As Joan Harris (née Holloway), the corseted, curvy, take-no-prisoners secretary-in-chief in AMC's hit series Mad Men, Christina Hendricks has crashed a vase over someone's head to get attention. In real life, the star has wowed audiences and critics simply by being herself, a talent whose range is matched only by her extraordinary energy and beauty.
This fall she has two new movies -- the comedy I Don't Know How She Does It, co-starring Sarah Jessica Parker, and the thriller Drive, opposite Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. And she's recently resumed filming the fifth season of Mad Men, which has earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series, a Critics' Choice Television Award, and legions of fans who either want to be Joan or date her. At press time, she was up for her second Emmy nomination.
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Hendricks, 36, has made Hollywood's coveted "A list," and she's done it on her own exacting terms, heralded equally for the mastery of her craft and her looks. Esquire voted her America's Most Beautiful Woman last year, but she's a self-professed homebody who'd rather be knitting than posing on every red carpet in town. She's idealized enough physically to have earned her own Barbie doll, but she makes women feel good about themselves.
Hendricks' power doesn't just come from her skill or because she thumbs a perfectly manicured finger at the idea of size 2 beauty. It's also due to her stalwart belief that a life well lived -- professionally and personally -- entails confidently embracing oneself and the world. Says I Don't Know How She Does It director Douglas McGrath, "You expect to meet a heart-staggering, man-killing wonder woman, but she's so friendly and sweet, with a wonderful, droll intelligence and sense of humor."
"My mother always made me feel like we could accomplish anything," says Hendricks of the now-retired therapist. (Her father worked for the U.S. Forest Service; her brother, Aaron, is a graphic designer in Los Angeles and the producer and host of the Web podcast GeeksOn, on which Christina has appeared.) "If we wanted to try something new or had an interest in something, she was always incredibly excited for us and had positive feedback. And I think that affected every part of my life and career and how I've carried myself. I always felt like I could do anything."