly in Peggy. I love how she’s risen to every occasion and worked her way up. As actors, we all start at the bottom and slowly work our way up just like every other job, really. It’s not much different from the advertising world. She’s so strong and knows who she is and what she wants. I think I see myself in her.
What do you think of Roger’s mustache on this season?
He looks so much older with it! I do. It’s the ’70s now, so I get it, but between him and Ted there’s just so much facial hair!
What can you tell me about the finale?
I can say that I’m pleased with how the character ends up.
Do you have any specific plans for watching it?
I’m thinking about having all of my girlfriends over. I haven’t had them all over since the kissing episode. No one knew a thing—they knew something exciting was happening or else I wouldn’t have invited everybody, but I wish I had recorded their reactions.
Is there anyone or anything you miss from the set?
I just got to see everybody a couple weeks ago at the premiere party, so that was really nice. It was good to see Christina [Hendricks] and Vincent [Kartheiser]. And I do keep in touch with all of the secretary girls—we’ve all become really good friends, which is wonderful. We meet up for lunches and coffees and things like that. I feel like everyone was always excited when I was on set, because they knew a funny scene would be shot that day, and it wouldn’t be so serious. I’ll miss the snacks and my costumes.
Do you have a favorite costume that Meredith wore, or that anybody else wore?
I loved all of my costumes. I think my favorite—and I actually got to wear it again in this episode—was that black and white dress with the black buttons going down the front. The first time I wore it, I had my daisy earrings and my daisy pin. This episode I was wearing something different with it, but I just loved that dress—I thought it was so cute.
As far as someone else, I always love Joan’s costumes. She had this one navy dress with this big lime green bow one time and I just thought it was the cutest thing.
What’s next for you post-Mad Men?
I wish I knew! I’ve just been back to the grind, back to auditioning. I did shoot an episode of CSI: Cyber that’s coming out in May. That was fun—working with Patricia Arquette was amazing. I hope I get another role as fantastic as Meredith. I’ve been doing a sitcom-writing class and I’ve been dabbling in stand-up as well. Who knows—maybe I’ll be on my own show some day.