Spoilers ahead for the series finale of Mad Men.
As the world continues to learn how to live in a post–Mad Men world, Vulture got a moment to speak with the representative of one of the show’s most beloved characters: Stan’s beard. Speaking on behalf of his gone-but-not-forgotten facial hair is Jay R. Ferguson, who played Stan Rizzo in the final four seasons of Mad Men. In addition to indulging our beard-related queries, Ferguson also reveals himself as the original “Steggy” ‘shipper and talks us through the difficulties of learning to love again after the magic that was Mad Men.
There was some talk online that the resolution of Stan and Peggy’s relationship was too pat, that it happened too quickly. As someone who was actually involved, did you feel like it was an accurate representation of the characters, or did you feel like it was a little rushed?
Well, from a purely selfish standpoint of enjoying working with Lizzie [Moss] so much, I just wish that we could have had more, just so we could have had more work together, but … [sigh]. I don’t know, I think that if there had been any more buildup to it, it would have been too obvious. To me, I saw it coming a mile away anyway, even as subtle as it was. Really, I think all of the purest fans out there that had been paying attention had to have seen it coming, or at least suspected that it was a possibility. I think that the buildup that some people wanted or felt like it should have had, it’s been having as a slow burn for the last four or five years.
How long have you known that that relationship was heading to that place? And how much of it was just chemistry between actors?
I like to believe that a lot of it has to do with our chemistry. Stan was, from what I’ve been told, only supposed to be around a couple of episodes when he first came on the show. Obviously things changed, and certainly Lizzie and I being such good friends in real life didn’t hurt, as we were able to bring a little bit of that onto the show, but as far as how long I’ve known known, I did not know know until I got the last script.
Other people knew, but I told them I didn’t want anybody to tell me anything, I just wanted to let it happen as it happened and then let me find out that way. From my first day on the job, I pulled Matt [Weiner] aside and I said, “So these two are eventually going to hook up, right?” And he looked at me with this look of, like, No, you dumbass, and said, “No! No! You’re way off!” and went into this spiel about how it’s not like that. I think that at the time, he really did mean it. I don’t think he was trying to throw me off. At the time, it was a disgusting thought to him, but I just always felt like it had that feeling to me.
Now, that also is based on never really having had the experience of being on a show that doesn’t necessarily do what you expect them to do. I’m used to the obvious thing happening, and it wasn’t the obvious thing, as it turned out. They ended up together, but it was way more complicated than I thought in the beginning. From what the writers have told me, it was in season six, I believe, that the trigger was finally pulled to put that story into motion. So that means that for my first two seasons on the show, that was not the direction it was heading in.
But I had no idea. I had zero idea. I had my suspicions, like I said. When given the opportunity, I would try and play that up a little bit as much as I could without it being too obvious. So I was really delighted. Lizzie and I were cheering secretly for that to happen the whole time as well, so we were really happy.
To just even have a scene in the finale of this iconic show would have been fine. To just be a face without any words would have been fine, but to have what I had, with all of the other stuff they had to handle in that finale, to have been blessed with such an important part of that last episode and last season, really, was just so special to me.
It’s interesting to me that you always saw the relationship between Stan and Peggy like that because I think that warmth came through, even from the beginning, when Stan was kind of a dick. He seemed like a very winning dick, which is not the case with a lot of the characters on Mad Men.
I’m not sure what the initial intention was for Stan on the show, I should probably ask Matt that someday. I would imagine, though, that in the beginning, his presence was supposed to serve as a notice being given that Peggy is coming into her own. Here comes this jokey, misogynistic guy, and she just handles him like a little lackey. I can only assume that that’s the purpose that character was intended to serve. Then it took a turn and became a really great friendship and, like a lot of great romances, this one started with a really special friendship. It’s so great to now not have to play the whole, “Oh, Stan and Peggy? Oh no, are you kidding? That’s a crazy idea!” I’ve been having to do that forever, and it’s been so brutal.
It must be very surreal to be able to talk about the show with such candor and not worry about spoiling anything and being fired. Or worse.
Oh, you can’t imagine. I’ve never had to do that before, and of course, that was the main question that came up in every interview I would do before the finale. And if they were on-camera interviews, then I’d really be nervous because then I’m worried about people reading into my body language, and I’m a terrible liar. It’s not a question that you can just answer with, “No.” You have to elaborate and go into whatever bullshit reason you’re making up that it makes sense that they wouldn’t get together.
One of the things that made Stan such a great character was how he brought a comedic aspect to everything, but I’m also interested because he always seemed a bit like the most together member of the staff. He was very content, which is not something we saw from characters on the show a lot, and which is something Peggy pushed back at a lot because she assumed that meant he was settling. What was it like to have a sense of self-satisfaction within that character when so many of his co-workers were lost?
That’s interesting, I’ve never really thought about it that way, but I agree. When Stan started to let go of his ego a little bit and, not coincidentally, about the time he started to go hippie, the beard and the pot-smoking and all of that stuff, it seemed that about that time he softened up in terms of, he wanted to do good work but he wasn’t as consumed with seeing his name in lights anymore.
Interestingly enough, I was so blessed on so many different levels, but they gave me that line in the finale, of, “There’s more to life than work,” because I feel like that line, it wasn’t just Stan saying that to Peggy, that was a message from the show to the world. It was a very broad statement, and I think that was what Stan had come to embody on the show, the one guy [who balances] doing good work but not letting it consume his life and still having a life outside of the job. Ultimately, that resonates with Peggy, too, when he says it to her, and maybe in some small way, [that] is what helps to encourage her to stay.
Looking ahead, you have a new sitcom coming up called The Real O’Neals. Are you excited to transition to pure comedy?
Yeah, totally. It could not be more of a 180 from Mad Men, character-wise, show-wise, everything. It’s a whole new ball of wax. It’s very exciting and terrifying.
It’s very hard to say good-bye to Mad Men. I’ve likened it to getting your heart broken that first time and you feel like you’ll never love again. You can’t even fathom ever having that feeling again because it was so special and so intense and you’ve never felt it before, but ultimately, you do. I can only hope and pray that I can be honored with that feeling once again down the road in my career because it is a wonderful feeling. So now I’m dating again. Now I’m in that process, and this new show is my new girlfriend. We’re still in the beginning stages, so we’ll see where it goes, but I’m very excited about it.
So the beard is gone. I have seen and can verify that the beard is gone.
The beard is gone.
How long did it take you to grow and maintain that magnificent beard?
Let me see, so, the first season I had it, season six, I believe, it was large. It took maybe two months, give or take, and then I came in and it was too big, so they trimmed it down. But then, somehow, in both halves of season seven, especially in the second one even more than the first, it was even bigger. I didn’t even realize it at the time until they started coming on TV and I was like, Holy shit, man. That thing is just out of hand. It was so large. It was just a mass of hair. I felt so bad for Lizzie in that scene because it’s this wonderful moment of these two characters finally coming together and you assume that there’s two people kissing underneath there somewhere, but you have no idea because visually all you see is this mass of hair covering everything. It’s just crazy, man. So, to answer your question, it took a couple months to grow, and then they would maintain it throughout filming and cut it for me and trim it, keep it looking crazy.
So it’s like a pet, but someone else took care of it. You just had to home it.
Yeah. And then when the show ended, it took me awhile to bring myself to cut it.
But I did, eventually, I cut the sides off first and then I just walked around with this humongous, Lebowski-ish goatee that grew to such an absurd length, and then, I mean, I really didn’t want to let it go. And then I shaved the mustache off and I just had this chin thing that was like a foot long, and then it was just like, “Okay, what am I doing?”
I think this is the new stages of grief. Stages of Jay’s post–Mad Men beard.
It was tough to separate.