Is there anyone or anything better than Stan Rizzo and his beard so far on this season of Mad Men? Snickering. Flipping the bird. Joking with Peggy. Being generally stoned while working on great ads. (“Pass the HEINZ” shoulda nailed it.) Amid Don’s sad spiraling, Stan is — at least so far — sweet, sweet comic relief. To think that Stan was originally only supposed to have lasted four or five episodes. “I got the call on the hiatus after season four that they were making me a regular,” says Jay R. Ferguson, who got his start on The Outsiders and Evening Shade and has since worked steadily on TV series including Burn Notice, Castle, Weeds, and Sleeper Cell. “It was just the best phone call I ever got.” He spoke with Vulture about the highs and lows of maintaining his tremendous facial hair, where things are with Stan and Peggy, and why polyester has changed his life.
We’re a little obsessed with your beard over here.
Fantastic! Thank God they let me do it this year, because it’s helping me to stick out. You need all the help you can get when you’re standing next to Jon Hamm.
When did you get the good news?
Back in August, they asked me to start growing it out. They said, “We don’t want you to shave until you report to work for the first makeup and hair test.” Well, the first makeup and hair test wasn’t until October 28. So we’re talking about three months of not shaving. When I showed up I looked like a cross between Jeremiah Johnson and Tom Hanks in Castaway. It was too much. Way too much. Double what you see on the show is how big it was, so obviously they trimmed it down to where they wanted.
Do you still have it?
Actually, I was going to shave it off after our last day shooting because it’s been over eight months now that I’ve had this raccoon on my face. My wife has been very excited for it to depart for a couple of months. And then, strangely enough, I’ve been suffering a little separation anxiety and haven’t been able to bring myself to do it! So I still got it. [Laughs.] It’s the strangest thing. Don’t ask me. I don’t know. But I’m getting around to it because now, well, I hadn’t touched it for however long we shot. I didn’t have to worry about it when the beard hairs got too long or the mustache hairs would start to curl under my top lip and into my mouth and then into my food. You find things in there from weeks ago. They would take care of that, and they’re not doing that anymore because we’re not shooting. Now that it’s my responsibility, it’s at that point where I’ve got to trim it or shave it off.
You don’t want it during the summer anyway.
Last summer was so brutal. It wasn’t bad during the winter, but growing this thing out was just miserable. I enjoyed doing it, don’t get me wrong — I loved that they let me do this. The only time I’d ever grown my beard out before was from depression, so to actually have a legitimate reason to do it was awesome. But the sensation of having your upper lip sweat and being unable to wipe it off is just the worst feeling in the world.
How involved was [series boss] Matthew Weiner in coming up with all the new facial hairdos for the guys this season?
It’s fair to say he weighs in on every single aspect of the show and is heavily involved, if not completely involved, in every decision that’s made. He certainly had an opinion, and that’s what the makeup and hair test time period was for, to get all that straightened out and figure out who was going to have what, and who wasn’t, and here we are with me looking like a homeless guy.
Ken got nothing! His look is unchanged. Was he jealous?
Right! I guess he really was the only one who didn’t get a makeover of some sort, but that is sort of Kenny Cosgrove. He’s not affected by the pop-culture fads and trends going on.
Do you think Stan is high all the time or just some of the time? He’s definitely the happiest guy at the firm.
[Laughs.] I’ve had the most fun playing him out of everything I’ve ever done. I’ve just been so grateful physically and material-wise with all the perks they’ve given me this year. Yeah, he is high, I’d say, 75 percent of the time. He probably lays off when it comes time for a pitch. He’s traded his cigarettes for joints.
One of our readers suggested that Jon Hamm broke character and laughed when Don and Stan were in the storage closet, and Stan announced he was getting hungry. Was that funny to shoot?
[Laughs.] You know what? I would be absolutely honored if I made Jon Hamm crack, because he is uncrackable. He is very stoic, and it takes a very, very special moment to get him to break. But, no. I think there were some takes, if I remember correctly, where I genuinely made him laugh, but I think Don was supposed to be laughing. We were both enjoying the moment. But there were some takes it didn’t work, or it didn’t come out as funny, and he wouldn’t laugh! I mean, he’s a very real actor and a very reactive actor, so if I wasn’t being funny he wouldn’t laugh.
What’s the state of Stan and Peggy’s friendship post bird-flipping? Was her trying to sneak in on Heinz a deal-breaker?
For that episode, in that moment, I think it was a little bit good-natured. He’s very wise to how the business works and — even though they haven’t really talked about it on the show yet — in that moment he might have been giving her a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. I like the way that they ended up showing it because it is a bit ambiguous. He could be flipping her off, he could flipping Ted off, he could be flipping their company off. They left it a little open-ended.
How many times did you flip whomever off?
Several times in several different ways.
How aggressive was the one they aired in terms of the different ways you tried it?
That was probably one of the more tame ones they did. They’re always having to kind of bring me down. I kinda go for broke in the very beginning and they say, “Okay, Jay, you gotta bring it down a little.” [Laughs.] They used the one that made the most sense.
I was nervous that their great late-night calls might be over. We haven’t seen Peggy in regular contact with anyone at SCDP except Stan.
Obviously, their relationship started out in a way that almost all the men on the show have begun theirs with Peggy, which is in a sexist way. It turned a corner with her calling his bluff in the hotel room when they stripped down. That was a big deal to him, and he admired it, and I think he eventually let her know it in his own way. You don’t really see too many straight friendships between men and women on Mad Men. There’s always some sort of sexual undercurrent, something else going on, but for Peggy and Stan, it really seems like it’s just that. It’s a really sweet addition to the show. They enjoy each other’s company and they make each other laugh.
What do you imagine Stan does when he’s not working?
I’ve been dying for them to show the world what he does in his off time! He probably does a lot of partaking of new experiences on the psychedelic and drug end of things, indulging in that part of the culture. He probably reads quite a bit, watches a bunch of old movies, and tries to hook up with girls.
You’ve spoken before about how tight the clothes were last season. Have they gotten any better? There wasn’t much of a time jump between seasons.
Let me just tell you this: I love polyester. The advent of polyester for Stan on Mad Men has been life-saving. It’s so much more forgiving. I haven’t been ripping nearly as many pants as I have before. There are still some outfits this year that I had to almost put a girdle on to fit into. And he’s still into the tight pants, but he’s broadened his horizons in terms of material choice.