You can find Part 2 here.
Okay so funny story. Our brother Dan, neither a Mad Men fan nor a BoK reader, but certainly a fan of Remy Martin, won a contest to attend a Remy Martin “Gentlemen’s Night”. The evening’s star attraction was none other than the lovely and talented Vincent Kartheiser. And Janie Bryant! And so yes it was Dan who essentially scored us this interview. A few weeks later my sister and I had us a fantastic conversation with Mr. K.
Can we just say that Vinnie is so much fun? An interview cannot convey how remarkably expressive Vinnie is. When he talks about something light, his voice is light, when he talks about romance, his voice is full of love. Often, we held our hands over our mouths to avoid laughing and screwing up the recording, but he’s capable of being utterly serious, and he’s clearly someone who is thoughtful about everything in his world.
We spoke via conference call from three different locations on Monday evening, November 29, 2010. Roberta and Vinnie were on the call about five minutes early, and Deborah joined them.
Here are some of our favorite excerpts, or skip down to read the whole thing:
About his Siamese cat: [W]e have full on videotaped conversations with my cat.
About having four sisters: You know, I wish I understood women more. You know, people are like, “Oh, you had four sisters, so you must — you get women, huh?” And it’s like, “Fuck, no.” That’s like growing up with Einstein means you understand his theories.
About Team Hamm: I put on a suit and I went and auditioned, and they called me back one time to audition again…my agents told me that if they hired Jon Hamm that I would be the guy. Me and Jon at that time were booked at the same agency, so they were like, “We represent the other guy who they’re looking at, and they’re kind of pairing you guys off. You know, there’s like you and Jon Hamm, and then there’s some other guy, and if that other guy gets it, they’re going to go with this other guy for Pete.”…And so I was like, “Oh! Go Jon Hamm! You take that shit down, J.H.!”…
You know, watching Jon Hamm work is like watching Picasso paint a masterpiece. And I know I’m kind of blowing smoke up my fellow actors’ asses here.
About Matt Weiner: [I]t’s funny, there’s all this press about Matthew as, you know, people come up to me and they’re like, “Is it true about the creator, is he really a perfectionist and like a micro-manager and all this?” And you know what? He is, but beyond any of those things, he’s really interesting and really warm and really creates an environment that’s like a family…We totally think Matt is worth anything that they can give him.
We schmooze. I mean we literally talk about the weather
Roberta: Hi Vincent, how are you?
Vincent: Oh, I’m pretty good.
Vincent: Yeah. It’s just kind of cold in LA today.
Roberta: What’s cold in LA feel like?
Vincent: It feels cold, man. I’m from Minnesota, so I’m used to like real cold-cold, but —
Vincent: — the last week it’s been like desert cold, which is really windy and really dry. I mean, it’s not as cold as like Minnesota or New York, obviously, but it’s cold, man. It’s cold enough.
Roberta: Plus there is truth to the whole blood thinning thing.
Vincent: I think there is, yeah. There’s got to be; right? Because I was never this much of a weakling when I first moved out here.
Roberta: …We are waiting for my sister, by the way — my best friend moved out to Seattle and he said people out there were just, like it got up to 70 and they were like, “Man, it’s so hot!” Just couldn’t even handle it. And he was like, “What are you talking about?”
Vincent: Oh, it’s really true. Like in Minnesota when it hits 40s and 50s in the springtime after six months of the winter, people like go out in tank tops and —
Vincent: You learn to appreciate what little sun you can find.
His cat gives interviews
Roberta: Hey, Deb?
Deborah Lipp: Hi.
Roberta: Deborah, Vincent. Vincent, Deborah.
Deborah: Hi, Vincent.
Vincent: Hello Deeb-or-ahh.
Roberta: That was a visual. I pointed.
Deborah: Oh, good. Good, because that worked. At some point, my son is going to come upstairs and at which point he asked me to put you on speaker so he could hear your voice.
Vincent: Oh, really? How old is your son?
Deborah: He’s 20, but I think he might be a little star struck.
Vincent: Oh, that’s cool. No, I’ll do the Pete Campbell voice for him. He’ll be impressed.
Deborah: Yeah, do your bitchface too.
Vincent: Oh, yeah, exactly. I love that site.
Roberta: I was going to say if my cat decides to — he could out-loud all of us because he’s a little mad at me because I haven’t been home in two days.
Vincent: Oh, I love when they get mad. I love it!
Deborah: I also have a cat, but mine does not have a meow.
Vincent: Really? No meow at all?
Deborah: It’s a birth defect, yeah. Is that great?
Vincent: No, that’s terrible! I have a very vocal cat. I have a Siamese cat and he is a talker. And I really love that. I mean, I really like — in fact, we do these interviews, me and my roommate, we do these things where we put the camera on him and we ask him questions, and whenever we stop talking, he meows. But we pretend like his meow is a full on answer for what we’re talking about. So we have full on videotaped conversations with my cat.
Roberta: That’s awesome.
Vincent: Well, yeah, it’s pretty hilarious.
Roberta: I don’t know if I could get Sweet Potato to do that. He meows like he wants something. He’ll just look at me like — like with that you-haven’t-fed-me look, except he has everything he needs. And he’s really vocal. So yeah, if he wakes up, he’s right over there sleeping, if he wakes up, that’ll be the end of all of it.
Vincent: That will be the end. The loud meow will take over the interview.
Roberta: He will out-loud, he will really, seriously out loud us. So you met our brother!
Women are Rubik’s Cubes
Vincent: Isn’t that random? Isn’t that like the most random thing ever? He was like, “So my sisters, I don’t know if you know the Lipp Sisters?” And I was like, “Yeah! That’s your sisters?” And he’s, “Yeah.” I was like that’s really, that’s amazing that he got — he won the Remy Martin contest. It’s so weird.
Roberta: He just — he swears that he doesn’t not watch Mad Men to spite us. He swears that that’s not what’s going on. And we hesitate to believe him, but we try.
Vincent: I don’t know if I believe him either. That’s a pretty strange little circumstance.
Roberta: And you’ve met him. It’s not impossible.
Vincent: Not at all, not at all impossible.
Deborah: Do you have sisters?
Vincent: Oh, yeah. I have four sisters.
Deborah: So you understand.
Vincent: You know, I wish I understood women more. You know, people are like, “Oh, you had four sisters, so you must — you get women, huh?” And it’s like, “Fuck, no.” That’s like growing up with Einstein means you understand his theories. You know, it’s “no.” Like that is a Rubik’s Cube I don’t even try to master. I just look at it and go, “Yeah, wow. Look at all those colors, yeah.”
Roberta: (cracking up!) So what are the ages, what are the relations? I’m gonna analyze—I’m gonna figure this out right now.
Vincent: I’m the baby. I’m the baby. I’m a spoiled little baby boy and I’m 31. And the whole list of all the —
Deborah: And there’s no other — there’s no boys?
Vincent: Yeah, there’s a boy. There’s another boy. I have a brother. There was four girls…and then my brother and me. So the four girls were kind of —
Roberta: No, you would never understand women from that perspective. You couldn’t because they were already running you.
Vincent: Well, not really. I mean, it’s funny. We’re all so close in age, like I’m 31 and the oldest one is 39, so it’s six kids in eight years. So we’re all really close in age. And, you know, at a certain point, they could tell me what to do, but at a certain point that kind of became less effective because we were bigger than them and stronger than them. But, I mean, I do understand some things about women, but nothing that, like is helpful? You know?
Vincent: It’s just stuff like I understand that a woman’s bathroom is no place for a man.
Vincent: I understand that like, women all living together will, you know, coordinate their periods to match. I understand completely useless information that really anyone could figure out after six months. I know that women are dirty, like kind of filthy-minded people, although they’d like to pretend that they’re sweet and so flabbergasted that you would talk about such crude things. I have listened to four girls talk about sex my entire life and it’s pretty raunchy. It’s much harder than listening to four guys talk about sex, you know?
Roberta: Well, because we get in there. Like, we get in there.
Vincent: Oh, yeah. There is some serious detail shit going on that I don’t need to know. My sisters start telling me stories and I’m like, “Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Wait. Do I need to know the details of this or can we just — let’s just jump to the part that matters to the story.”
Deborah: Right. I have dated men who could really benefit from learning the rule about bathrooms.
Roberta: Yeah, I wouldn’t say you’ve walked away completely clueless, although I get it about not having cracked the code.
Roberta: We’re impossible. Women are just impossible, we are. And, you know, we know that.
Vincent: That’s what I think men like about them. I think if we understood it that it, you know, it’s one of the great mysteries of our lives and we like to try to figure it out, you know?
Roberta: We appreciate your effort.
Vincent: Thank you.
Roberta: And we will test it again and again. Not you personally and us personally, it’s just women. We just will. We’ll keep doing that.
Roberta: All right. Let’s, I don’t know, interview you.
Vincent: Okay. Let’s do it.
Deborah: We have a list. We wrote it down.
Vincent: Good. You’re prepared. I’m walking through the streets right now. My modem died today so I had to go and buy a new modem, which sucks, because you never really want to buy more than one of those things in your life, you know? It’s like one of those things that’s just on a shelf that you never do anything with, but it really is important to your living. So I had to go buy one of those and now I’m just walking back home. It’s kind of a long walk, so that’s what I’m doing. If there’s loud noises, I apologize.
Roberta: Sure. I’ll just wake Sweet Potato up if we need some —
Vincent: (Laughs) Perfect.
He rooted for Jon Hamm to get the role
Roberta: So I’m thinking we start at the beginning. Like how did you — and forgive us–
Vincent: Okay. Let’s start at the beginning.
Roberta: — if some of this is repeated. But I promise that we will not ask you about those cigarettes.
Vincent: Oh, yeah, fine, whatever. My character doesn’t smoke anyway, so you know the answer.
Roberta: We do, yeah. It cracks me up that anybody still asks that.
Vincent: Oh, they’re such idiots.
Roberta: It’s rough. It’s rough out there.
Vincent: I mean, if you’re going to interview someone, wouldn’t you at least go and see what else like other people had asked them? People don’t do this. They’re imbeciles.
Roberta: I think the most embarrassing thing I saw was the Oprah thing.
Vincent: Oh, I know. Oh, God.
Roberta: That was rough. I mean, Oprah’s rough when she does fawning stuff, but that was maybe the worst.
Deborah: That was bizarre.
Deborah: It blows our minds kind of when people don’t want to be interviewed by the fan sites, because we ask better questions invariably, because we’re actually paying attention.
Vincent: Right. You’re actually watching the show. Well, it might be scary for us. I don’t know, let’s give it a go. Let’s see if I can get any of these right.
Roberta: All right. There will be a test at the end. So I want to know like how it started, how you first heard about the show. Did you get handed the hot script? Where did it start?
Vincent: It’s like that. I mean…I had a bunch of auditions for pilots that year, and they were like, here’s another one. And I had said no to most of the pilots that season, because I just wasn’t intrigued by them. And I was going through this little renaissance in my life where I just really wanted to — I had just done a play in New York the year before and I’d been doing small roles in movies and kind of stretching myself…because I had gotten bored with kind of doing the same thing that I had been doing since my 20’s in movies and stuff. And so I passed on a lot of pilots because there wasn’t something that jumped off the page about them, you know what I mean?
And so I got this one and I was like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll read it.” And they hyped me up for it. They were like,“A couple guys from The Sopranos are doing it,” and blah, blah, blah. And I loved The Sopranos, I was like a huge Soprano geek. So I read it and immediately I was — they were like, “Look at any of the characters. You know, they like you for this Pete guy, but if you like the lead,” blah, blah, blah. And I read it and I loved Pete. I was like, “No, no, no, Pete’s all I want to do.” Obviously Don Draper is a great role, but it’s not me. I’ll never book that role. I kind of knew what they were looking for with that role and I knew it wasn’t me. And I just loved Pete Campbell. I mean, he jumps off the page to me. In the pilot he has such great dialogue, and he has throughout the season. Matthew consistently writes me such wonderful stuff that I’m so blessed, and it makes me feel proud that he gives me an opportunity to do that stuff. But especially in the pilot, there were some really great lines.
And I was like, this is so fabulous, you know, to be able to do a television show that has dialogue like this. This would be amazing to book. So I read it and then I finished the last page and I read it again. And my mom and dad were in town that week, so I was spending a lot of time with them. I didn’t do a ton of rehearsal on it, but I ran it with my dad a couple of times and it just felt really natural. Like I had kind of developed this posture for him and I have a bit of a voice that I was doing for him. I just really enjoyed rehearsing the stuff. And I put on a suit and I went and auditioned, and they called me back one time to audition again. And then there was all this like, they don’t know if they’re going to hire Jon Hamm, but my agents told me that if they hired Jon Hamm that I would be the guy. Me and Jon at that time were booked at the same agency, so they were like, “We represent the other guy who they’re looking at, and they’re kind of pairing you guys off. You know, there’s like you and Jon Hamm, and then there’s some other guy, and if that other guy gets it, they’re going to go with this other guy for Pete.” This is what my agents told me. I don’t know if this is really even true. This is just what I was told.
Vincent: And so I was like, “Oh! Go Jon Hamm! You take that shit down, J.H.!” It was a really crazy process. And it has been every year, because we booked it, we flew to New York, we filmed it, and then they were like, “Well, we have to wait seven months to see if we’re picked up.” So we sat around for seven months or six months or something, waiting to see if the show was going to get picked up. And then it got picked up and we filmed it like a year later. Like a year later we came and did the season. And then every season’s been the same. You know, waiting, waiting, waiting to see if we’re picked up. Even this season, we’re still waiting, waiting, waiting to see if we’re picked up. So it’s kind of been sometimes a frustrating process. Especially for someone like Matthew who’s given his heart and soul to this thing and has really helped put AMC on the map, you know? I mean, in a big, big way they owe a lot to Mad Men because other creators say, “Hey, we want that kind of sweet creative control,” and, “We want to be on the channel that Mad Men’s on,” you know? It’s kind of surprising to us that we’re still sitting on the brink of December without a contract, you know?
Roberta: How bizarre.
Vincent: It’s kind of bizarre.
Roberta: It is really bizarre. It’s like you guys get all the prestige and all the attention and shit-tons of awards. And there was also with the writer’s strike. There’s been a lot of tumult, you know?
Vincent: Well, there has been. There have been a lot of obstacles, and I understand that. And I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of the industry or what’s going on behind closed doors, I don’t know. I just know that the emotion that it puts through us as cast members and as writers and as people associated with the project who care about it and love it, you know, it’s still nerve-wracking for us regardless of what the excuse is, it’s still kind of like — it’s something we’ve dealt with every year on this show, so it’s become part of the fabric of the experience.
Roberta: Right. Was it two years ago when the whole, “Is Matt going to be signed?”
Vincent: Yeah, it was a couple years ago, yeah.
Deborah: It was after Season 2.
Roberta: I cried, actually, when I heard the news.
Vincent: I never had too much fear about it because Matthew’s a really—it’s funny, there’s all this press about Matthew as, you know, people come up to me and they’re like, “Is it true about the creator, is he really a perfectionist and like a micro-manager and all this?” And you know what? He is, but beyond any of those things, he’s really interesting and really warm and really creates an environment that’s like a family. So I don’t think I was ever worried that Matt would do anything to do jeopardize this product or the people that are in his family. You know, I never felt like it was Matt against the studio and us somewhere on the sidelines. We all supported Matt in that. And if they had tried to do the show with someone else, I don’t know what would’ve happened, but none of us would’ve been happy.
Vincent: We totally think Matt is worth anything that they can give him. And I kind of always knew that Matt wouldn’t do — Matt wouldn’t allow himself to, you know — I don’t want to say anything that’s putting words in his mouth, but I always knew that he would take care of his family and that this project meant more to him than even his own pride. And that’s a really beautiful thing in this industry where pride and ego is so much the forefront of everyone’s priorities that he’s just — it’s kind of bigger than that for him, you know? And that’s special.
Roberta: We’ve met him. We get it.
Deborah: Yeah. There’s no question.
Roberta: The love is real. There’s no question.
Vincent: Yeah. Yeah, and I think he realizes that what he’s doing is more important than a job right now. I think he’s giving something to a society of people out there. He’s really feeding people in an intellectual way, and I think that that’s really a powerful thing for anyone to experience.
Roberta: Wow. All right. So then you got the part, then you filmed the pilot, and then every year has been tumult. Got it.
Vincent: Well, every year’s been great. I mean, I’m so blessed to be on the show. That’s really how I feel. I feel so lucky that I did a good job in that audition.
Roberta: I love that you brought up your posture because how many people have said that one of their favorite Pete moments and one of their favorite moments in the pilot is your shrug.
The Truth About the Shrug
Vincent: Well, you know, that’s written in the script. That’s not something I did on my own. Matthew wrote that into the script, and we did several takes of it. And actually, John Slattery kind of showed me how to do that. So I’m really not going to take too much credit. I have so much respect for John Slattery. He has amazing timing. I mean, I have so much respect for all those actors. Jared Harris, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, January Jones; I love these actors. I think they’re phenomenal. But John Slattery, I also have a huge amount of respect for, and especially for his comedic timing. He has the ability to do these little things and they seem so unplanned, but he really puts a lot of thought into them. And so I was doing it that day and I go, “John, I know you hate this,” because he hates doing line readings or showing people how to do things.
Roberta: I was going to say, like a physical version of a line reading, right?
Vincent: Oh, but he hates it. He would never do it for me. The two episodes he directed I constantly was like, “Hey, John! John, help me with this,” and he was like, “What do you mean help you? You’ve got it. You’re good.” But in this case, I was like, “Please, please, just show me. Just show me what you would do.” And that’s totally the take they used. I have no qualms about giving him a hundred percent credit for that. I’m, you know, I love him and if I could steal every moment of my character from him, I certainly would.
Roberta: That’s awesome.
Deborah: That’s fabulous.
Vincent: Exactly. But it is brilliant. I have a ton of respect for him. And…one of the coolest things about this project is the writers, Matthew, Scott Hornbacher, our DPs, our editors; working with this caliber of people has been a real blessing to me. And if you look at any of my other movies or projects, you can tell that I’m surrounded by people who know what they’re doing because the caliber of my work, you know, is really lifted by them. And they really have helped me to look a lot better than I am. And just being on set with these great actors, with these great writers, with people who are thinking about every shot and putting together a really well-put together story, I mean, they make me look a lot better than I am. And John Slattery is — he was surprisingly wonderful at being a director and knew just how to respect everyone and still bring a little bit of his flavor into the episode.
Deborah: Do you think that being on the show has changed you as an actor?
Vincent: Yeah, a little bit. I mean, you know, it’s hard to say because it’s hard to say how I would’ve changed without it. But I’ve learned a lot. You know, watching Jon Hamm work is like watching Picasso paint a masterpiece. And I know I’m kind of blowing smoke up my fellow actors’ asses here, but as someone who’s been doing this for 25 years, to watch someone do it like he does, like Jon Hamm does, with such a lack of — with seemingly such a lack of effort. I mean, he really makes it look easy and it’s not at all easy what he does. And the depth of that character, it’s funny, people come up to me and say, “Pete Campbell, he’s so many things. He’s got so many layers.” You know what? Everyone on this show has so many layers. And there’s not a character that’s written on this show that doesn’t have crazy depth and crazy waters underneath that current that are flowing different ways.
Jon Hamm is a master in my mind of portraying a million things with his eyes. Every episode he’s got like fifty different things going on in his life, just like we all do. It’s an amazing thing to take a character like Don Draper and to make people love him week after week, and that’s not an easy thing to do. He did a scene [in Waldorf Stories] where he was drunk, he comes in and he gives a speech and he’s drunk, and for me, it’s one of the hardest things for me to do as an actor is to play drunk. I’ve tried it before, I’ve failed many times. Once in a while I get it right. I have a hard time with it. And he just did it with such a lack of — I mean, it seemed effortless to me. And that kind of thing, being around actors like that has really helped me to learn about those things too. I will definitely borrow some of the things I watched him do on that day in the future when I play drunk. …
I’ve definitely learned from John Slattery’s comedic timing and his approach to a scene, the way that he kind of breaks down the beats of a scene, you know? Watching Elisabeth Moss and what she does in-between beats of the scene. You know, watching what she does in the silence, in the gazes. So many times the edit includes parts of the scene that other actors, you wouldn’t be on them for that. But Elisabeth has such a subtle and just very present place, kind of present — fuck! What’s the word I’m looking for? Anyways, she’s so present. And I just, I’ve learned from all of them in many ways. I don’t think I’ll ever emulate them as well, but I’m definitely growing as an actor. I’ve asked some of them to be my mentor and none of them will mentor me. I think they’re ashamed. I think they’re ashamed of me going on and doing a bad performance and being like, “Yeah, they were my mentor,” and being like, “Jesus. Really, Vinnie? You’re going to drop my name after that performance of Hamlet? Like, please don’t.”
(Deb and Roberta are both cracking up.)
Roberta: I can’t imagine that’s their reason.
Vincent: I don’t know what their reason is, but they’re embarrassed by me even asking.
Part two here.