January Jones was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but was raised in a small town of some 400 souls in the Mount Rushmore State for the first decade of her life. January is her real name, as she was named after "January Wayne", a character in Jacqueline Susann's potboiler Once Is Not Enough (1975). She worked at the All-American job of counter girl at Dairy Queen after school.
Her father was a teacher, and the family eventually moved back to Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota. After graduating from Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, she moved to New York City to become a model. Despite her lack of height (5'6", which is short for a fashion model), she got modeling gigs, including Abercrombie & Fitch ads, because of her striking good looks. However, modeling was just a means to an end, to get out of South Dakota and avoid going to college.
She got her first taste of acting from TV commercials and found that she had flair for it, even though she did not act in high school and had no training. January appeared in a couple of TV pilots and a cable TV show before making her big screen debut in All the Rage (1999), an indie that never got a real release. She followed it up with a small role in the teen thriller The Glass House (2001).
Her actual debut in the sense of attracting attention was in the near silent role of the beauty who entices Jane Fonda's son, Troy Garity, in the Bruce Willis-Cate Blanchett-Billy Bob Thornton comedy Bandits (2001). It was not a career-making part. At the time the movie was released, she was ending a three-year relationship with Ashton Kutcher.
Small roles followed, including a "don't blink or you won't see me" part in the Adam Sandler-Jack Nicholson comedy Anger Management (2003). She gained some career traction with a good role in another comedy, American Wedding (2003), a sequel to American Pie (1999). Until she landed the part on "Mad Men" (2007), which made its debut on AMC in 2007, her career was steady but undistinguished.
"I choose roles that are not me", January has said. The role of Betty Draper has garnered her two Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy nomination as Best Actress. Her cool, Grace Kelly-ish blonde ice queen looks -- counterpointed by her soul burning in her bright blue eyes -- have established her as a retro icon of the 21st Century.