Mad Men’s Aaron Staton on Ken’s Big Decision: ‘That’s Everyone’s Corporate Dream’

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

On Sunday night's midseason premiere, Ken Cosgrove got one of the greatest kiss-off lines in Mad Men history. Days after being fired, Ken returned with big news: He got a job at Dow, which meant he was now officially an SC&P client — "And I'm very demanding." It's a rousing moment, but as Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner sees it, it's also slightly bittersweet: Ken had been on the verge of leaving the ad industry and living out his dreams as full-time writer, but he threw it away for a moment of revenge. This morning, we got actor Aaron Staton on the phone to talk about the premiere. As it turns out, he has a more positive interpretation of the scene than his boss did.

The big story from the premiere was Ken's decision to take a job at Dow and become an SC&P client. How did you interpret that move?
I think at first he fully intended to become a novelist. He changed his mind during that conversation with Pete, where Pete was — and I've got my quote-fingers here — "gracious" and "accepting" and going into his pity party about how much money he has. Ken made the decision there to do something, and I don't think he knew what. But he knew, I'm not just going down here.

When he talked to Don, it did seem like he had bought into the fantasy of leaving the business.
He felt, 100 percent, that forces in the world were pointing him [in that direction]. Like it was fate. It all lined up!  And then you've got Don on the other side of that, struggling with his own fate, and seeing Ken's experience, in a weird way, was reflective.

Do you think Ken ever believed in fate before? He never seemed very mystical.
Ken is somebody who never really considered fate. Things typically worked out for him. He just sort of landed in advertising and things just sort of fell in his lap. I don't think he considered how they got there. For the idea to occur to him, something was standing in his way, then all these coincidences lined up, and he looked at them and came to this determination. And then, ultimately, he discarded it and took matters into his own hands. He made his own fate.

Was it purely out of resentment for Pete?
And Roger, too. Ken had a lot of fun with that.

It's hard not to root for Ken, since he's always been the one guy who was slightly more of a better person than his co-workers. In season one, though, he was definitely part of the background. Do you remember the moment that made you think, Oh, this is a good guy?
I think it was the end of season four, when they wanted him to wine and dine his father-in-law to bring in Dow, and he was like, "I'm not going to do this. I'm not like Pete. This is my actual life." He laid it all out there. But there had been hints throughout. Early on, he went to dinner with Sal and his wife, and he had little comments here and there, like, "That's what I want someday, I want to have a family." He's always been a tick happier than the other guys in the office. Either because of circumstances, or because he cared differently. Not that he's less invested, but he invested a different portion of himself in the office. It was not quite as deep for him.

But because of all that, would he be happy at Dow?
He will be at first! Certainly, he feels pretty good about the decision now. I don't know, I feel like his decision was not based on looking at what will lead to greater happiness down the line. He was like, "This one's for me. I'll find happiness along the way." He made that decision so that he could walk into that room and say what he said to those guys. Wouldn't it be great to be able to walk into an office and do that in real life? That's everyone's corporate dream. Like, "I'm taking this stapler. You know, I don't even need this stapler. Where I'm going, they've got a bigger stapler."