Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser on Swine Flu, the Charleston, and the Sterling Cooper Bag He Carries Everywhere

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

The launch party for the new limited-edition Mad Men suit seemed like a reasonable excuse to rub elbows with the cast of Vulture's favorite TV show. So last night we hit the Brooks Brothers store in Manhattan and were lucky enough to get a few minutes with the ever-friendly, Pete Campbell–portraying Vincent Kartheiser, who actually happened to be modeling the suit (see photo). He chatted with us about being recognized on the bus, the recent firing of Mad Men writer Kater Gordon, and the time the first girl he ever tongue kissed nearly ruined his career.

Do you get stopped on the street?
Once every four weeks. That's not a detriment to my life.

Those ladies over there wanted a photo with you.
Coming to an event like this, people are going to recognize you, they're expecting to see you. But no one's walking down the street expecting to see the fourth lead on a show they may or may not have seen, you know what I mean? Guys like me, we have a normal life. Except for like, people who are very keen, or you're sitting across from them on the subway for an hour. Or they see Sterling Cooper on your bag or something.

You carry around a Sterling Cooper bag?
I've only been recognized for that once, and I wear it almost everywhere. People don't read each others' bags. Especially in cities like New York. No one looks at me on the bus in L.A. I've never been bothered on the bus. Mad Men's not on Telemundo yet.

Are you getting the swine-flu shot?
No. I had the flu like two years ago, it wasn't so bad. Whatever, I'll get it or I won't.

Do you know anyone who has it?
I heard David Boreanz had it. [Laughs]

They had to shut down production of Bones.
I guess. I'm more worried about mercury poisoning in New York. I'm on the Jeremy Piven diet of being an asshole.

Are you worried about Pete's future on the show? Sal got fired, Joan left ...
I love the show, it's been a blessing. It's what it is. I trust that everything Matthew does is best for the story. I'm here to serve the story. I mean, I want to work on Mad Men for the rest of my life. Matt will do the right thing.

We noticed you dancing around the room earlier. Was Pete's Charleston on Mad Men your idea?
I have no ideas. I'm an actor. He hired real actors. We can sing, we can dance, we can act. You know, we all can dance. Any one of us could have done that dance. Anyone: Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Christina Hendricks, January Jones. Anyone could have, given ten lessons like I had.

Did you see January Jones on the cover of GQ today?
No.

She mentions in the story that her ex-boyfriend, Ashton Kutcher, told her to give up acting. Did anyone ever tell you that?
Yeah, I dated a girl when I was ... Well, I didn't date her. I played spin the bottle when I was 13 with this girl who was on tour with me, a traveling tour. She kissed me and I thought I was in love. It was my first kiss with tongue, ever. I was 13. Later that night, she caught me smoking pot. And she said, "I can't believe you would do that!" And I said, "Please don't tell my mom, because she'll make me get out of this role in this play and it will ruin my career." And she said, "What career?" And that was my motivating force for years. That whole idea that someone could write you off was something that I took so seriously. And especially when I was a young man, I really took myself seriously. I take myself less seriously as I've gotten older. I think I'm like Benjamin Button when it comes to that kind of stuff.

There's been a lot speculation about why Kater Gordon is leaving the show. Were you surprised when you heard she wasn't coming back for Season 4?
I love Kater Gordon. The only thing I can say is what I said before. We trust Matt is doing what he needs to do to tell this story. And I think Kater is going to have a really amazing career as a writer, and she's not going to have a hard time finding work. She's got great ideas and we loved working with her. And we'll miss her. But we trust Matthew and he's doing what he needs to do to tell the story. Maybe next season he's just going to go in a different direction and he just needs someone to fill a different void in the room, and I don't know what that is. And this is an industry where we're always saying good-bye at some point. No show goes on forever, you know, even these Broadway shows that go on for 20, 30 years. They end eventually. So we all know it's like a relationship. I know it's going to end when I get into it.

In light of Letterman's admission, have you ever had an affair with a co-worker?
I don't call them affairs.

Dated a co-worker?
I haven't for years, years, years.

Is it a bad idea?
No, not always. Of course not. But, if you're a real asshole like I am, yeah, it probably is.