The Hot Seat: Vincent Kartheiser

Mad Men's ladder-climbing d-bag proves that he's no corporate tool.

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Illustration: Rob Kelly


Matthew Weiner's dark-heart-of-advertising series, Mad Men, may be set in the '60s, but its characters are timeless. If you labor in an office, you know these people. There's a Don Draper, the inscrutable alpha male whom everyone likes but nobody knows. There may be a Roger Sterling, the skirt-chasing drunkard who gets away with gleeful piggishness. And the next cubicle over, isn't that Peggy Olson, the nice girl with a knife hidden behind her back? But if there's a type even more enduring than the rest, it's Pete Campbell. Pete is your classic child of privilege, a smarmy fratboy who may ass-kiss his way to the top, or get stuck somewhere in the middle. TONY phoned Vincent Kartheiser, 30, in L.A. after he'd shot episode nine of soon-to-premiere season three, to get his thoughts on the beloved series and his not-so-beloved character.

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Whenever I tell friends I like Pete Campbell, I get funny looks.
Would you want to hang out with Pete? Or do you like the character—like people like Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs?

Well, he's cold and sad. It's interesting to see his reactions to getting dumped on by Don Draper and everyone else. I don't know if I'd want to be Pete Campbell, you know? Honestly, I think that his motivation is similar to many of the other characters, and he's trying to overcome the stigma of his family name. Our audience might think of him as slimy and squirmy and kind of weaselly—and he can be all of those things. But underneath it, he's a real guy, and those personality traits are coming from a place that he genuinely thinks is best for himself.

He's sort of vulnerable.
Maybe that's something Matt Weiner noticed about me and has written into it. He is one of those guys with the innate ability to know people. Matt Weiner knows which position I like to have sex in, and he knew that the first day he met me. You know what I mean? He can look at you and say, "Oh, you like to be on the bottom."

For season two, Weiner jumped ahead two years. So is season three set in 1964?
I can't tell you that. I'm sorry. I wish I could, but it's very, very strict.

Come on, just whisper...
Honestly, you're going to get nothing but vague teasers.

Okay, gimme one vague teaser.
Things are changing in the world. And things are changing in the office. And everyone is getting a little older. Right off the bat we kind of introduce plotlines, and I think that's different from last season, where we kind of had a more paced-out beginning and a quieter start.

Damn, that is vague. Last we saw of Pete in season two, he's sitting in Sterling Cooper with a rifle. I thought, Pete is either going to off himself or go postal on Draper.
You know what is awful about that scene? It starts under that Sterling Cooper sign. Then it pans across the office, which is all dark, to find me with the rifle. And so afterwards—it's one of the last scenes I shot—Matt looks at me and says, "You know what's great about this shot? I can just run it in reverse so it starts on you and then pans to Sterling Cooper, and then add a gunshot." And I thought, That's not funny. That's not funny at all.

It's a little funny.... But then Pete couldn't adopt his own bastard child from Peggy! There's a strong theme in Mad Men about families and nonattachment.
Yeah, I think there were a lot of things in the first season about attachment. Pete gets married in the first season, and there's this feeling that he's going to be attached to someone, and then I'm reaching for attachment from [Peggy Olson, played by] Elisabeth Moss. And the second season is a lot about our parents and our children: Peggy being estranged from her child and letting the family raise him.

So sad. It's the children who really suffer neglect from the characters' unhealthy obsession with personal grooming. Do you guys let yourself go after filming?
Yeah, I love being shaggy. I'm not a big shave-your-face-comb-your-hair-put-on-a-suit guy. I'm a jeans and T-shirt kind of guy. I love getting cleaned up every day for the job, and it has been a lot of fun, but I'm so glad I don't work in an office.

Mad Men season three begins Sun 16 at 10pm on AMC. Log on to http://www.timeout.com/newyork for complete coverage including a season preview, exclusive quotes from John "Roger Sterling" Slattery and episode recaps.

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