LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Randee Heller is walking the Emmy red carpet for the first time this year, but hoping that her many fans — some of whom created a Facebook page in her honor — won’t recognize her.
That’s because the “Mad Men” actress is nominated for her guest role in the 1960s TV drama as the cantankerous, racist, octogenarian secretary Miss Blankenship — a character that added 20 years and hours of make-up to Heller’s real self.
Heller, 64, talked and laughed with Reuters ahead of the Creative Arts Emmy ceremony on Saturday about the brief life (and hilarious death) of Miss Blankenship, and how 10 years ago she almost gave up working as an actress.
Q; What were you told about the character of Miss Blankenship when you were first cast on Season 4 of “Mad Men”?
A; “Literally nothing. (Creator) Matt Weiner approached me and said, ‘first of all we are going to make you look terrible. Is that okay?’ and I said ‘sure, have fun’. The first thing I knew is that they were really going to age me up. That process took a couple of hours. They aged my skin, put on brown age spots, and then the wig and glasses.
“They wanted a very strong New York accent — which is not difficult for me to do — and they just said, she is very loud, and I said to myself she probably has a hearing problem and she has been in the office for decades and nobody intimidates her. As the weeks progressed they would tell me little bits here and there — that she was the ‘Queen of Perversions’ and I was like WHAT? So it was fun, kind of a surprise.”
Q: How big a shock was it when you learned Miss B. was going to be killed off?
A: “I had no idea she was going to die. I was so disappointed, but they said you are going to have the greatest death of all time (Laughs). In retrospect, I really did understand this was the best arc for her because you couldn’t really push it any further. She’s not going to sleep with Don Draper! So it was perfect. It was a great smattering of her character.”
Q: How many takes were there of that scene of you falling over dead on your desk?
A: “I hit that desk at least 15 times!. They had a little sponge the size of a quarter (on my head). It was like a high dive into a very small pool. But the glasses kept banging into my eyes. After a few times, they padded up my arms. It was fun though. We knew it was going to be hilarious and kind of touching.”
Q: You’ve played all sorts of parts on the stage, TV and in movies like “The Karate Kid”. How different was Miss Blankenship?
A: “I have never had that experience of having to inhabit the body of someone who looked at least 15 years older than me. It was very freeing. You didn’t have to care what you looked like. If you had bags under your eyes in the morning, that was good!”
Q: How did you react to news of your Emmy nomination?
A: “I thought it was impossible for me to get nominated. I was like, WHAT?! I couldn’t believe it. I said, it’s got to be a mistake. I was absolutely thrilled and totally surprised.”
Q: So will we recognize you on the red carpet without all the Miss Blankenship make-up and costume?
A: “Probably not. I hope not! That’s what I am thinking. If they do I, am going to be very depressed (laughs). Maybe I should wear the glasses or the wig.”
Q: Has your success on “Mad Men” opened more doors for you in Hollywood?
A: “Right after, I did ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and I did a recurring role on ‘Plain Sight.’ And I just did a role on the upcoming season of ‘Desperate Housewives’. I hope there are a lot of things that are going to happen from this. It’s a hard age. I dropped out of the business for 8 years and I taught English as a second language. Then I decided to go back to acting and I got ‘Mad Men’. It was really amazing because when I was in my 50s, it was very hard to get work.
“But to my surprise I have an Emmy nomination, and I have never even been to the Emmys! So it’s like I am Cinderella. But actually having thought about it, I am Cinder-elder!.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte