Brett Gelman on Playing a Naked Hippie in the Mad Men Finale

Photo: Michael Tran/FilmMagic

For the duration of the back half of the second half of Mad Men season seven, viewers didn't know where Don was going, what he was doing, and whom he would meet. Still, fans (especially comedy fans) weren't expecting to see Brett Gelman, the comedic actor best known for his podcast appearances and roles on Eagleheart and Married. There, he sat in group therapy, looking not too far off from the character he played on Go On. Vulture caught up with Gelman (who will be performing at Vulture Festival's Comedy Night) to talk about getting the role, getting naked, and watching Jon Hamm shoot that final shot.

What was the audition process like for getting this role?
[Laughs.] It was all very secretive — always. I did a thing for a character and then Matthew Weiner had me read for a different character, which was the character I ended up playing. It was fun. It was what you see in the episode, essentially. It was intimidating as hell, because you don’t know much about anything aside from what you’re reading off-page. You don’t have access to the script. I was nervous. I was reading somebody’s work that I admire very much.

Did you know that Don would be in the scene or no?
I did know, yeah. I did the lounge chair scene where I’m naked and I saw that Don was the other character in the scene.

Did you know it was going to be the finale?
It’s hard to remember, but I think I did know that it was the finale. I was also at the last table read.

What was that table read like?
It was so intense! But I also felt like I was crashing a really intense family party, like a happy funeral, like sitting shivah. I just remember I was mesmerized because I was sitting there and it was the last table read for one of the most amazing shows of all time and I’m doing my thing here. It was incredible to see all of those actors work. They’re in it at the table read, as we all should be. It felt really special and I couldn’t believe it and I felt like an impostor.

Do you know if Matt Weiner has ever seen Go On?
I don’t think he has. But I think there is always some sort of collective unconscious where I get cast doing similar things, and people love to see me interject humor into an intense moment. People like to see me lose my shit, and take my clothes off. I didn’t know that at that time that I was that fat.

The camera adds ten pounds.
Yeah, especially to the hips and the gut. Since then I’ve lost weight, but I didn’t know I was that overboard. I can wear it in a sexy Coppola-esque way, so it’s fine.

Were you intimidated by having a nude scene in this big TV moment?
No, not at all. I’m very free with my body. You’ve got to be down with anything. Not that I would do full frontal, unless it was completely necessary.

And in front of Jon Hamm, too — that’s its own kind of special moment.
It was funny to do that with Jon.

What was your interpretation of the ending? We see Don doing yoga and it cuts to the Coke ad. I’m guessing you watched the episode last night.
I did and I was tripped out because I saw that moment being shot, and we all knew it was the last moment of Mad Men and it was being shot in Big Sur. It was crazy. I can’t imagine how wild it was for him, because he was the only regular cast member who was there. None of the people from the beginning were on set with him. I like gray endings. I like things not wrapped up. I like when things end with a big question mark, because that’s what life is about. The show is so amazing because it really reflects the gray areas of life — that life is one big gray area. He’s achieving enlightenment and that brings him back to his talent and his true purpose — to do that job. Is there a spirituality in work? Do we take that for granted? I don’t know the real interpretation or what Matthew Weiner was thinking, but I definitely think, him being such a dedicated artist, he would see that. You run away from who you are, but you always end up coming back. Potentially the end, but I have no idea, maybe the song is saying this is what the work is supposed to be, this centered way of being.

It’s sort of a metaphor for any creative process, where you have to find yourself through it.
It's the shedding. Maybe he blamed the work, even though the work was the thing that was good. Everything else was fucked up. So when he sheds, he reaches a place in himself and returns to the work.

Did you get to keep that bright red leisure suit?
No, I didn’t.

Did you want to?
Oh my God, I loved that, with the white turtleneck. I’d fucking rock that every day, hanging out in that. First of all, when you can be comfortable and look that chic — a lot of my style is reflected in that aesthetic. It was amazing to be able to wear anything that those costume designers picked out. It was one of the most well-designed shows.