January Jones is born in the tiny hamlet of Hecla, S.D., to gym teacher Marv and sporting goods store manager Karen. By age 10, she moves with her family to the larger city of Sioux Falls, where she runs track, plays tennis and works as a lifeguard.
After Jones is approached by a modeling scout while shopping, her mother Karen says she can go to New York City to pursue work as a model – but only after completing school. "So I hurried up and finished high school almost a year early," Jones tells Interview magazine. "Three days after I turned 18, I went to New York."
While modeling for Abercrombie & Fitch, Jones meets fellow mannequin Ashton Kutcher, whom she begins dating. During their three-year relationship, Jones gets disillusioned with the world of fashion and ventures into acting. "I wasn't really inspired by the modeling world but the commercials became really fun," she later tells Vanity Fair, adding that Kutcher discouraged her career change. "If anything, I should thank him," she says. "Because the minute you tell me I can't do something, that's when I'm most motivated."
After years of playing bit parts, Jones is suddenly everywhere in 2003, from playing a lesbian porn star in Anger Management and a virginal bridesmaid In American Wedding to a Midwestern airhead in Love Actually. "I remember her being particularly bright," Love Actually's director Richard Curtis tells GQ. "That completely classic American beauty tied in with the fact that she's funny as well…it was quite a combination."
With her career heating up, Jones also finds success off-screen with singer Josh Groban, whom she meets at a party in Hollywood. "Every time I see him, I'm nervous and giddy and I blush," says the actress, who dates Groban until 2006.
Jones lands a part in AMC's lauded '60-advertising drama Mad Men, opposite Jon Hamm. Though the actress unsuccessfully auditions for the role of perky, proto-feminist Peggy Olson, creator Matthew Weiner has another part in mind for her. "He wasn't sure what he was going to do with [Betty Draper], and there weren't any real lines for Betty at the time," she tells the Chicago Sun-Times of the icy trophy wife she'd come to play. "He wrote a couple scenes overnight – really amazing scenes, actually – and I came in and read for him, and that was it."
No longer just a cult hit, Mad Men wins Jones two Screen Actors Guild awards (for outstanding ensemble), two Golden Globe acting nominations, and an Emmy nod for outstanding lead actress in a drama series. "Jones and her pretty scowl are as integral to Mad Men's winning ensemble as Don and his dapper hat," EW praises of the actress.
Beyond the accolades, Jones's impact stretches even further: Her character's classic style influences modern-day fashion, with the attention culminating in a rite of passage for Jones: She hosts Saturday Night Live.
Jones's rising fame comes to a head one evening in L.A. while being pursued by photographers. Jones reportedly loses control of her Range Rover and crashes into several parked vehicles. Stirring more controversy, the actress leaves the scene to call the police from home. "She was being followed by paparazzi and hit two parked cars. She wasn't under the influence of anything. No one got hurt," the Los Angeles Police Department says, pressing no charges.
Months after hosting SNL, Jones is linked to the show's funnyman Jason Sudeikis, who jokingly boasts about seeing the beautiful blonde naked. "We're dating, she's great. I'm very happy with everything," Sudeikis tells Vanity Fair, a few months before the pair announce their split in January.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): J. P. Aussenard/WireImage; Richard Corkery/Getty; Everett; Gregg DeGuire/WireImage; Carin Baer/AMC; Frazer Harrison/Getty; Mathew Imaging/WireImage