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Vincent Kartheiser

Vincent Kartheiser - "Mad Men" Tv Series - Giantmag.com Interview

Wednesday 5 September 2007, by Webmaster

The Man in the Light Gray Flannel Suit.

Mad Man Vincent Kartheiser sounds off about his role on AMC’s stellar ad-man series, Larry David returns for another season of grousing on HBO and Tina Fey’s hilarious sitcom 30 Rock arrives on DVD.

The Q&A: Mad Man Vincent Kartheiser has been a working actor since the tender age of 14, appearing in such films and television shows as Alaska, Another Day in Paradise, and Angel. Now 28, the still boyish Minnesota native has at last landed his first truly adult role on AMC’s acclaimed drama Mad Men. Kartheiser plays Pete Campbell, one of the youngest employees at New York’s top advertising firm Sterling Cooper. Introduced as an opportunistic jerk, viewers have quickly come to see that there’s more to Pete than meets the eye. For starters, he’s the offspring of a prominent Manhattan family and his dalliance in a tradesman’s job like advertising has cost him the respect of his father. Driven by a desperate need for approval, Pete keeps attempting to assert himself at work only to be belittled at every turn. The role has allowed Kartheiser to do some of the best work of his career and he’s well aware of his good fortune. The Scanner spoke with the actor about how he got the gig, his controversial stint on Angel and which hero he would have been had we landed a role on Heroes.

The Scanner: How did the role come to you? Was this a script you actively pursued or was it more of an accident?

Vincent Kartheiser: I auditioned for a few pilots that year, Jericho, Heroes and Mad Men. In general, I don’t audition for an incredible amount of projects. I’ve been doing this for about 20 years and at a certain point you start to realize what you’re going to get hired for. But Mad Men was one of those pilots where I read it and after I was done I wanted to read it again. There was this swagger about the script that was different from so much I had read in the last few years. I knew it was something I could do. After that it was pretty normal: I went in and auditioned. I guess this story isn’t as interesting as I wanted it to be! [Laughs]

The Scanner: In the pilot, Pete seemed to be one of those classic Type-A assholes that are always looking out for number one. But in subsequent episodes, we’ve learned things about his background that, while not excusing for his behavior do help explain it. Were you always aware of Pete’s backstory and are you kept in the loop as to where the character is going?

Kartheiser: I have no idea where the show or Pete is going. And I think that keeps us all on our toes. These characters all have so many layers and so many sides. Right now, I don’t know what’s happening to Pete in Episode 13. We find out a couple days before we start shooting where our character is going to be. Matthew [Weiner, the show’s creator] does give you hints. He’ll call you at 9pm and say, “Here’s the new script; I want you to keep this and this in mind and oh by the way, this might happen down the road for you.” It allows you to play the moment as honestly as you can, so it actually helps. Sometimes we want to have the arc and want to know more than our character does, but I think this takes pressure off.

The Scanner: One of the things I love about the series is that it both recreates that era and comments on it at the same time. It’s a lot like the Todd Haynes movie Far From Heaven in that way.

Kartheiser: As much as it’s about that era, I think it’s actually about this era. We like to think that the ‘50s and ‘60s are further away from us than they are. We are the children of this generation so the apple doesn’t fall that far. We’re still playing out a lot of the same issues: the advertising snowball that was built in that era has become this globalized juggernaut. I look at my 10-year-old nieces and they’re completely oblivious to the fact that every second of every day they’re being sold something. We like to think we’ve come so far and changed so much, racism is gone, chauvinism is gone and they’re not! Women are still objectified in 90% of the conversations I have with men. And I’m not saying I’m any better.

The Scanner: The writers do a fantastic job depicting the gender politics of that era. Do the scripts ever spark any discussion on set?

Kartheiser: Yeah, there are a lot of women on set who look at their characters’ lives and say, “Why did we ever burn our bras? Things were kinda nice.” I think it’s easy to look back on the grass is greener thing, but I think the gender roles were more defined [back then] and t made certain things simpler in life. I see a lot of young women nowadays caught and conflicted by these overwhelming pressures and expectations placed on them by their mothers and their fathers. And with guys, men are more like women and women are more like men everyday. I just had a conversation with a friend today. He called me and wanted me to know that last night I was a little aggressive with him and he felt he needed to talk about his feelings. And it’s like Jesus Christ dude! You weight 210 pounds and spend all day long in the gym. Are you really this much of a pussy? And it’s true, we are. [Laughs]

The Scanner: You confessed that you checked out the message boards early on in the show’s run. Were you reading what people thought about Pete? He can be a love-him-or-hate-him kind of guy.

Kartheiser: I don’t read too much about my character and I’ve actually slowed down on the boards. I just wanted to see what kind of people were watching the show. I never did that with Angel or anything—I think it’s because I really like this project and want people to see it.

The Scanner: Getting back to Mad Men, what would you like viewers who maybe haven’t tuned in yet to know about the show?

Kartheiser: That it’s enjoyable. I think that’s something we should press more: people’s perceptions of it is that they’ve heard so much about it and they want it to be a heavy handed statement on life. But I think it’s light-hearted. It’s a story about men and women and what it is to be human, what it is to fall asleep every night in a society where its all about what you’re doing next, what have you accomplished. It’s about that pain every person feels when you lay down and you realize that even if you’re married with five kids you and your struggle is unique to you and that can’t be cured by a new iPod or a fancy car.

The Scanner: Before I let you go, I’ve gotta ask: which part did you audition for on Heroes?

Kartheiser: I auditioned for the junkie painter character [Isaac]. God that show is a hit, huh?

The Scanner: It is, but it’s just as well you didn’t land the part. Isaac was killed off halfway through the season.

Kartheiser: Oh, he did? Hey, I love getting killed halfway through the season! When I booked Angel, I did the last 2 episodes of the first year and then I wasn’t in the first four episodes of the next season. I still got to go to Vegas with the rest of the cast and sat a poker table losing money. It was like, “It doesn’t even matter, I’m getting paid to be here. This is the greatest gig of my life!” [Laughs] Actually, this is the greatest gig of my life, truly. Whatever happens, I’m so blessed to be in the position to be on this show. It’s the best thing I’ve ever been a part of and I’ve been a part of a lot of things.