Way back in Mad Men's first season, we were introduced to a mild-mannered accounts man named Ken Cosgrove. That guy, with his Vermont demeanor and literary hobby, has left the building as of Mad Men's Season 7 premiere. In his place is the Ken Cosgrove who was beaten down by his year working for Chevy in Detroit, the manic tap-dancer who was literally shot in the face by his own clients.
Now the head of accounts at Sterling Cooper's New York headquarters, Ken is a one-eyed dervish, frantically trying to control operations in the absence of Don, Pete and Ted. Fortunately, he was still lucid enough to entrust Joan with a problematic account—a smart decision, and a moment that literally made actor Aaron Staton stand up and cheer when he watched last night. GQ spoke with Staton about Ken's new promotion, that hilarious earring toss, and whether he's ready to say goodbye to Mad Men. (Are any of us?)
Aaron Staton: So what did you think of the premiere?
GQ: I liked it! But I'm torn about the two-year split. I'm going to hate to just leave Mad Men partway through the season.
AS: I know, I know. Look, my wife and I were just hanging on for dear life waiting for Breaking Bad to come back. I have to say, though, looking back on it, there was something fun in that suspense. And having shot the first seven of these episodes, I can say that they really structured it in a way where it feels like two seasons. I think that everyone will be happy with it.
GQ: One of the premiere's biggest surprises was that the guy screaming at people turned out to be nice, laid-back Ken Cosgrove.
AS: Well, he took Pete's office, so maybe it's in walls? It's a really sour room. No, I agree—he's definitely in a different place than where we dropped him off. And like you said, he was once this laid-back, easy-going guy, everything sort of fell in his lap—and then next thing you know, everything fell in his lap. [Laughs]
GQ: It seemed like he'd chill out a little bit once he got the hell out of Detroit.
AS: Right! It was the escape hatch: Pete took the account, and the burden had been lifted, it seemed. I thought that too, to be honest with you. But no, more responsibility came. He's now the head of accounts, and that's a new promotion between last season and this one. He's gone right to the top, and he's miserable.
GQ: I remember last season he talked about being an expectant father.
AS: Right, he's expecting a baby, so I'm sure there's some added stress there.
GQ: Ken has that nice little scene with Joan where he puts her in charge of Butler Shoes. Joan obviously takes it as a big compliment that he trusts her with that account, but it almost seems like Ken is so stressed that he's just giving it to her because she's there. Â Do you have a take on why he gave that responsibility to Joan?
AS: You know, Matt [Weiner] pointed this out: Gender has never been a discriminating issue for Ken. He was always Peggy's biggest supporter, and I think, for him, there's no reason why it couldn't be Joan. It was, "Hey, who's available? Joan's available!" Not, "What man is available?"
GQ: Ken also seemed very sympathetic to Joan regarding the circumstances of her promotion; he made some oblique references to dirty business and how he didn't want to be a part of it.
AS: I hadn't thought about that. You know, I think that he respects her. He thinks she's good at what she does, and I'm not sure if he's trying to make amends or have her prove herself. I really think he's just stressed out, and he's like, "Who can take this off my hands?" And she does it, she does a great job, and I love it. I love that episode for her. That meeting with the professor from Columbia? My wife and I were standing up cheering!
adorable mental image omg
GQ: Did you actually toss that earring at Christina Hendricks?
AS: [Laughs] We did it a few times. I think they showed it hitting the lamp. We hit the wall once. Yeah, that was a lot of fun to shoot. And I love the way that she played it too, with her hand out waiting to catch it. Like, aww, poor guy. I laughed out loud reading the scene, so I'm glad it played as it read. Depth perception jokes can go on forever, I think.
GQ: How many pirate jokes do you have to put up with on set?
AS: Quite a few. I should get a parrot, is what I should do. Put it right on the shoulder.
GQ: Do you think Ken's novelist career has been sidelined for now? Is the dream of Dave Algonquin still alive?
AS: I don't know, to be honest with you. I hope so.
prayer circle for ben hargrove's sci-fi compilation to published by AMC
GQ: Last season, you had that incredible tap dance scene in the office. Jay Ferguson told me you practiced a lot, so just out of curiosity: Can you still recite the "it's my job" monologue?
AS: Oh! That is a really good question. Hold on, you just put me on the spot. [Pause] I don't think so. At least, not without the movement—let me see. [Pause.] No, no, it's not in my head. And we almost had to reshoot that for technical reasons about three weeks later, and I was so bummed when I got that call! Because that was something that I was super-nervous about, and once you film that kind of thing, there's this kind of relief. But it exists on film now, it's there forever, and I never have to do it again. [Laughs]
GQ: You've been part of Mad Men since the beginning, and you're now shooting the final season. Does this one feel different?
AS: It absolutely feels different. The truth is, there have been very few seasons where we knew we were coming back the following year. So there was always a feeling that this could be the end. But to know for a fact, and for it to have gone on this long—my first date with my wife was the evening of the first table read in New York! I got married, I had kids. There's so many things that have dovetailed with this experience, professionally and personally. And it's like that for everybody. A lot of life has been lived during this time, and a lot of story has been told. So it's that book that you know is coming to an end, and turning each page is bittersweet because the story is being wrapped up, and you're dreading it, but you're reading it furiously because you can't wait to see what happens.
And every scene that you shoot, you can't help but see scenes from before, conversations you've had in between shots, dinners or parties you've been to —whatever it is. We've all shared so many ups and downs together that it's this very unique goodbye that we're all about to inevitably take part in. So yeah, you can't help making it a sentimental experience.
Even weird things: getting a haircut, putting your shoe on, putting on a suit. I never even wore many suits before Mad Men, and now I'm like, "Oh, this could be the last tie I tie in this trailer!" [Laugh] It could get ridiculous at a certain point. "Oh, this could be the last time I open this door this way!" So you almost have to catch yourself. And really, the most important thing is to try not to look ahead and really enjoy the present, which is what we did leading up to now, which is why it's been so much fun.
he's so precious. he and joan were the highlights of the premiere.
this will be me if the season doesn't end with kenny still pursuing writing and hanging out with rod serling and ray bradbury at the sci-fi writer treehouse: