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Vincent Kartheiser on the End of Mad Men and Whom He Would Have Played Instead of Pete

Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images

The final seven episodes of Mad Men will begin to unspool on April 5, and with them, Vulture’s annual tradition of decoding Vincent Kartheiser. We gleaned everything we could about Pete Campbell and the rest of the gang walking off into the sunset. Kartheiser was sporting a beard, and he brought up the Illuminati and the Alamo on his own.

Hi, I’m with Vulture.
Vulture. I should be careful.

Why? Is there a history?
Because vultures pick dead flesh off bones.

Well … some times more than others. So …
Turkey vulture? What kind of vulture? Go ahead.

I guess the New York kind. Like a smaller one.

Like a pigeon.
Ooh. Yes.

I’m sure you get the same questions over and over again. In terms of the series ending, what was the most emotional moment for you? Wrapping? Watching people peel off?
It’s right now — talking about it.

Is it?

Because you put it away and now it’s coming back up?

I was reading that one of the producers said that every actor wanted a certain ending for their character, and not everyone got what they wanted.
Who said that?

I think it was Scott Hornbacher?
Oh, yeah. He didn’t know. I didn’t want any ending. No, I never had any wants for this character. I never had anything that I came down and said, “I’d really love to do this.”

Never. I trusted them. They had great ideas, so I figured whatever they’d come up with would be better than what I’d come up with.

Were you satisfied with the ending Pete got?
Yes, I think the audience will be as well.

Interesting. I read that one of the producers had made a faux yearbook for you guys, and it had pictures and superlatives.
Yeah … yeah. It was really nice!

What was the superlative that you got?
I don’t think I got any. Everyone else got a lot. I don’t think I got any, no.

So some people got more than one?
Yes, some people got a few. [Pause.] I think! Some people … yes, definitely, some people got a few.

I think Slattery said he got biggest flirt.
Oh, yeah! I could see that. He can be flirty. He certainly was the belle of the ball. The ladies love him.

Sure, going back to Sex and the City.
Oh, going back to his charming wit. They’re texting each other. [He’s talking about his management and the AMC rep sitting in the room with us, watching.]

When this is all over, what question are you going to be happiest not to have to answer anymore?
Oh, um. I don’t know. I never thought of that. You know, we only do this once or twice a year; it’s not so bad. It’s not something that I really dislike, answering questions. But you know, I’m glad there are a lot of questions. Shoot, I’ve done projects where no one has any questions. So the fact that there’s a bunch of journalists that want to ask things, even if it’s repetitive, it’s cool. It’s great to be part of something that garners interest.

Have you paid any attention to the conspiracy theories out there?
We’re aware. We’re aware of them. But no, we don’t, we know the truth, so … [laughing] it’s like if the Illuminati was watching videos on the Illuminati. It just wouldn’t make sense.

I’ve read before that you wish people wouldn’t mistake you for Pete in real life. Does that still happen?
I don’t think so. I don’t think that happens anymore. I think that just happened the day that I was doing that interview. Maybe that just happened that one time. Because that doesn’t usually happen.

When you do a show like this, over something that is “period” because it was so realistic, was there anything that was super shocking about that time period, about that lifestyle?
Oh, everything was shocking. What was most shocking is how we all kind of got used to it at a certain point. I mean, every season you kind of have to get back into it. Then, by the end of the season, you’d be like, “Oh, yeah, this is the way things were.” But it is shocking. And it’s shocking that it was so recent ago. That wasn’t that long ago. Fifty years ago, 60 years ago. It’s kind of crazy, huh?

Well, now it’s like … The Americans is shocking. It’s funny that that’s period — the ’80s.
Oh, wow. I haven’t seen it. What’s it about?

You haven’t seen it? It’s on FX, it’s based on real events: Russian spies who live among us as Americans.
Oh, fun!

And on this show, they happen to live next door to the FBI’s counterintelligence guy, who is investigating the illegals.
That’s a clever story.

Yeah. It’s very well-written if you have time. Do you watch much TV?
Oh, sure. I like television.

Do you have any favorite shows?
Sure. I like House of Cards. And, uh, what else have we been watching recently? Game of Thrones, when it comes back. Silicon Valley.

So can we talk about the work you’ve done since you wrapped Mad Men — you were Off Broadway, the movie [The Blunderer with Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson] … was it different?
Oh, sure, it’s different. Well, the movie I shot was actually in the ’60s. It took place in 1962. So some of the things were close, but a different kind of world. Um, and theater’s always much different from film. All my friends came to see it, all the people from the show, so it was fun.

Did Matt Weiner give notes?
No. The play [Billy & Ray] was about Billy Wilder writing a movie, Double Indemnity with Raymond Chandler, and it all took place in his office. Writing, how to write, basically coming up with the ideas for the movie, and writing scenes for the movie, so Matt came up to me afterwards and said, “This is just want I need to see. I want to get back to work now.” So it was in his ballpark, and I think it sang to him for that reason.

Was it … everything people say about the theater versus television …
Well, I was raised on the stage, and I had done a play every year for the past three or four years. So, yes, it is more nervous and all those things, but you know, that’s part of the thrill of it. Facing that fear, you know?

And you still don’t have a car?
Season one I did. I got rid of my car. It flooded and then I went without a car for four and a half years.

And do you have a car now?
I do have a car.

It changes the way you experience the city [Los Angeles].
It does. It changes the way you experience life. But … I miss it sometimes. And sometimes I still take the bus.

You know, I was reading a lot of clips about people who said their agent told them not to do Mad Men 

Do you still have the same team as when you started the show?
I don’t. I have some changes, but they all thought I should do it. Oh, yeah, yeah. We thought it was great, and I didn’t have other opportunities anyway, so. I don’t know who said they shouldn’t do it, but …

Christina’s agents said she shouldn’t, so she said she dropped them.
Oh, cool. I think most of us, I’ll speak for myself, you know, when the phone rings, my process is generally to pick it up and say, “Yes.” So that’s how I work. I like to work, and this was work, so I took it.

Do you still feel that way now?
Oh, absolutely.

What do you think the show says about good versus bad people?
I don’t know. I’m glad that we have a show where there’s a lot of grey area for everyone to play in. I think the audience chose who the good guys were and the bad guys were for themselves. Everybody had their own … we didn’t do it for them. We allowed each individual out there to have their own opinion about it, and we just gave them, or at least the writers gave them, the most truthful version of each person that they could. And the person that nobody sees, even in that world. We gave them the behind-the-scenes look at each character, and they chose to individually despise or adore us. I think it says a lot about each individual who watches and says, “I really like Roger Sterling.” Or, “I’m a Peggy girl,” or, “Joan’s the one for me.” Or, “I despise Don Draper.” You know? It’s says a lot about who we are and what we value and who we think we are.

Did you like playing Pete?
Oh, yeah. Pete was great. Pete was fun. I mean, the dialogue that they wrote was amazing. For all of us. All of us had amazing dialogue! And really unique voices, and it was on the page. It was right there. And that’s really not the case with most things. Most things you’re doing a lot of, “Okay, how do I create something here?” and build it, and, “How do I make this unique from all the other characters?” And with Mad Men, every character is right there. It’s just so plain to see it.

If not Pete, if you could’ve played anyone else?
Chauncey the dog. I would’ve been good at that.

Is the beard …
It’s just laziness.

So it’s not part of the show?
Well … maybe. But right now it’s just laziness.

Thank you.
Remember the Alamo.

Vincent Kartheiser on the End of Mad Men