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Astoria man goes ‘Mad’ for walk-on television role

A 30-year-old out-of-work actor from Astoria has scored a bit part on the Emmy Award-winning television show "Mad Men" after winning a competition during which he dressed up in women's clothing and delivered a monologue in the style of one of the show's feistiest characters.

Justin Zell, who lives in Astoria, won AMC's "You Could Be on Mad Men Contest" after portraying firecracker Joan Holloway from the critically acclaimed show about a 1960s Manhattan advertising firm. "Mad Men" recently became the first basic cable program to take home a Best Drama award as well as winning another Emmy for writing.

Zell said he is a devoted "Mad Men" viewer and was surprised that he won the contest.

"I was sitting at my girlfriend's computer when I read the news," he said. "I was speechless. It's been a very inspiring experience."

Zell said he worked with friends to complete six videos, in which he portrayed different characters from the show. But his portrayal of voluptuous office manager Joan Holloway won him an extra role on the show.

"My friends and I all worked collaboratively to make my videos," he said. "We even had 'Mad Men' watching dinner parties — to which, however, I didn't wear a dress. Mostly."

Zell was picked by Matt Weiner, the show's creator, and Co-Executive Producer Scott Hornbacher as the contest winner after viewing entries by 18 finalists.

Zell, dressed in a purple vintage dress, a wig, lipstick and a choker necklace, delivers a tutorial in the video for office assistants who could potentially work for Donald Draper, the show's mysterious protagonist who acts as creative director for the fictional advertising firm.

"I don't know what your goals are, but don't overdo it with the perfume," says Zell as he recites his monologue and mimics Holloway's no-nonsense delivery. "Always keep a fifth of something in your desk. Mr. Draper drinks rye."

He then directs the office assistants to go home, take off their clothes, cut eyeholes in a paper bag, place the bag over their heads, look into the mirror and evaluate their appearance's strengths and weaknesses. He tells them that the firm's philandering staff wants someone "between a mother and a waitress."

Zell will be flown to Los Angeles, where he will film his role for the show.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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