chat room

Ben Feldman on His Big Mad Men and Silicon Valley Night, Smelling Don Draper, and Lying About Finales

Mad Men’s Ben Feldman. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Mad Men fans whose TVs have that picture-in-picture function could have had a Ben Feldman field day on their screens around 10 p.m. Sunday night. There he was on AMC, sporting that ridiculous late-1960s ’stache as Ginsberg. And simultaneously over on HBO’s Silicon Valley, there he was, sans facial hair and plus shorts, playing an attorney/terrible person named Ron LaFlamme. Vulture called up the actor to congratulate him on his epic night and discussed getting notes from Matt Weiner, the scent of Don Draper, and why Feldman can’t seem to land a role where he gets to dress like Ben Feldman.

Let’s talk about Mad Men first. Ginsberg was one of the few who seemed happy to see Don Draper back in the office. Given that they’ve had their differences in the past, why do you think that is?
Ginsberg, despite his differences with Don in the past, I think he’s first and foremost a creative person, and creativity is kind of his god. Don is a creative person, and I think you drop out Don and you throw in Lou and it’s just, like, an apocalypse for someone like Ginsberg. Lou is the complete other end of the spectrum as far as that goes. I’d be thrilled if I were Ginsberg, too. It’s great to see someone who gets it.

Don also smells really good, apparently.
[Laughs.] So often I get a script and we go to table read and I’m like “Really? This is the first thing he’s gonna say?”

What did Don smell like in that moment to you?
What’d Jon [Hamm] smell like that day? I don’t know! Not to get too deep into it or anything, but I imagine Don spent quite a bit of time before showing up to the office coiffing, so I’m sure he smelled whatever the 1969 version of fantastic is.

I recently rewatched the episode from last season where Ginsberg tells his blind date that she smells great. Maybe he has a smell thing?
[Laughs.] He’s a very visceral person, I guess. Either that or he just doesn’t really respect personal space and gets too close to people.

Possibly! The blind date makes me wonder: Have you thought about how Ginsberg’s doing in his personal life?
So hard to speak about things that have not aired.

Does that mean we’re gonna catch up with extracurricular Ginsberg?
I just mean it’s hard to speak about anything that hasn’t aired on a television screen, whether it’s off-screen or in the future. But to answer your question in the most vague way possible, which is something we’ve all become accustomed to, I think about Ginsberg all the time and his personal life. Whether my opinion is relevant, that’s for someone else to decide.

Fair enough!
What a scoop!

One cringe-worthy thing last night was when Megan’s agent calls Don and tells him the story of her failed audition. Have you ever reacted like Megan did after a bad audition?
I have, but I think the difference between Megan and me is that I won’t go hunting the actual producers down. I’ll just call my agent and bitch for 20 minutes and he’ll pretend to listen for a little while and then he’ll talk me down off a ledge and we’ll move on with our lives. Fortunately, I have never gone off and socked anybody that wasn’t that into me. What’s interesting about that whole story line is it’s almost a mislead. The idea is that Megan sort of gets lonely and is freaking out a little bit, but that’s really not the case. The bigger picture is that it would appear that Don is. It’s sort of cool to go, “Oh, poor Megan, she’s falling apart and she’s grasping for straws and she’s desperate,” but it’s really Don.

I couldn’t believe Don agreed to report to Lou.
Meanwhile, I love Allan [Havey], the guy who plays Lou. I think he’s so great.

I’ve heard that from a few people on the show now.
He’s unbelievably nice, the nicest guy on that set, and I guess it’s a testament to what a good actor he is that so many people hate his character. My wife starts sort of throwing things at the television when he comes on. We were at the Mad Men premiere and he was talking to me and after he walked away, she was sort of like “Oh my God, I hate him.” And I had to remind her that she hates the character! But he’s a really, really great guy. He bought me an acting book.

I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if maybe that means I need help? I read it as a nice gesture.

When Ginsberg is explaining to Peggy why he did better with Playtex, you squeeze some imaginary boobs. Was that in the script, or was that all you?
It wasn’t necessarily in the script but it was certainly in Matt’s mind. You’re not going to see anything like that that wasn’t either thought up by Matt or okayed by Matt. He was definitely present that day. 

Did he tell you to make that specific gesture?
Not in the script, and I don’t remember exactly how it went, but Matt was there for sure, and whatever I did onscreen, he was satisfied with and he was able to move on to worrying about the next thing. I don’t remember if he specifically said that exactly but that was definitely in his mind. You know what’s funny? I think what stands out to me is when I don’t get notes, because you get so many. There is an episode this year where we did a table read, and afterwards everybody kind of hangs out because it’s maybe the last time Matt sees you, so everybody kind of hangs out and waits for anything specific he has to say to you. It was an episode I did a bunch of stuff in and at the end I waited my turn, and when I went up to Matt, he goes, “No notes. No notes for you. Good job. I’ll see you later.” And I walked away in this cloud of bliss and terror because then I’m like “Well, now I have to rely on myself!” [Laughs.]

I can imagine that would feel mostly good.
It does, but then you’re scared because you’re like, “Wait, maybe I did something terrible and he just didn’t notice and he’s not going to be able to catch it and I’m going to do it onscreen and I’m going to ruin my favorite show.” It might just be me. I’m pretty sure I’m the most anxious person on set. I definitely get made fun of for it.

What about Ginsberg’s fantastic pitch for Jaguar? Any feedback from Matt? 
There’s kind of this interesting parallel for me specifically between getting Matt’s approval and getting Don’s, and it almost occupies the same part of my brain. So I’m not sure if Matt necessarily was like “great job,” but watching the character Don sit back and smile … I don’t even know if it was like “I did good today,” or if it was me thinking I’m Ginsberg, but either way I was in a good mood after that.

Well, it played really well! So, Silicon Valley — are you going to be on any more episodes this season?
It’s funny, I’m so used to Mad Men and not being allowed to say anything. I haven’t been told anything like that in Silicon Valley so I guess I can say I’m pretty sure you’re not gonna see me this season, but there’s a chance you would next season. Ron doesn’t die.

Ron LaFlamme! How much fun was he to play? 
I was so excited to audition. I saw the breakdown and it just kind of read “douchebag” and I was like, “I want this.”  It was really cool. As much as I hate shorts.

I know. Those shorts …
It’s funny, I don’t get to play characters where I wear what I want to wear. With Mad Men, if Janie Bryant doesn’t laugh at me, then that outfit doesn’t make it to air. And then I’m finally leaving that show to go be in something else, and I’m equally as ridiculous-looking, just in a different sort of area.

You got to rock out with a guitar.
I can definitely play chords and sound like a toddler with the guitar, but they then have me play us into the opening credits and that was helped by postproduction. All of a sudden, Ron’s like Jimi Hendrix. That’s not me.

Your playing on The Mindy Project was impressive.
Well, I had to learn the ukulele for that. I play guitar enough that the ukulele I could figure out. For a week, I just sat in my house and played Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” on the ukulele, which drove my wife insane. She was like, “In order to deal with this, you’re going to learn some songs I like.”

You just filmed the rom-com pilot A to Z, in which you star opposite Cristin Milioti. The first season is supposed to follow the romance between your characters from beginning to end. How will that not be depressing?
It’s for NBC, it’s a half-hour — it’s not depressing. I swear it’s nothing but happiness when you watch it. This first iteration of their relationship is going to end by the end of the first season, but after that, who knows? Maybe they break up and they go off and date other people and Cristin’s all of a sudden with some big, tall sexy guy? There are so many ways it could get happier.

Did you watch the finale of How I Met Your Mother?
I did, and Cristin lied to me. It was about to air and I turned to her one day while we were shooting A to Z and said, “I’m reading all these things about how you die. Are you going to die?” and she was like, “Ben, it’s a sitcom. Of course not. That’s ridiculous. They would never do that.” And then she did, but we were already done with the pilot, so I couldn’t walk in the next day and yell at her. Now I know what it feels like, because as someone on Mad Men, that’s what you do every single day to your closest friends and family, your agent, everybody around you.

You just lie.
Yeah, you just constantly lie. It’s just misdirection all the time. And that’s what Cristin did to me and it was weird to be on the receiving end of that. I was really upset about that.

Ben Feldman on Mad Men and Silicon Valley