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Aaron Staton Q&A: 'Expect Real Surprises On 'Mad Men,' Including Ken & Pete Rivalry'

August 25th, 2009 11:10am EDT
Aaron StatonAaron Staton plays newly crowned co-head of accounts Ken Cosgrove -- along with Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser, who we interviewed two weeks ago), which has set up a fun new rivalry -- on AMC's Emmy Award winning series "Mad Men." Aaron, in an interview conducted after the second episode of this third season has aired, breaks down this new relationship with Pete (I want a clean fight boys, keep it clean) and -- very delicately -- explains where he thinks this takes Ken the rest of this season.

Mike: How do you sum up Ken Cosgrove? On the surface he seems one thing but he's got this deep side to him. He's a published writer.

Aaron Staton: Yeah, right! Summing up Ken? I would say Ken is someone in this world of people who seem to be searching for happiness -- sometimes desperately and sometimes casually. Always, throughout, Ken seems to be someone who has either found it or has found something very close to it and (laughs) doesn't require the same attention. So there's sort of this content state or ability to say what he means. I think this separates him from some of the other people in the world.

Mike: One of my favorite lines in season two is when [the new secretary] Jane started and she was asking Ken what his title is and all he says is, "I'm Ken!"

Aaron Staton: Right! (Laughing) Yeah, there you go! That sums up Ken right there. "I'm Ken!"

Mike: I have no idea if this is on purpose because I have no idea what this neighborhood was like in 1963, but Ken lives in Murray Hill which is now considered the "frat boy" neighborhood of Manhattan. And maybe unfairly, but with Ken, too, because when you first meet him you might think that of him until you get to know him better.

Aaron Staton: Right. And that's the case for Ken and all the characters in "Mad Men." You think one thing until you realize these are actual real people. I think the writers on the show do an incredible job of making these characters real people with real problems and surprises. Good surprises, bad surprises; but, just like in life you can never know everything about a person the first time you met them or saw them. We're fortunate enough to get to have a third season and learn more and more and more and be surprised more and more.

Mike: We don't know a lot about "Tapping a Maple Tree on a Cold Vermont Morning." Do you have a best guess other than the obvious?

Aaron Staton: About the story? I think it was that. You know (laughs) it's funny: We had a copy of the story on the set and the camera showed it just briefly and you could see "By Kenneth Cosgrove" and it had a mini bio right under just in case anyone wanted to pause it. The first five sentences were an actual story and then it was just complete nonsense. But it was a really good story, very vivid, very well written and I think it surprised everyone except for him.

Mike: In the first episode of this season, I think the funniest scene was the one with you and Vincent in the elevator. And Ken and Pete are just complimenting each other. The viewer knows [they were just offered the same job] but they don't yet. It almost seems they kind of like each other at that moment?

Aaron Staton: (Laughing)

Mike: OK, maybe not?

Aaron Staton: I think right then... they liked everyone at that moment. It's kind of a classic comedy. Matt Weiner said that's sort of a workshop on comedic writing. The audience knows something that they don't know and we're watching it unfold with one eye covered and one eye open. It's just so awkwardly funny.

Mike: I like that you mentioned it's a comedy workshop. I'm not comparing these shows at all but it's kind of like a scene with Jack Tripper and Mr. Roper.

Aaron Staton: Yeah, right. Exactly. And we know how this is going to go. We know where this is headed.

Mike: A couple weeks ago I interviewed Vincent Kartheiser and we were debating if Pete's an asshole or not and his point was...

Aaron Staton: He'll never say, "yes"...

Mike: I know, he won't. And I agree that Pete's had some moments where he does the right thing. So, in context, he was discussing Pete's asshole moments and said, "I'm sure Ken and Paul always think Pete's an asshole." Do you agree?

Aaron Staton: (Pauses) The thing is with a TV series, with a show, with a movie... the story that we see are the interactions that we know. It's our frame of reference. If you're being realistic about it -- if we're calling these real people that existed at this time -- there's a lot of things that happen off screen. There are relationships and days that happen before and after this. [...] These people work together every day and they go out for drinks together and they have laughs together. And I don't think you can discount the fact that yeah, they're not best friends -- any of them, I'd say -- but I don't think anyone is a sworn enemy.

Mike: Ken seemed pleased by the situation he was put into in the first episode this season; Pete obviously wasn't. Do you think Ken would be content sharing accounts for the near future?

Aaron Staton: I do! I think he was content with his other job. And this one's a promotion, one that he never saw coming or asked for or thought about. That wasn't something he ever daydreamed about and it was sort of like, "Wow! Yeah, fantastic! A little bit more money, not a ton, and I got a promotion. I didn't even knock on the door here."

Mike: That was a great scene, too, when they were dividing up accounts and the look on your face had a big smile and then the look on Vincent's face is just sheer scorn.

Aaron Staton: I think they're the perfect foils for one another. Pete is someone who tries so hard and desperately whatever it is he's looking for. He wants something and he's pretty sure he knows what it is and every waking moment is about getting that thing. Ken's someone who goes through life and throughout the day everything kind of falls in his lap. At the end of the day he comes back with everything and there wasn't that desperation in the search. In fact, I think he's sort of content to bring back nothing.

Mike: Walking around with a smile on his face saying, "I'm Ken."

Aaron Staton: Yeah, yeah... (laughing)

Mad Men

(left to right) Elisabeth Moss, Bryan Batt, Aaron Staton © Rainbow Media Holdings LLC

Mike: When you auditioned, did you audition for the role of Ken Cosgrove?

Aaron Staton: I actually auditioned for the role of Pete Campbell.

Mike: Really? How did that transform to Ken?

Aaron Staton: You know, I wasn't right for Pete.

Mike: Did they tell you that you weren't right for Pete but immediately tell you that they see you in another role. Because that doesn't always happen, right?

Aaron Staton: Not in so many words. Matt has said, across the board, that all of the actors have a common -- even though we're all from different places -- everyone has a certain manner. The way they speak. I'm not sure where that comes from but that's what he said. I think he saw people and saw they fit in this world. I'm not sure, I never asked him, but maybe he saw, "He's not Pete but he fits in this world." And Ken, at the time of the pilot, wasn't fleshed out in Matt's mind. He was definitely there, he was part of this world, but he wasn't a writer yet. That's the fun thing about TV, the characters grow over time and reveal themselves.

Mike: When you do research before an interview sometimes you come across some things. Are you aware of the Ken Cosgrove Twitter?

Aaron Staton: I know that all the characters on the TV show have a Twitter account.

Mike: Is it run by AMC? I don't know much about them.

Aaron Staton: I don't know much about them either. I saw about a year ago people were talking about these Twitter accounts and then AMC had someone take them down and then a couple weeks later they were back up. So they're not AMC run so they're run by maybe fans of the show?

Mike: I'm looking right now, Ken has over 20 thousand followers so he's doing quite well.

Aaron Staton: Whoa! (Laughs) Alright. Wheeling and dealing.

Mike: And I know you can't say a lot, but what can we expect to see from Ken the rest of the season?

Aaron Staton: (Lauging) Have you done many of these interviews with the cast? I'm sure you've gotten the same kind of answer.

Mike: Just you and Vincent, but now a couple of episodes have aired and unfortunately a lot of people have seen the third one because of that iTunes mishap so I don't know what you can say at this point.

Aaron Staton: As far as Ken, I don't think there was any big giveaways as far as the third episode... I know, a lot of people have seen that third episode -- that was sort of a weird little glitch.

Mike: Especially because it was the third episode...

Aaron Staton: Just bizarre.

Mike: Because it came out in the middle of last week before episode two, it's a strange thing.

Aaron Staton: I know, really bizarre. Let's see... (laughs) Let me think about how to answer that question... What can we expect from Ken Cosgrove? (Long pause) It's hard to expect anything in particular from anybody in this world because these are real people with real surprises in store. I'm not talking about Ken specifically, I'm talking about everyone, but Ken is a part of that world where any given day, somebody could be in a bad mood. Ken, I think, has fewer bad moods than the others. I think this rivalry here -- if you want to call it that, I've heard it called that and read it called that -- between Ken and Pete, I think it's fun to watch.

Mike: I thought of a better way to word the question: Will Ken's mood remain the Ken we have always known as the season progresses or, perhaps, it might not because of the situation?

Aaron Staton: You know, I can say that there are surprises. There are certainly moments and days where things (pauses) circumstances get the best of Ken and Pete and lead to surprising behavior, I'd say.

Mike: I have three questions I picked out that were sent in through Twitter if that's OK.

Aaron Staton: Sure!

Mike: (From Karen in Utah) How much period research is given to you as an actor?

Aaron Staton: You know, they don't give us a booklet or hand out of what's happening in the news. There are real life circumstances in the history of these people -- the real people in real life -- that affect the direction of the show and what happens on a day-to-day basis and that's in the script. This conversation we're having really isn't affected that much by whatever major event could be happening at the same time. We're unaware of it. So, unless it's something sort of major, people are people.

Mike: (From Liz in Columbia, MO) Is Ken even aware of the rivalry Pete feels is between them?

Aaron Staton: I think that Ken found out in the scene you were talking about when the accounts were being divvied up and the difference on the faces of Ken and Pete. And as they exited the conference room, Pete pulled Ken aside and went on sort of a weird rant. Ken realized what it meant to Pete and how he felt about it. And Ken walked away.

Mike: Because it's done so frequently on the show by other characters, (From Meredith in New York City) What do you think Ken's feelings are on dating married women?

Aaron Staton: I'm going to make a guess because it's not something that's been written about or something I've had a conversation about with Matt or anything like that. From what I know of Ken, I can't see why he would date a married woman when there are plenty of single women (laughs) running around New York.

Mike Ryan
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at miker@starpulse.com
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