Jay R. Ferguson on Stan Rizzo's Role in the Mad Men Ensemble
Mad Men's reformed chauvinist pig, artist Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson), hasn't spent much time in the foreground this season; instead, he's become a seamless part of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ensemble, trading jabs and passing joints with onetime rival Peggy Olson and cocky new kid Michael Ginsberg. He did, however, walk away with the best line of last night's episode, "Dark Shadows." As Ginsberg effused about his own genius, exclaiming, "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair," Rizzo snapped back, "You should read the rest of that poem, you boob." Not only was a great zinger, it showed that Stan Rizzo, who came onto the show like a retro human version of Axe deodorant, knows his 18th century romantic poets.
We spoke to the Texas native, who launched his acting career at age 14 in The Outsiders, about Stan's evolution, his tight shirts, and the role he plays in Mad Men's dark, dark fifth season.
GQ: I asked if I could talk to you today because we've never spoken before. In fact, I noticed that you don't seem to do a lot of interviews.
Jay R. Ferguson: I mean, not by choice! Certainly I'm always willing to talk to anyone who's interested in talking to me! [Laughs] But yeah, before this season started, I was staying away from talking about anything having to do with the show or my character or whether he was going to be back—all of the things that, at the camp, they like to keep under wraps. So in respect to that, I stayed away from anything that would have gotten me into trouble because I tend to have a pretty big mouth. It's better that I'm not even given the temptation, 'cause I'll end up blowing it. In fact, I almost did blow it at one of our events that we did right before the show premiered. It was for the Paley Fest, and somebody asked me a question—they asked me if, using the Star Wars universe, could I kind of give a loose description of what was going to happen in this upcoming season. And I started to do it, and he almost tricked me. I was able to pull back just in time before I let something slip. So I decided to stay away from anybody with a tape recorder until the show was on the air. So now I'm cool, now I can talk.
curious as to what he almost let slip. hopefully the new olson-rizzo-cosgrove agency, which they celebrate by having dinner at a pizza house
GQ: So does Matt Weiner have little electrodes in your head that he can zap whenever you say too much?
Jay R. Ferguson: That's right. It's like in Ghostbusters, when Bill Murray is shocking the guy in the beginning. It's exactly like that.
GQ: I have to say, I get a kick out of the secrecy.
Jay R. Ferguson: You know, it is fun, and at the end of the day that's what it's all about for me. It's terrifying, because of course I'm nervous that I'll inadvertently let something slip, but at the end of the day it's fun to be involved in something that people consider so precious, that the integrity of the show relies upon its secrecy. People really appreciate that about the show. And somehow—they can't keep things from leaking at the White House, but in Matt Weiner's house, they're able to keep things airtight and nothing gets out, ever.
GQ: Can you tell me what you knew about Stan going into the audition last season?
Jay R. Ferguson: I knew absolutely nothing, which is pretty par for the course when it comes to this show. The only thing I knew about him, really, was that he was pompous, that he had this big bravado and carried himself with a little bit of an egotistical swagger. Certainly the relationship between Stan and Peggy presented a new obstacle for him, and it seemed, in those first few moments of Stanley on the show, that he was just going to kind of be that typical chauvinistic, misogynistic guy in the office. And I think what's great about what they've done with him, is they've allowed him to settle in and show that he does have a little bit of a heart, and that he's a lot more bark than bite. A lot of that was probably just an effort to impress people, to make his presence felt. Deep down, he's a team player, he's a bright guy, he's good at his job. And as irony would have it, the person that he works the best with at the office is Peggy.
After all of the pranks, all of the shenanigans, the put-downs, and the slime that's been thrown in both directions, they still somehow have this really interesting relationship, almost like a brother-sister type of thing. I was so happy that they went that direction because I love working with Lizzie [Moss] so much, and it's nice to be able to let that grow and not just be that one dynamic where he's constantly putting her down, and she's constantly putting him down and there's never a reprieve from that. So it was a nice breath of fresh air, I think, for Stan this year to kind of show that he's not all tight polos and hip huggers.
if stan/peggy doesn't happen by the end of this season i will consider it a tragedy of the highest proportions
GQ: You have made it onto GQ's Best Dressed on Mad Men lists a few times this season.
Jay R. Ferguson: You know, by the simple nature of the clothes they put me in, the show forces me to stay in shape. Begrudgingly. And the more I get in shape, the tighter they make the clothes. I think they don't want me to look as good as I want me to look, you know? [Laughs] They want a little bit of a muffin top spilling over the pants, I think. So right when I start to flatten out in that area, they'll tighten those pants up one more size, boy, so they can get it right back. They're not giving me an inch, man. It's great.
not complaining tbh
GQ: When Megan quit, Stan said something to the effect of, she's probably sick of putting all her creative energy into selling beans. Do you think he secretly considers himself a struggling artist?
Jay R. Ferguson: Struggling, no; he's at a good firm, he certainly has a good position and is working constantly. I believe that the point that line was trying to make was, you pour your heart and soul into something that at the end of the day, is not some sort of groundbreaking work that's gonna garner you a bunch of accolades or attention. At the end of the day, you're breaking your back to come up with a really catchy slogan for a can of beans. It's satisfying for some people, and for some, it's not enough. But I think for Stan, he's okay with that. He accepts that that's his fate, and I think he's a little more concerned with how the tides seem to be turning from the world of artistic drawn boards to photographic ones, and what that's going to mean for him and his future. I think he's probably more on that side of the fence, rather than feeling he's creatively empty because he's pouring all of his energy into bean ads.
GQ: It's been a very dark season so far. Has that affected the atmosphere on the set at all?
Jay R. Ferguson: No. I can only speak to the time I've been on the show, but from what I've gathered, I think that last season was not as dark as some previous seasons had been. For us, it's just about getting that script, reading it, and realizing you're about to shoot an episode that's better than the one you just shot. And when you got that one, you thought that episode was better than the one you just shot. To be a part of something where each week it just keeps getting better and better—and the tone of the show makes it all the more exciting for everybody, I think.
maybe an unpopular opinion, but i adore this season and consider it one of my favorites. weiner's said in interviews that the last three episodes of this season are among the series' best, so i'm pretty excited
But actually, that's kind of the uniqueness of the show—it's the perfect mix of everything. I've told this story a couple of times, but after I did my first table read, I called my manager right afterwards—'cuz I hadn't seen Mad Men at that point, and Matt Weiner would kill me for saying that—but I didn't know too much about the show, other than it had won all these awards. So I called my manager up afterwards and I said, "Hey, this is the show that won the Best Drama Emmy for the last couple years, right?" And he said, "Yeah, why?" And I said, "I just wanted to check, because the table read of the show that I just came from was a hilarious comedy." And it was the truth! Granted, my first episode—the episode where Peggy and I strip in the hotel room—it was a very humorous episode, comparatively speaking. But it's got so much humor, and to be able to balance that with the dark part; it's a very fine, delicate balance.
GQ: You've been a TV actor from such a young age. I'm wondering how Mad Men has changed your fan base, because there are all these fan sites and videos dedicated to photos of you as a teenager...
Jay R. Ferguson: I know which pictures you speak of. And yeah, we all have to have those moments where we can look back and say, "Ah, yes, I was young too, wasn't I? And I did silly things when I was young." But I don't know what Mad Men has done for my fan base. I didn't know that I still had a fan base, to be honest. This is the first I'm hearing of it! I guess it's enough to let them know I'm still here. I'm still around, and hoping to stick around. Certainly Matt Weiner and company helped revive whatever career I may have had, and helped breathe new life into what I thought was a balloon that had run out of air. So I could not feel more fortunate and blessed.
the most sweet, thoughtful, poetry-reading, pot-smoking, nylon-wearing character on the show thanks you for your time!!
ETA: Mods, should be unlocked now. Sorry! I hadn't even realized I'd done it.