Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t yet seen Mad Men’s mid-season finale, get on that and come back later.
This week, Robert Morse will head to the set of Mad Men. Filming is underway on the series’ final episodes, and the 83-year-old actor still gets scripts and turns up to table reads regularly, even though his character Bertram Cooper passed away in Sunday’s mid-season finale. Morse tells us series creator–executive producer Matthew Weiner wouldn’t have it any other way, and as far as TV deaths go, Weiner wrote Bert one hell of a swan song: a dazzling song-and-dance number set to “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” Vulture chatted with Morse about his wife’s tearful reaction, his smooth moves, and how he found out that Bert had only one testicle.
How are you doing today?
I’m a Vulture [laughs].
What’s the feedback been like?
Well, what’s it like? My God, let me think about this for one second. I didn’t know what I was in for? I had no idea. It aired 36 hours ago, but I had no idea. You’re calling me. The New York Times is calling me. My phone has been ringing off the hook, and they’re really not hooked anymore. All I gotta say is, what a send-off. What an absolute lovely way to go. And it helps the episode’s message.
Did you watch with your family on Sunday?
I certainly did. I have a family that does not want to know anything about any of the show. For the last seven years, I couldn’t come home and say, “Oh, by the way, do you know who I filmed with today?” “Bobby! Shhh, shhh. Don’t tell us! We like to watch on Sunday night.” So when this came up — I was going to sing, I was going to die, I couldn’t tell them ten weeks ago! My wife watched it separately. I was in the bedroom with my son Charlie and my daughter Allyn. All of a sudden, I guess my wife had started to see it sooner, she comes running in with tears in her eyes. “Oh my God! Are you done with the show? You were wonderful!” And I said, “You don’t understand. I didn’t know whether or not I should have told you about this.” So we had a long talk about it. I told her it was a marvelous way to go and handled beautifully. I told her, “You know, Matt was on The Sopranos, where they just shoot people.”
You had it much better.
Yes. I got to dance and fall asleep watching the moon landing.
And you got to do it for Jon Hamm. His tears moved me to tears.
When we filmed it I had to sing to him, obviously. He stood there for seven hours while we did the song over and over again. He was so helpful. He’d put his finger up and go, “Great. That was a great take. You’re doing so well.” He was so enthusiastic. Lovely, lovely man. I cannot tell you how it helped that Jon Hamm was there when I sang the song. Many people in shows that are stars might not have shown up for that. They would have sent an extra. He was there for me. He was there for the show. He was there for himself.
I’m sure he was also there to watch the old soft-shoe, because you’ve still got it.
Awww. That was a love letter. I must give credit where credit is due. In New York City when I was young and starting out in show business, I went to Luigi. Luigi’s Jazz Centre. I’d go every day, and Luigi would help me with movement and style. I owe a lot of what I do to Luigi’s Jazz Centre and Mr. Luigi. He’s still teaching. Anybody who wants to go to a great class with a gifted, brilliant man …
Do you know if he watched the finale?
I’m sure he did. I emailed him. I emailed his assistant and they sent me an email — it’s amazing what goes on today! I’ve never been inundated by so much inbox [laughs]. You understand it, and so does my son, but I never — in the old days, you’d do AP. You’d do one or two interviews and they’d go all around the country. That was it. Maybe someone would come in to town and get drunk and talk to you over lunch.
That sounds more fun, doesn’t it.
[Laughs.] Yeah. And now everything is instant. I’m on the front page of the L.A. Times’ Calendar section. With a picture. I haven’t even seen those pictures! I want one! Who do I talk to to get one? It’s so fast, isn’t it? Look at us, talking on the phone so soon.
I’m happy about it. You said earlier your wife didn’t know you were off the show — are you still going to set because it’s the final season?
I felt a little empty, you know? After it was all over? I have to readjust. I’m no longer working on Mad Men and they’re filming the last half of the season. Bert’s passed away. But Matt Weiner said, “Uh-uh. You’re going to get a script every week. I want you at every reading. And I want you to come to the set all the time. You are still part of the show. And you get a free lunch.” [Laughs.] Sounds pretty good, right? I said, “You got a deal.” I haven’t been to the studio since Sunday, right? I don’t know what’s going to happen when I go there later this afternoon or tomorrow. They’re going to be going, “Wow, wow, hey, wow!” I haven’t had time even to call Mr. Weiner. I’m overwhelmed. I want to see him in person and I want to thank him in person for this lovely present that he gave to me at my age.
After you thank him, you should take this opportunity to also investigate why he wrote that Bert only had one testicle. Now’s the time.
I’ll tell you the truth: I was at the reading for that, and that went right over my head. I didn’t understand it, and so I didn’t think about. I remember about a week later, somebody came up to me and said, “You know what was in that episode, about you only having one testicle?” I said, “What?” [Laughs.] So I took my pants down and looked. “No, I’m fine.” But Bert? I don’t have any idea why they incorporated that! That’s my only recollection of it. It must have been said in obtuse language, like a medical term, and I didn’t get it! As far as asking, I don’t think I’m going to go there.
Did you save any of Bert’s fancy socks?
Oh my God, I have every sock. But I also have New York Rangers socks, New York Mets socks, I have all his argyles. I have a lot of things like that. They’re fun to wear.
It was nice to see you dancing in them.
It was a good thing I didn’t slip and fall.
Thanks to Luigi.
Awww, that’s sweet. Thank Luigi for that, that I didn’t fall on my ass. I would have died twice.