Mad Men would probably not be much without Vincent Kartheiser, the 34-year-old actor who has given his character, Peter Dyckman Campbell, such a rich blend of sleaze and formality. “He’s hard to watch,” said Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, at a recent panel discussion. “He’s every bad thing you’ve ever done all at once.” That may be true, but the character’s relentless scheming often triggers the best Mad Men stories. And he plays the even more crucial role of foil to the show’s enigmatic protagonist, Don Draper. At 10 a.m., still in bed on the day after filming the season-six finale, Kartheiser answered his phone.
I asked him if it was true that he was engaged to Alexis Bledel, the former Gilmore Girls star who has appeared on Mad Men as a Westchester vamp.
“Yes,” he said. “But she’s super private. I’ve had to adjust my life to that. I let the world know everything, but she’s not that way. We met on the show, and we didn’t date until the season was over. I was in New York last year, and I saw her in a play she was doing and we began hanging out a little bit, yeah.”
“Marriage doesn’t go very well on Mad Men.”
“I guess it is quite bleak.”
“How do you feel after finishing season six?”
“It’s good people. I love them all but I’m very tired.” Big yawn. “I don’t know if I’m going to get out of bed.”
“Was there a cast party?”
“The wrap party is tonight. Some years I go, some years I don’t. Which it’s going to be depends on how much I can amp myself up. You just spent 16 hours a day with these people, and then, to see them with their hair down…” (He sounded a bit Pete Campbell-ish.)
“Do you and Miss Bledel watch any of the big cable shows?”
“We’ve been meaning to. Recently, me and the fiancée were saying, ‘Let’s start Game of Thrones,’ or, ‘Tomorrow, we’ll start Veep.’ But then, invariably, one of us is too tired.”
The more you think about Pete Campbell, the more it seems Matthew Weiner purposely constructed him as the anti-Draper. There are the obvious differences, like Pete is head of accounts while Don is the creative director. But there are smaller contrasts, too. To wit:
Pete is a committed nonsmoker. Don is always lighting up.
Pete can’t fix a leak. Don is handy around the house.
Pete has a receding hairline (Weiner sees to it that Kartheiser’s hairline is shaved back
a full inch). Don has a nice head of hair.
Pete grew up rich in a prominent Manhattan family. Don is the son of a whore from the middle of nowhere.
Pete is tossed out of his marriage after an early attempt at cheating. Don fools around and usually gets away with it.
Pete says his name out loud when he needs a social advantage: “Peter Dyckman Campbell.” Don tells almost no one his real name (Dick Whitman) for fear of losing his place in society.
Pete perks up when a prostitute calls him “king.” Don, on the other hand, asks one of his sexual partners to slap him in the face—hard.
Pete impregnates Peggy Olson. Don metaphorically makes the baby disappear by persuading Peggy to forget the entire childbirth episode ever happened.
Pete nudges Joan Harris to sleep with a potential client. Don is apparently disgusted by the idea and refuses to discuss it.