January Jones couldn’t wait to get out of South Dakota, says Jonathan Heaf in British GQ. The striking 31-year-old star of the hit series Mad Men grew up in a wholesome family in Heckler, S.D., a sleepy hamlet of 400, where the big fun is shooting crab apples off of hay bales. “It’s a great place to grow up—very safe, not much crime, lots of animals. You run around from sunup to sundown. Your mom doesn’t worry or look for you.”

But when Jones turned 16, a modeling scout offered her a job in New York, and she desperately wanted to say yes. Her parents refused, but three days after her 18th birthday, Jones headed for Manhattan. She quickly paid a price for her innocence. “The modeling company screwed me over. By the time I left, they told me I owed them $20,000.”

She moved to L.A. to pursue acting, and was cast as a blonde bimbo in such films as Taboo and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Now that she’s enjoying critical success for her acting in Mad Men, she’s raising the bar for future parts. “The offers I’m getting aren’t the ones I want. The ones I want are being given to Natalie Portman. Still, I can bide my time. I’m good at being patient.”