Kartheiser shares traits with 'scummy' alter ego

  • Article by: C.J. , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 11, 2012 - 4:37 PM

Vincent Kartheiser fully embraces the scummy character he plays on "Mad Men," Pete Campbell. Kartheiser never flinched when I described Campbell as scummy, either. He went on to list the ways in which he's like Campbell. But he also noted that Pete is perhaps the least bigoted ad man on the AMC show.

Kartheiser was in the metro for a private Minnesota Film Board fundraiser at the home of Dr. Leo Furcht and Katherine Roepke. Roepke owns Roepke PR and is a member of the film organization's board of directors. It was a garden party with a setting so stunning, Campbell probably thought he was at some glitzy L.A. venue -- when he didn't feel like he was on the set of the 1960s show, as some guests dressed for that era. Speaking of L.A., if you're an adult raising a child with no appreciation for boundaries, Kartheiser has some fascinating insights into how that's unhelpful should that child want to be an actor. And who was that lady who interrupted our interview? See the video.

Q You're the youngest of six children. Were your parents even paying attention when you grew up?

A Yeah, they were. My parents were pretty amazing. We didn't have a lot of distractions in our house. No TV. Not a lot of the modern world was around us. They had an opportunity to get to know each one of their kids. My mom spent a lot of time with me because I did a lot of plays. Carpooling to the city. A lot of time chaperoning me. I actually got a lot of one-on-one time with my folks, and I'm still very close to them. I see them all the time. Yeah, they live here.

Q What happens when your parents come out to Hollywood for one of your premieres?

A They never come out for a premiere, but my dad [took] me to a trade show. That's my work. Where there's a premiere, I spend 10 hours of the day working. It's not exactly an ideal time to see my family. We'll just do what most kids do when their folks come in -- you show them your house, introduce them to your friends, take them to your favorite places to eat. Maybe a couple of touristy spots, the sights.

Q Did you get spankings when you were growing up?

A Uh-huh. Yeah, I believe in spankings. I believe in spankings more and more, as I get older. I was in a Whole Foods the other day in LA. This kid -- there was a group of ten 12-year-old girls -- not looking where she was going, ran into me with her ice cream cone and got ice cream on me. I wasn't mad at the kid; it's a kid. But I said, "Watch where you're going." I was just trying to say "Look where you're going. You ruined your ice cream cone. You ruined my shirt." The woman who was with this group of girls turned to me and said, You watch where YOU'RE going. I thought, "Man, that poor kid; no boundaries." I was surprised at the adult's reaction and think that adults should maybe be a little bit more stern with their kids. The kids could use that when they get a little older, so they know there are consequences.

Q Kids are looking for boundaries, and so many people are raising their kids without any sense of perimeters.

A Exactly. It's like being an actor in some ways, being a child. You have this wild imagination and left to its own devices you're going to do all sorts of crazy stuff. As an actor, if you give me a script and tell me to do what I want, I'm not going to give a very good performance. But if you give me a script and say: "Here's what the character is. Here's what you have to do. Here's the moment you have to hit. Here's what you shouldn't do" -- now I can really excel. I know what to prioritize, what to put my effort into. Kids are kind of the same way.

Q Is there anything in your personal character that helps you identify with the very scummy Pete Campbell?

A Well, I'm insecure. I'm ambitious. I have some inferiority complexes. I can be petty. I can be jealous. I can be dissatisfied. Insatiable. You know. I think that's a lot.

Q But could you imagine sneaking into a colleague's home, having sex with her when she was asleep, never acknowledging the activity and then not feeling responsible for the baby?

A Sure. [Slight smile.] None of it happens like that. If you look at anyone's life from a first-person perspective, it's going to look a lot different than the third-person perspective. You look at someone's life and you go: "How could you sneak into that colleague's home and have sex with them and have their baby?" But then you look at it from his perspective. He's about to get married. He goes to this bachelor party where all these women aren't open to him, don't want him, and he's feeling like this is his last opportunity to be wanted by someone. I'm not saying it's right. I'm saying that's where he's at. He goes to this place, she lets him in, they have sex and he never knows about the baby. That comes later, after the baby's already been given away. He's not perfect, he's flawed, but there are a lot of men out there who have done things like that.

Q That's pretty bad, though.

A You've got to hang out with more men. You've got to tell them: Tell me what's real. Because men act one way around women and another way [around men].

Q Has a fan ever asked you to do something you declined?

A Yeah. Fans ask you to do things like: Hey, man, take this shot with me. Or Will you call my girlfriend as Pete Campbell? Will you leave a voice mail on my outgoing voice mail? Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. All depends on how they approach you. What's going on in my life. If I'm just hanging out on the beach or something, maybe I'll do that kind of thing. If I'm running to catch a cab and somebody's like, Yeah, man, will you take a photo with me. I'm like, "Dude, no, I've got to catch a flight!"

Q Tell me something you wish fans would never ask of you?

A I hope a fan never asks me again what's going to happen next season, 'cause I just can't tell you.

Q Is there any politician you're channeling when you play Pete Campbell?

A No. I think he admires John F. Kennedy a lot. You know, Pete is the most liberal-thinking of all the men in the office. He has the most un-racist views. He has a very different viewpoint on how they should approach the feminist movement. He gets a lot of flak for being who he is, but within the times, politically, he actually is quite liberal.

Q In your life, do you get the kinds of rewards your character does when you misbehave?

A I don't know if my character does get that many rewards.

Q He doesn't seem to get punished very much -- unless he gets killed in a future episode.

A This season he got his ass kicked a lot. He got his face punched in a lot. I think that bad behavior often does get rewarded in life. The thing is, the thing you are trying to attain is never that valuable. The thing you lose trying to attain it -- your integrity, belief in yourself -- that's irreplaceable. Bad deeds get rewarded and then punished at the same time.

Q Best practical joke you've pulled on Jon Hamm?

A I don't think I've ever pulled a practical joke on Jon Hamm.

C.J. can be reached at cj@startribune.com and seen on FOX 9.

  • WATCH VIDEO of C.J.'s interview with Vincent Kartheiser

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