Anyone who has ever watched more than just a few episodes of Mad Men is familiar with the sexy department store heiress character Rachel Menken, played by Maggie Siff. Menken has a rare hold on Don Draper’s aching heart, and she’s one of the few women in Don’s life with a shelf life longer than one season—her role is crucial and far reaching. (Fans of Sons of Anarchy will also recognize Siff as Tara.) So, naturally, we were thrilled to see what Siff’s new role on Showtime’s Wall Street drama Billions, which premiered last week, was all about—and man, were we enthralled. As the confident, unflinching in-house therapist for Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis)’s hedge fund by day (the woman can give one hell of a pep talk) and the wife of District Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) by night, Siff’s character walks a fine line balancing the dichotomy between her home life and her career. To complicate things, Lewis and Giamatti’s characters are bitter adversaries, making Siff one of their only common interests and a real power player. We were excited to sit down and hear more about her passion for acting, her new title as executive movie producer, and what she’s currently bingeing on.
(PS: Fun fact before we begin—Siff was originally called to read for Peggy Olsen in Mad Men. But as soon as she read and connected with Rachel Menken’s character, her mind was made up. And we’re so happy with that result.)
What is it like working with Damian and Paul on Billions?
Maggie Siff: It is such an amazing pleasure to work with both of them because each of them individually is brilliant in really different ways. And my character is so multifaceted, the pleasure of working with them is that they each bring out such different parts of myself. It’s kind of an amazing way to expose a character, to introduce a character, to see her with these really two different personality types. But they’re both joyful, they’re incredible actors, and they make such unique and interesting choices. I just get to, you know, go to work and to get to play with them every day. I get to enjoy them on camera and then to enjoy them off camera—it’s just lucky.
So as a cast, you guys have a great dynamic offscreen as well.
Siff: We do. It’s really incredibly lucky. You know, you sign on for things because you respond to the material, and I knew Damian and Paul were attached to the project. I admired each of them tremendously as actors, but there’s no guarantee that they’re going to be good people. So it’s just like icing on the cake. Also, especially with television when you’re potentially signing on for years and years of life together, you really cross your fingers. We got lucky.
It struck me as interesting the parallels between Rachel Menken and Wendy Rhoades: They are both power women and the sexy seductress type. What’s attractive about playing those kinds women?
Siff: [Laughs] I think I’m drawn to characters who have a lot of incredible, native intelligence and who aren’t afraid to work with it. I don’t know if I’m necessarily drawn to professional women per say, but these two women happen to fall into that camp. You know, Wendy lives many, many, many decades beyond Rachel Menken. So we get to see her operating on a number of different levels, which is what’s so fun about her. We see her in her domestic sphere and then we see her in these different roles in her domestic sphere and then we also see her in her professional sphere. And we see her having a bunch of really different kinds of relationships in her professional sphere. She’s an incredibly multilayered character. I was drawn to that as much as anything else. It’s unusual to read a role that’s so completely complicated and layered just off the page of a pilot.
In the past you’ve worked with some awesome Hollywood players: Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler, and, of course, Jon Hamm on Mad Men (to name just a few). What have been some of your favorite projects?
Siff: Well, Mad Men was definitely one of my favorite projects. I think that was a role that was really hard won, you know. Nobody expected Mad Men to become the culturally iconic thing that it became. But when I read the script, I was sort of galvanized by it. I worked really, really hard to get that role. It changed my life and changed my career. It moved me to Los Angeles. It kind of transformed everything in its wake. So I have a lot of gratitude for it, in addition to just loving the material and the role.
Any TV that you’re bingeing on now or recent movies you’ve seen and loved?
Siff: I just saw 45 Years with Charlotte Rampling. God, it is incredible. I was just watching her on-screen, and I was like, “I want to be her when I grow up.” Just to have had such a strong career, and she’s such a powerful and beautiful, sexy, moving performer still. I was really blown away by that film. And I’ve been bingeing on The Knick.
Mmmm… Clive Owen.
Siff: I think Clive Owen is dreamy.
Yes. Totally agree.
Siff: He is just so exciting to watch. I find that show really kind of visceral and scary and nuanced. I don’t know how he does it. It’s also just amazing to watch television that’s so cinematically exciting. I want to be a fly on the wall and follow Steven Soderbergh around one day and just see how he does it.
Also, congratulations on executive producing and starring in the film A Woman, A Part, which was just accepted into Rotterdam Film Festival. What do you have to say to a woman who wants to get behind the screen?
Siff: It’s been incredibly gratifying to work with this filmmaker, Elisabeth Subrin. Over time as an actor, your life with a project can be so short lived because you come on, you do it, and then you’re done. You have no control, no say, and all of a sudden there’s all of this distance between the work you’ve put into something and the product as you see it appear on-screen. So for me to get to work with a writer-director over time in developing a project—my investment feels much more profound. I know that whatever is on the other end I’m going to feel that much closer to. As an artist, I think it’s critical for keeping yourself alive that you try to get your hands into something a little bit more intensely. It’s one of the reasons why I love theater because you never actually let go of it and it never feels like there’s a tremendous distance between the process and the product. So, I think, as an actor, theater is like one of the things that you feel most in control of and in charge of. And then in film and television, to be able to do something where you begin to get behind a camera, or produce, or write, allows you to again bridge that gap and make you feel more in control. That’s what keeps you alive as an artist.
I love to hear that. Can you tell Glamour what’s next for you? What you’d love to do in the future?
Siff: I want to do more independent film. I’m blessed to be working on really quality episodic television, which to me actually feels like a sort of 13-hour film. But I am interested in exploring the two-hour kind of artistically charged independent film. I’ve been doing more of that, and I find it pretty exciting because people are there for the love of it, you know? That’s what makes something creatively satisfying.
For any Glamour readers who are trying to break into acting—do you have any advice for them?
Siff: You just have to learn how to fall down and get back up again. You just have to keep going. I mean it really is about developing a pretty thick skin and not straying too far off the course of what your true self and sensibility is. I feel like it’s very easy as an actor and, in particular, as an actress to feel like, “Oh, I need to look this way,” or “Oh, I need to act this way,” or “Oh, I need to try to copy this or imitate that.” Really what you need to do is bore down into yourself and not be afraid to show that and be that and embody that. That authenticity is actually the thing that ends up mattering the most. But it’s very hard to feel that when you’re in the moment.
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Photos: Courtesy of Getty