On last season’s Mad Men, Vincent Kartheiser got socked by Lane, and it seemed like fate: It was a wonder that face hadn’t been punched earlier. But whether that inevitability had to do with the character’s or the actor’s inherent physiognomy was unclear. Kartheiser himself told Vulture, “I just have one of those faces you just wanna rip to pieces.” And sure enough, this summer he shot the indie Beach Pillows on Long Island, playing an optimistic layabout … who gets punched in the face.
“It’s a coming-of-age story about two guys in their late twenties,” explained Kartheiser about the film, which is directed by first-timer Sean Hartofilis and co-stars Geoffrey Arend (also the husband of Mad Men co-star Christina Hendricks), and has been submitted to Sundance. “I play one of those kinds of guys who always sees the optimistic side of things, always wants to be exactly where he is, never thinks about the future. … He’s one of those guys that just makes messes and lets the world clean them up. … It’s kind of that moment where you have to decide whether a life of minimum wage and shooting the shit on the street corner is enough for you, or if you wanna kind of go out there and take on responsibilities and be a grown-up.” It’s the complete opposite of Pete Campbell, and yet, once again, face meets fist, as you can see from these on-set photos of his made-up shiner.
When asked about all the punches he’s taken, Kartheiser gets downright philosophical: The act of being facially assaulted is something to which he’s given a lot of thought. In his mind, it is not just an act of violence, it is an imperative male rite of passage, as this reporter found when asking if he had ever really been socked in the face.
Kartheiser: Sure, yeah. But I’ve never punched anyone.
Vulture: In the face?
Kartheiser: Yeah, I’ve been punched in the face before. You know, that’s life.
Vulture: I feel like not everyone gets punched in the face.
Kartheiser: Oh no, I think most men out there have been punched in the face. Definitely. Do you have brothers?
Vulture: One brother. He’s younger.
Kartheiser: You totally should ask him. I mean, you should ask all the men in your office, too. Men always have interesting stories about getting punched in the face. I got punched tons in my teen years. You know, just beaten up at school and stuff. When I was an adult, I flipped this guy off in my car and he ran me off the road and jumped out of his car and ran over and punched me through my open window. It was a good lesson to me. You never know who you’re fucking with on the road and you shouldn’t really mess with anyone. You never know what that person’s gone through in their life or who they are.
Some details emerged — this was in L.A., ten years ago, when he was 22, and the tyrant was “a big Italian guy with a big ring on his finger.” Then his ruminations resumed. “What was always surprising to me, at least so far, is how little it hurts to get punched in the face.” Perhaps the adrenaline kept him from feeling the pain? “Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe no one’s ever clocked me just right. In movies, people are always getting really knocked out from head punches, but I don’t think it happens that way in real life. I think the human body can take a lot more than we think. I got beat up in Vancouver once by two dudes, and they were, like, kicking me. I was laying on the ground getting my ass whooped and I never really had much happen. I guess a little soreness the next day.”
I vowed to ask my male friends if they’d ever been punched, to confirm whether this was in fact a universal male ritual and not just Kartheiser and his particular face. “Well,” he said, “lots of them probably fight back and lots of them probably have good stories of where they kicked other people’s asses. But I just can never bring myself to do it. I always think of, like, the repercussions I could face. I’ve gotten into yelling brawls with dudes before and come close to maybe drunkenly hitting a dude, but I’m, like, What if something was to happen where I knocked his tooth out and he sues me? Or the police see it and I have to go to county for three nights? I’d much rather just get my ass kicked.”