Jessica Paré on Marriage, Masculinity, and Why She’s a Reluctant Wife

Actress Jessica Pare at the 2014 Met Gala
 Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images

The actress best known as Mrs. Don Draper on the differences between men and women—and why she’s a reluctant wife.

You were the second wife of Don Draper on Mad Men and are now a CIA analyst who instructs Navy SEALs on the new show SEAL Team, on CBS. What’s it like to play against such archetypes of masculinity?

With men and women, there is this concept of us and them, that we’re so different, that there are chasms between us. I tell my male friends who don’t feel comfortable writing for women, “Here’s a handy trick: Just treat your female characters as if they were people.” I don’t think we’re fundamentally that different. There’s a spectrum, and we’re all shades of gray in terms of gender and sexuality. The binary doesn’t really apply. I grew up with three brothers and have the mouth of a trucker, which would be considered a more masculine quality. Yet I’ve definitely offended men who I’ve worked with. And I have female friends who don’t mind—and can even rival me in profanity and vulgarity.

Fortunately, things have evolved for women since the Mad Men days.

Yes. I recently read this article called “I Don’t Help My Wife. You Shouldn’t Either.” The idea is that if they’re your own kids, if it’s your own home, you’re not helping, because helping suggests that you are doing somebody a favor—that it wasn’t your responsibility to begin with. My partner [Canadian musician John Kastner] is a grown man and lives in this home with me and has children with me. He knows what his children need, so he doesn’t have to ask me if there is anything to do around the house. He can see that the dishwasher needs to be unloaded or the laundry hasn’t been put away, and that it’s his responsibility as much as mine. Our son, Blues, can see this, and now he puts his own dishes in the dishwasher, even though he’s only 2 years old.

“I grew up with three brothers and have the mouth of a trucker. I’ve definitely offended men who I’ve worked with.”

Speaking of your partner, you guys are clearly committed, but you aren’t married. Why is that?

It has a lot to do with my feeling constricted by the role of “wife.” I feel constrained by it, and I need to figure out what that definition can be before I become one. To me, a wife sounds like somebody who’s going to do your ironing—and I honestly don’t even know if I have an iron.

Even Megan Draper wouldn’t have ironed for Don!

Yeah, and of course my husband would never ask me to do that. But in society, we still do attach meanings to these labels. I know that I am free to redefine it as I wish, but I’m still working on that. We probably will get married just because it’s easier legally. That doesn’t sound very romantic, but it’s enough for us. We’re committed; we have a life together. It doesn’t get more married than that. Except for the papers.

How do you think you would have done as a CIA agent or a SEAL in real life?

Very poorly. Unless there’s a branch where you can sit around and watch reruns of Law & Order and order pizza. I don’t think that’s a part of the American military, but I don’t know. I mean, I’m Canadian.

I hate to sound like an ICE agent here, but are you an American citizen?

Not yet, but I plan on becoming one. I have a green card, so I’m technically a resident alien in my host country. That makes me sound like a disease.

What do you do to relax?

I like to cook, so I get those Imperfect Produce delivery boxes and make a lot of quick pickles. And I read four books in three days recently. Right now, I’m reading Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish, a novel by David Rakoff that’s all written in rhyming couplets. I want to cry every time I read the title. Once in a while I play the ukulele—mostly under duress from Blues. But he definitely does not want me to sing, which is kind of a bummer.

That’s funny because you made such a splash singing “Zou Bisou Bisou” on Mad Men.

I’ve been in a few elevators where somebody started to whistle it or hum it. Or times when I’ve lost my train of thought and then distracted everyone by breaking into “Zou Bisou Bisou.”

You’ve also sang onstage with Jesus and Mary Chain. Did that fulfill any rock-star fantasies?

Absolutely. They’re buddies of mine and John’s, and they invited me to a couple of shows with them. I had the best time, but it was terrifying. Give me a camera, a set, and a crew, and it feels quite intimate no matter how many people end up watching it. Getting up in front of thousands of people was terrifying. I really had to talk myself out of a panic attack by saying, “People spent a lot of money on these tickets. They got a babysitter, and they took a car into town, and they paid for dinner and drinks, and they’re here to see their favorite band, and you’re going to sing their favorite song. Do them this solid, and don’t fuck it up.”

You live in Los Angeles, which has such a driving culture, but I understand that you didn’t get your driver’s license until you were in your mid-20s.

I’m happy to say that I’ve totally caught up. I don’t want you to be jealous, but I drive a hybrid Jetta. It’s pretty fucking sweet. And I’m absolutely road ragey and have a total superiority complex—just like every other L.A. driver.