Mad Man: Vincent Kartheiser
Story by Barie-Claire Rogers
33-year-old Vincent Kartheiser has made a name for himself as the less than loveable, Pete Campbell on AMC’s hit series Mad Men. Cityist sat down with Vincent to discuss the show’s fifth season and to find out a little about the man behind the madness.
What is it like to be part of a pop culture phenomenon like Mad Men? How do you see it affecting people?
It’s surreal. It’s hard to fathom, so I tend not to. I enjoy the work that I’m doing… And every once in awhile people come up to me and say “Hey you’re that guy…”
Your character undergoes a noticeable physical transformation this season, what was that like? How does that inform your role?
It was great. Any time you get an opportunity to change your physical being to help the emotional path of the character it always helps. Campbell is getting older and is less in touch with the younger generation; he’s getting less attractive, and less desirable to women. He’s bitter about how things are turning out in his life. He’s getting a little bald, getting a little fat… So you look in the mirror and think, ”Ok well things could be better.” It’s gone buddy. I enjoy doing physical things with myself; it helps me to identify with the character. Hair, makeup, and costumes all are decisions about the character, it says a lot about who you are.
Did you expect so much reaction from Pete’s indecent proposal to Joan? Why do you think Pete asked her when no one else would?
Yeah, we expected that. Joan is a favorite of the audience. They love her character and they don’t love Pete. You’re gonna have that kind of a backlash. Pete often does things no one else would for this company. He’s always been willing to go that extra mile for the best of the company. Everyone else washed their hands of it. Pete knew that if they wanted the account he was gonna have to man up and [then] sleep with himself at night.
Is it hard to play a character that’s so unlikeable? How do manage to create sympathy for the character that everyone loves to hate?
No it’s not hard at all. I think he feels very justified and very necessary. I’ve been doing this for five years so one thing leads to another. I just play on what happened the season before. If I have any confusion about why he’s doing something, I have Matthew Weiner, the creator of the show, who’s always ready to work with us. He is ready to explain the character and the entire episode. We have a lot of help on set. It’s not a hard role to play, because it’s brilliantly written.
I think the reason we feel sympathy [for Pete Campbell] isn’t so much that we’re so against Pete. Most of us think we’re Don Draper. In those moments [where the audience feels sympathetic towards Pete] it allows us to really reflect upon ourselves reflect upon our on wounds. You can feel sympathy for Don, but he’s almost like a superhero. You can try to relate to his story, but chances are your story is different than his. [For most people,] there are probably a lot more parallels with Pete’s story than with Don’s.
Why do you think Pete is so dissatisfied with his life? What would fulfill him?
[Laughs.] It’s a personality thing. Someone like Ken Cosgrove is satisfied [with what’s around him]. Pete felt he had to be more successful and ambitious than his father. Pete judges himself harshly. It’s nature over nurture in some situations. The road to success… it changes you. He has started to find success and it’s not treating him like he hoped it always would. Now he has less things he has to make excuses about in regards to his unhappiness. Nothing will fulfill that. I should hope nothing will fulfill that. Maybe there will be… Maybe he’ll find a way to transition, who knows? There was a lot of that this season: the moment you have happiness, you need more happiness. It’s this unquenchable ambition. [The things Pete has] are just temporary bandages on a permanent wound. It’s more about learning to cope with that and learning to accept it, and not chasing the next fulfilling success, or woman, or award. It’s just coming to terms with the fact that he’s broken.
Is there any other character on the show you wish you could play?
No. There is no other character I could play as well as the other actors. I loved Pete Campbell from the moment I read him. He is the only character I want to play.
Do people have a hard time separating you from your character?
I don’t know. You’ll have to ask them. I do play Pete Campbell. I am Pete… Except I didn’t do all those things. I’m sure some people do [have a hard time separating me from the character] and that’s fine. It probably allows them some cathartic release.
What’s in store for your character next season?
Yeah, I know everything that’s going to happen to him. Matt called me yesterday and gave me all the deets. Actually, I don’t know anything. We don’t find out until the day we get to set. I don’t have any hypotheses or wishes because whatever Matt comes up with will be a thousand times better than anything I can come up with.
What else are you working on?
I’m working on a movie called Beach Pillows. [Mutters.] They’re going to change the name. Then I’ll be in a stage production called Death of the Novel.
You’ve worked in television, film, and stage. What are the biggest differences between the three and which do you like best?
Mad Men is my favorite. Stage is obviously most rewarding for an actor [because there is a] live audience. There’s a direct relationship between you and the audience. It’s fun isn’t it?
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
[Laughs.] When am I not working? I like to… I feel like I’m on a first date. I’m just a dude. I like to do dude things. I’d probably have to change my answer if I were going to tell you what I do.