Interview date: 08/06/2009
Run date: 08/14/2009
When a television series becomes an enormous hit straight out of the box, there's always that immediate concern of whether or not it's going to suffer a sophomore slump. In the case of "Mad Men," the genius of creator Matthew Weiner managed to steer the show into a second season that easily matched the one which had preceded it. As such, there's considerably less concern that the show's third season, which premieres on AMC on August 16th, will live up to viewers' expectations.
Much of the series' cast turned up for a cocktail party during the Television Critics Association press tour, and although it was a madhouse to try and capture any of them alone, Bullz-Eye was able to achieve that task for a brief period of time with Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell) and Christina Hendricks (Joan Holloway), and we even managed to sneak into a scrum with Jon Hamm (Don Draper).
We also incorporated a portion of our interview with Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) into the piece below, since we met up with him at the cocktail party, too, and you'll note that, like everyone else, he is loathe to discuss anything specific about what we might see in Season 3. But, hey, fair enough: that just means we'll all be sitting around the TV on August 16th together.
Bullz-Eye: So, Season Two…
Vincent Kartheiser: Season two!
BE: I haven't seen the season three premiere yet, so I have to fall back on season two.
VK: Son of a gun.
BE: That scene in the season finale, where Elisabeth Moss pretty much blindsided you with the news about your child. How hard was that to play?
BE: I 'm sure you figured all season that was going to happen eventually.
VK: No, no. I mean, you never know. It could have gone a lot of ways. (Matthew Weiner) could have dragged that out for a long time. You know, that scene wasn't as hard as maybe it seems to the audience because we spent two years privately dealing with these emotions. You know, Pete, for the whole second season, was in love with Peggy. And Peggy, for the whole second season, was conflicted and held down by this weight of this thing she had done. And so in every scene, that was something. Every time we looked at each other, that was something. And so when it came time to finally do that scene, it was like just, "Let it go. All that stuff you were playing behind the thing, now you can just take down everything and play the thing."
BE: It was a very deep season for both of you, with – as you said – the behind-the-scenes going on, especially during the opening episodes with your feelings about your father and his death in the plane crash.
KV: I'm honored that (Matthew) writes for me like that. And, you know, for Pete Campbell especially, that character, his father is such a huge influence on his life. It's almost like he's doing everything sometimes, you know, to not become him and to prove to him that he can do it his own way. And then when his father leaves, he never has a chance to prove it to him. You know, I think that it's a force that changes him.
BE: The characters are so well developed. How much of that comes from Matt and how much of it is you figuring out how you are going to play something? I mean, does he come to you and say, "This is how I envision him reacting"?
KV: Yeah. There are definitely some times that we will do it and he'll say, "You know what to do, you know what to do." And other times he comes over and says, "This is what this is. This is this." And maybe even before we do the table read, maybe after we've done the scene twice on camera, whenever he feels we need to know or he feels that we didn't get it. At least for me. I shouldn't say "we," I should say that whenever he doesn't feel that I get it, he'll come over and say, "This is this thing. This is what you are really talking about or this is what it really means." He's great like that. It's a blessing to have someone like Matthew, who is really good at articulating his idea and speaking to actors. Giving one simple idea and letting that kind of inform the entire scene, inform the entire character's perspective on the scene.
BE: What was your favorite episode of season two?
VK: "The Jet Set" was great. There's a lot of great stuff there. I don't know if I want to pick a favorite because I'm favorites with all the writers. I don't want to kick any of them in the face, you know?
BE: What was your favorite development for Pete, then?
VK: Well, I thought the father storyline was really interesting. And the adoption thing was, I think, probably really my favorite. You know, the way that his mother reacted and how he kind of stood up to both of that…? He realized that he didn't have to stand up to Trudy by just taking his mother's advice. You know, he could defend both his mother and his wife and really be himself in that situation. That's something he hadn't done. Standing up to his father-in-law, I really enjoyed playing that. So there was some good stuff.
BE: Did you figure he would step away from Trudy on a more permanent basis, or at least try to?
VK: I never figured. I never figure because it's, like, if you start doing that, then you might start playing the scene differently, you know? If you go, "Oh, this is what Matt's going to do…" And you never know. If you say, "Well, this is what Matt's going to do, so I bet I'm going this direction, so I bet this is the story arc…" Now you're getting into all this what-if trouble, and it's dangerous.
BE: Was there any development during the course of the season that you were just totally blindsided by, or did you just go with the flow?
VK: This season, season three, I have been blindsided by, like, four or five stories. Like, literally, I have been reading the scripts like, "Holy shit! Are you kidding me?"
BE: How far in are you on the third season?
VK: We're starting Episode Nine this week.
BE: Okay. I desperately need to get home and check out my screener of the premiere, because nobody wants to talk about it, and I understand that. But the people that have seen it are, like, "Oh, my God, it's so great, you've got to see it."
VK: I loved it. I loved it, and we hit the ground running. You're going to like it.
Rich Sommer: It was fun. It went well.
BE: Now, when did…well, I guess Matthew would have been the one who let you in on the whole "head of television" development for your character.
BE: How did he approach you about that and let you know what was going to be going on?
RS: You know, we are not given much advance notice on what's going to happen story-wise. (Laughs) I believe that he may have kind of…Matt is also a little bit impish and likes to sort of tease you with things. Like, in the first season, when Harry was going to sleep with Hildy, he sort of would tease me and say, "Oh, you've got a little story coming up in a couple of episodes." I would say, "Oh, that's awesome. What is it?" He would say, "You have to guess." And I'd throw out things like, "Is he going to ask for a promotion?" He was, like, "No, God, do you think he…? No, no, no. He's too much of a pussy for that." I was, like, "Oh, okay, I don't know. Well, then, uh…". So he likes to tease a little bit. And, so finally, when that was happening, he had sort of thrown me a little bit of a bone, saying that Harry was sort of going to grow a pair and do something. So I didn't know until I got the script, and I only got the script a couple of days before the read-through, which is only a day before we start shooting. So I had really very little advance notice that he was about to be promoted.
BE: It was a nice progression throughout the course of the season. I mean, first he's getting grumpy about his paycheck, and then figures out the angle to be able to throw some muscle toward what he wants.
RS: Yeah, it was really well done. I mean, the writing on the show is ridiculous.
BE: Did you enjoy having all those scenes with Christina during the course of Season Two?
RS: Oh, absolutely.
BE: She was very key to your storyline towards the end of the season.
RS: Yes, definitely. And, you know, she's remarkable, and we had never really gotten to do any actual extended work with each other. Harry…I've been very excited about the stuff that Harry has gotten to do, from both a character standpoint and from just a nerdy actor standpoint. You know, I am a huge fan of this show, and I've gotten to do, in the first and second season, one-on-one scenes with Jon Hamm, which is, like…come on, I mean, the guy has blown up a little bit. (Laughs) One-on-one scenes with John Slattery, one-on-one scenes with Robert Morse…I mean, those are the things that, when I think back, are the really exciting moments. Any of those one-on-one scenes. Christina and I had one, Bryan Batt and I had one in the first season. I love those little moments because those are the times when…the big boy group scenes are really fun as well, but when you get to sit down with one other actor whom you have an immense amount of respect for, and you just kind of get to take these beautiful words that the writers have given you, and you get to play with them, just even a little bit…? That's my favorite part of all of this entire process.
BE: Well, I think one thing that is particularly impressive about the series for me is that, even though there are obviously key roles, like Don and Peggy, it's really a fantastic ensemble, and one where everybody has a major ongoing storyline.
RS: Yeah, it's the right group of people to be in. I mean, we are really fortunate to be in not only an ensemble that is written so well, but an ensemble of really strong performers. It's very exciting to go to work everyday. Even in those episodes where I only have four lines, I know I get to contribute in some small way to one of the major story lines. Then there are those few times each season that we kind of have our own thing to get to do. You know, Harry and Hildy in the first season, asking to be the head of the television department in the second season. It's always very exciting to get to have even a little more of an impact on this show that we are all huge fans of.
BE: So, you know, I still haven't seen the first episode of Season 3 yet, but I know that some critics have, so I didn't know how much you were able to talk about it now, at least about the increase in the use of television in advertising.
RS: Well, I still feel very…we are under such lock and key that I still feel awkward saying anything. I mean, of course, you're going to see how it has affected him, and, of course, you're going to see every character and how they have been affected by the things you have seen so far. This show is like an elephant, it never forgets. Everything was done for a reason; every little move that has been made was intentional. So certainly you'll see how the stuff with his wife affects him, the stuff with the baby that they were having at the end of the last season, stuff with the job, of course. It will all be there somewhere.
BE: What is the timeframe they are going to put it in?
RS: Timeframe in what way?
BE: What year is this going to be in?
RS: It is… (Hesitates, then starts to laugh) I'm so sorry.
BE: That's cool. It's totally cool.
RS: You might be able to get that out of someone else, but I can't be the guy because I have a good relationship with Matt Weiner and I've got to keep it that way. (Laughs)
BE: I don't want to be guilty of wrecking that.
RS: You know how it is. You'll know soon enough.
Christina Hendricks: Sorry to keep you waiting. I'm Christina.
BE: (Laughs) I know. Nice to meet you.
CH: How are you?
BE: I'm good, thanks. So in season two, you were involved in the whole TV ad saga. How much did they tell you about that beforehand, as far as how your character would be involved?
CH: I'm trying to think if they gave me much of a heads up on that. Maybe just a tiny bit. I don't think I knew about that very much.
BE: Were you shocked when you found out that, in the end, they weren't going to let her progress any farther working in the field? Or was it predictable for the era?
CH: Yeah, predictable for the era. I mean, I don't think that anything Matt (Weiner) writes is predictable, but certainly the character of Joan wouldn't have been surprised by that, you know? I think we are surprised now, looking back at a time period where that would happen. But I think for the character that would have made sense.
BE: The abusive relationship with her fiancé during the course of the season was pretty shocking, as it progressed.
BE: Was it as shocking for you?
CH: Matt did give me a heads up on that one, so I had some mental preparation for that.
BE: I know in some cases he leaves people surprised ‘til the last moment, but at the same time, he also sometimes gives them fair warning so they know how to play something.
CH: Yeah, even less so about having time to think about how to play it. It was just sort of like we were discussing where these people were going, and then I pry him for things (Laughs) More that, I think.
BE: So is there anything that your character has had to do that has surprised you, a turn that you didn't expect?
CH: Oh, yeah. I mean, many, many things in season two were a surprise to me. You know, season one was me getting to learn about the character. Season two was getting used to all the things that I learned about being contradicted. So I think the first thing in season two was when Joan says something to Paul Kinsey about his black girlfriend, and sort of reveals that he's being a bit of a fraud. I was sort of surprised at how blunt she was with him.
BE: Your character is really deep. You want to dislike her sometimes, but there's so much going on with her that, at the same time, you're sympathetic towards her as well.
CH: I know, it's so weird. (Laughs) It's so weird that it's a TV show with characters that are multilayered and actually aren't one-dimensional.
BE: It'll never catch on.
CH: I know! (Laughs) It's amazing. We're so lucky.
BE: I know you and John Slattery had a great relationship on the show in Season One, but I wasn't sure how it was going to continue in season two, given the change in their relationship.
CH: He is the most tremendous actor and tremendous person, and some of my favorite scenes are with him. He makes everything so easy. I just die to work with him. I love it.
BE: Is there anyone you don't get to work with enough on the show that you would like to have more scenes with?
CH: A lot of people. I mean the funny thing is, in season two, I worked with a lot of guest stars. So I found myself always meeting new people, and they were all talented and amazing actors, but sometimes you miss your family and you want to work more with just your family. So, yes, I want to work with all of them. I think Elisabeth Moss and I were really missing scenes together in season two. We had some really great scenes together in season one, and we were missing each other last year.
Bullz-Eye: How did you feel about Don's California walkabout sequences in Season 2?
Jon Hamm: You know, I thought it was kind of great. I know it's been kind of polarizing with a lot of fans, but I think it was very important for Don. I think what happened when he goes to California is, he basically sees what the aerospace industry is turning into, which is essentially a nuclear industry and a war industry and a military defense industry. He realizes that his job will essentially be selling people on nuclear war. That's what he's going to be pitching. I think that lands on a guy like Don. I think that sits kind of heavy, and so that turns into, "What am I doing with my life? What is important to me? What really am I doing?" There's no mistake that that character's name is Joy, when an opportunity like that presents itself, like, "I'll take you out of all that, come on out of all that, man, go away, just go away." For Don, going away is a pretty enticing offer. He's done it a lot in his life.
BE: Is that kind of what led him to make the further revelations about the real Don Draper?
JH: Well, I think he realized that going away isn't the answer a lot of times. And I think that what he really needed was to be grounded, and to really stay and really be who he is. I think that's what he had with Anna, when he went back to Anna Draper and said, "I'm lost, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. Help me." And I think she did.
Q: Well, we've seen Don be an amazing ad man, so it seems like he could sell nuclear war.
JH: Of course he could, but, I mean, how much is that like…
Q: Is there a moment where he says, "Could I? How would I do this? Could I try this?"
JH: Sure. But I think with anything…I mean, you could write a story on something that would be maybe detrimental to someone, maybe a friend of yours or somebody that you know. So you have to go through that process of, like, "How much of myself am I giving away by doing this?" I think that's basically what Don's journey in California was. "What is important to me? What do I care about? Who am I?" I think at the end of it, he realized what was really important was his family and his life that he has created, literally, out of old cloth. And, of course, he goes back and it's in shambles, and he has to work to rebuild it, but that's part of the deal.
Q: Why does Don read all of those deep books? You know, the poetry and all of that stuff? I mean, he's in advertising.
JH: Why do you? Shouldn't you? Shouldn't everybody?
Q: I do. But have you thought about it from the character's point of view?
JH: Of course. I think he's interested in culture. I think he's interested in what…well, the man goes and sees movies, the man goes and sees plays, the man goes and reads books. I mean, this is his job.
Q: No clue though as to whether or not that's something to do with the character?
JH: Of course it has something to do with the character. I mean, this is the character, this is what he does. He absorbs culture, repackages it, and presents it as whatever it is in a campaign. So that's…he has to have that. That's what fuels him.
Q: Did you ever watch any of those Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies?
JH: Sure. I did.
Q: Before shooting this?
JH: No, not as research. I had seen them in just sort of a random capacity. And that's a very Hollywood version of what was going on, and everybody was happy, and what could go wrong? I mean, this guy's handsome and that girl is beautiful. Of course this will work out great. Well we found out maybe it didn't work out so great, obviously. So I mean, that's…part of that is what we're really examining on the show.
Q: How do you like the onscreen aging process?
JH: How do I like the onscreen aging process?
Q: I mean, the show obviously jumps in time, you know?
JH: Well, I look older than I am, anyway, so it doesn't bother me. I mean, I've looked 40 since I was 22, so it doesn't matter.
Q: Are more of the mysteries going to be revealed about your character this season?
JH: Well, you can't really sit with characters for too long without finding out a lot about them. We have sat with them for two years and are about to sit with them for another season, so I think, definitely, we will find out more about our good friends.
Q: Can we talk a little bit about the themes of the next season?JH: Yeah. I think that a big theme of this season…and I think there are many…is change. I think a lot of things start to change. The show opens in 1967, I should tell you that. It… (Starts laughing) It totally doesn't. I was just making sure that you were listening. You're going to go back and listen to this and be, like, "Did he say that?" (Laughs) I mean, obviously, the culture and the attitudes of the United States at that time are shifting, and these people have to deal with what that shift entails. Not only in their own lives, but in how they deal with their coworkers, how they deal with their workspace, how they deal with their relationships…how they deal with all of that. And these are people that aren't stagnant in time. They are getting older as well. Everything changes, and I think that's a big part of the story we're trying to tell this season.