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Kevin Rahm.

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Mad Men’s Kevin Rahm on Ted and Don’s Cockpit Showdown, Stan’s Beard, and Turtlenecks

For the past two seasons, Mad Men's Ted Chaough has been a thorn in Don Draper’s back — the arch rival who tried to poach clients and employees while also stooping to prank calls. Now that CGC and SCDP have merged, though, the rivalry has become an outright mano-a-mano showdown. In last night’s episode, Draper won the first round by drinking Ted under the table, but Ted bounced right back with a suave, brilliant GIF-worthy piloting performance. Kevin Rahm plays Chaough with an upbeat energy that is hard to dislike. We spoke with him about that claustrophobic airplane cockpit, his missing turtlenecks, and why Stan’s beard ruins his concentration.

I’ve been enjoying the GIF of Ted and Don in the plane. Did you expect that the plane scene would be so popular with fans?
I had no idea. Slats directed that one.

Did you just call John Slattery Slats?
Yeah.

Is that what people call him on set?
Sometimes, yeah. For the first couple of months I was using an L in his name, which I was unaware of for a while until Elisabeth [Moss] pointed it out to me. I was calling him Slatterly. I don’t know why. I know how to spell his name. Just so I wouldn’t make the mistake again, I started calling him Slats.

Well, I love the scene in the plane. Don looks like he barely fits in his seat. How was that staged?
That was an actual plane on a sound stage. They put green screens on either side in the front, depending on where they were shooting, and then had hoses of water and wind. But it’s tiny. Literally, we barely fit in there. You had to watch your knees when you shut the door. It was a four-hour process, at least, for that little scene. And it’s just great because [Don] gets the best of me so much in the early part of the episode, so turnabout is fair play.

Did you guess that you were a pilot?
I assumed. This is how amazing they are on that show — I don’t know how far back they thought of this, but the first time you ever see my office two seasons ago, in my office is a huge wind propeller. Like a ten-foot-tall propeller that’s against the wall. On my desk is airplane stuff. I don’t know if they realized that stuff was there so they added [my pilot background], or if early on Matt Weiner says, "Oh, by the way, he’s a pilot, so make sure you [get pilot props]."

I imagine Ted is also the kind of guy that knows karate and five different languages.
God, I hope so. I hope we find out that he’s a ninja.

I have to say, as much as I liked the bomber jacket, I kind of missed Ted's turtlenecks in this episode.
Someone on Twitter was talking about the lack of turtlenecks, and I didn’t even realize that, shooting it. They had me come in at the beginning of the episode in regular black shoes and more of a suit and tie, to look like — you think it’s Jon [Hamm] walking in, and it turns out to be me. So I think that was part of it. It’s also the first couple days in a new office. I’ll put it this way: I imagine the turtlenecks will come back.

Do you think Ted would be a good match for Peggy, apart from the fact that they’re both in relationships?
Well, I think the huge conflict is that, yeah, they’re both in relationships. I think they get along really well. The information we have so far is that they really like each other and they work really well together and have a lot of mutual respect for each other. I don’t know that that always translates into a good relationship, but the information we have so far is that they get along really well. There’s a lot of mutual respect. They look out for each other. But I don’t know if that always works into a romantic relationship.

You kind of get the sense that he talks about Peggy a lot at home, because of the look that his wife gave Peggy when they were introduced at the awards ceremony.
Right? The other thing is that she’s the new kid. She’s the new toy, in a way. He’s been working with Frank Gleason for so long, and that’s been his sounding board. Then obviously Frank’s been out of the office for a little while because he’s been sick with cancer, and Peggy’s the new flavor. She’s what’s charging him at the workplace. She’s the one that keeps him going. It’s funny because my wife had to deal with me talking about Lizzie Moss all the time. I’d come home and be like, “Oh, she’s so amazing, she’s so great.” Like, “Yeah, I’m sure she is.”

Was it fun shooting the fantasy scene with Peggy? Were you in the same room as Abe and you’d just switch places?
Oh yeah, we literally would high-five as we switched places. We were all three in the room making jokes. There was a lot of sickness running around this year, people kept getting the flu, kept passing it around the whole cast and crew, so I think we actually changed that scene because Lizzie was sick the week before. So we had to shoot it a week later. But it was funny because, for all intents and purposes, I’m kissing Abe.

I really love how this showdown is developing between Don and Ted. I especially enjoyed all of Don’s reaction shots to Ted in the initial partners' meeting. What kind of direction did you and Jon Hamm get in that scene?
Obviously, I’m not privy to what they’re telling Jon, and I’m always pleasantly surprised when I see stuff that I wasn’t aware of, because at the times that he’s giving me those looks, I’m focused somewhere else in the scene. So I get more information watching it than I had at the time, sometimes. Because all I need to know is this is my first day and I’m trying to impress everyone. And he’s focused on some other things, namely me and how I’m being perceived.

Don is like, Who is this joker? Giving seats to women?
Yeah, which is a testament to the writing staff and also to Slat’s direction and Jon’s ability to play that stuff.

I was at first a little surprised that Ted and Don so readily agreed to merge, given how their relationship has been such a rivalry.
It made perfect sense to me. Everything that’s gone on this season set up that they’re both about to lose their firms. Jon says in that [bar] scene [last week]: This business is rigged. There’s no way either one of us is gonna win this account. We cannot compete with a bigger firm. Even though our creative is the best, we cannot compete with a bigger firm. And so it seemed like the only viable option.

I feel like it can’t end well.
It’s not gonna be easy. It can’t be easy, otherwise there’s no show. You need conflict, and I think it’s gonna offer a lot of good conflict at how they work together, how they work it out, how the firm grows.

Ted tried to woo Pete away from the company many episodes ago. Can we expect a special relationship between them in the future, or is that over?
Well, they work together now, so I don’t know if there’s a need for — he doesn’t need to woo him, obviously. They’re at the same office. I don’t know if I can say anything else about that. They’re in the same office. They are now on the same team.

Was it fun getting drunk? I feel like it’s a rite of passage if you’re joining the SCDP team.
Yeah, that was daunting, because playing drunk is a tricky, tricky thing. You think, Oh, just get drunk. But then you have to keep shooting it. So I relied on good hair and makeup people and good direction and really good writing to keep me out of Stupidville.

Did you get tips from anyone on the set, since other people have gotten drunk on the show?
Yeah, Slats was very helpful keeping me at a balance where it wasn’t too much. Enough to tell the story but not too much to get ridiculous.

That was a great scene in the creatives’ room. I love how Don is looking at Ted.
That smug look! Ugh. That’s another one of those things I didn’t get to see until I saw it last night, because he’s behind me and my head is down. The hardest part about that is I’ve been friends with Jay Ferguson for a long time. We did Judging Amy together about ten years ago and he played my boss for a year. This was one of our first real scenes, and it was hard playing drunk, looking at him and talking. I had to stop looking at him.

Was it the facial hair that was throwing you off?
It’s the beard. It’s the birds that live in his beard. They kept poking out.

Photo: David Livingston/Getty