The Mad Man Cometh
As the final season of AMC’s groundbreaking television series "Mad Men" gets underway this spring, co-star Kevin Rahm is just getting started in his new home of Sacramento.
With the final season of AMC’s groundbreaking television series premiering in April, it’s about to be a mad, mad, Mad Men world once again. And for Sacramentans, that world just got a whole lot smaller now that actor Kevin Rahm—aka Don Draper’s rival-turned-partner Ted Chaough—has added an unexpected plot twist: a move to the capital city.
The seventh—and final—season of Mad Men starts airing on April 13. Where are you in terms of filming it?
We’re on episode six of 14. I think we’ll be done shooting in June or July. So the first seven [episodes] start airing in April, and then the last seven a year later. We’ll do what Breaking Bad did [and split the final season into two parts]. That’s a lot of time to keep secrets!
Yeah, about that: I know that the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, likes to keep things close to the vest, but what can you tell us about the new season?
Absolutely nothing. I can tell you absolutely nothing. I’m trying to think if there’s anything. I’m just excited to see … [Laughs] I’m trying to say something without saying anything. It’s exciting—it’s exciting to see what’s coming. When I do interviews, it’s as if Matthew’s sitting on my shoulder. So what would I say in front of Matthew? I have nothing. At every table read, he’s like, “Welcome. You’re part of the show and we’re a family and we love to have you. But don’t tell anyone anything. Don’t tell your mom. Don’t tell them what year it is. Don’t tell them whose scenes you’re in. Don’t say what you’re wearing.”
I hear that even the cast doesn’t get a lot of advance notice on the scripts.
No [we don’t]. We get scripts the day before the table read. Of course, I’m sitting by my door waiting for them to show up and give me the script so I can read it, because one of Matt’s jokes at the table read is, “This is not a performance, but it will be judged as one.”
And how long before shooting are the table reads?
Usually the day before. Like if we have a table read on a Wednesday, we’ll start shooting that episode the next day.
Wow, so you really don’t have much time to prepare.
I remember two [seasons] ago, there was a scene when I was pranking Don Draper [on the phone pretending to be Robert Kennedy] and I had to do the Kennedy accent. I finally get ahold of the script and I read that I have to do the Kennedy accent. I’m like, “Um, yeah, I don’t know how to do that.” Give me a day or two and I’ll work it out, but this time, I had like an hour. So I went online and looked for Kennedy speeches and the first thing I came across was The Simpsons doing their version of [the accent]. So for the table read at least, I did my version of The Simpsons’ version of Kennedy.
At that point, your character Ted Chaough was the co-head of a rival ad agency. But then he and Don decided to join forces and Ted started playing a major role on the show. How excited were you when you found out about the merger?
Oh, I was giddy. I did a dance. I was like, “How am I ever going to be an integral part of the story?” So when I read that, I was like, “Oh, OK. Here we go!” When I auditioned—this was 2009-ish—I auditioned for a two- or three-episode part. I have no idea if they knew how far they were going to take the character. The opportunity to be full-time on Mad Men is once in a lifetime. I mean, how often do you get to be a part of something like that, that’s culturally significant and that the president uses in a State of the Union address? It’s crazy.
One of the big storylines last year was Ted’s growing relationship with [copywriter] Peggy Olson, which culminated in a one-night extramarital affair before they went their separate ways. Like many Mad Men fans, do you want Ted and Peggy to get back together?
I would love it if they did. From an actor’s point of view I would love to get [back] together because that means I get to have more scenes with Lizzie [Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy]. She is one of my favorite scene partners. So from a completely selfish point of view, yes. But then from a point of view of who Ted is, I like the idea that Ted doesn’t [pursue the relationship further]. I would be happy either way, but it’s interesting to me from a character’s point of view that Ted is the one guy who doesn’t do that repeatedly. I mean, everyone else on that show is a dog.And at the end of last season, Ted’s own fate seemed a little uncertain. But you’re shooting the final season, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign.
Yeah, the last thing we knew was that Ted [and fellow agency partner Pete Campbell] were moving to California to open up SC&P [Sterling Cooper & Partners] West. Ted was going to try to make it work with his wife and [ensure] nothing was going to happen again with Peggy. That’s where we left off. At the end of last [season], people were like, “Are you coming back?” And at first, I wouldn’t answer that question just because of the secrecy issues. But Matt did finally say in the press that I was coming back. So I’m safe. I can say that.
You know, it’s funny. I was doing a red-carpet thing last year, and I made a joke. Someone asked if I had anything planned after [Mad Men], and completely off the top of my head, I was like, “So Pete and I are in California. You give it 10 years and we’re the Odd Couple. We both get divorced and move in together. We’ll be Oscar and Felix. We’re going to do The Odd Couple sitcom.”
And then I was asked to do a panel discussion at AFI [American Film Institute]. It’s me and this bigwig producer guy. And they’re like, “Kevin, so tell us about the sitcom you’re going to do, the spin-off of Mad Men.” Someone picked it up in the press and it became this real thing. I was like, “OK, so that was a joke. First of all, Matt Weiner would never give me permission to do a sitcom spin-off”—although I would argue that I think it would work. Two guys together in a house could make for some funny stuff. It would be The Odder Couple.
That’s great news about Ted, because a few years ago, I had interviewed another Mad Men actor, Colin Hanks, who, by the way, was born and raised in Sacramento.
Oh, I didn’t know that. Do you know where in Sacramento he was raised?
Yeah, in East Sacramento.
That’s my favorite part!
It’s a great neighborhood. So, Colin was on Mad Men during season two, and he wanted to continue on it, but his character didn’t come back.
I have never met anyone who has come to that set and not wanted to stay. It’s one of the few jobs that I’ve ever had where people come early and stay late. We have an amazing base camp. They built this full-on wooden deck with chairs and in the winter, it’s covered in heat lamps. We play games. I learned how to play cribbage on that set. We play dominoes. Right now, Catch Phrase is a big game on the set. It’s so much fun. We just hang out and it becomes a place with a very familial vibe.
I read that you guys also play Words With Friends?
We do, religiously. I’m not the best. I do OK. Jon [Hamm] is really good. He’s tough. We play a lot of dominoes online, too. We are playing dominoes or cribbage on the table and we’ll also all be playing each other on our phones. My wife [Amy] always gives me a hard time. She’s like, “I have to go to work and you get to go play.” She works at UC Davis [Medical Center].
She’s a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, right?
That’s exactly right. Or for people in the acting business, I just call it “baby heart doctor.” Unless they’re on a medical show, you’ve got to simple it down. I definitely married up. Don’t tell her that. I’m still trying to keep it on the down-low. But I think she knows. She’s figured it out. I learned early on that I can never win the “I had a bad day” argument. My perception of [show] business changed dramatically when I started dating my wife. When I mess up a scene, everyone still gets to go home, and that kind of puts everything into perspective. I take the work seriously, but I don’t take myself very seriously. You have to have that balance of, “That didn’t work, but it’s OK. Let’s try it again because no one dies.”
Speaking of your wife, her job was what brought the two of you to Sacramento. When did you move here?
In August. She started at the hospital in September. We found a house really close to the hospital in Elmhurst. I love that neighborhood. I love the quaintness of it. We have dogs—Gracie is all 80 pounds of tail-wagging yellow lab and Gabby is a mutt that Amy found on the street in Memphis—and it’s very walkable. I go back and forth a lot [between L.A. and Sacramento], but I’m up here as much as I can be. Like I work tomorrow and then I’m going [back] up this weekend. If I have more than three days off, I’ll drive and if not, I’ll fly up.
What are some of your first impressions of Sacramento?
It’s a very accessible town, which is one of the things I love about it. In L.A., everything is a drive. [Your job] is 15 miles away and you can have an hour commute. And even though Sacramento is big, it has a small-town feel to it. We’re from Louisiana, so we’re used to friendly people and people who know your name. It’s like that thing in Cheers. As we go places, people recognize us because we’ve been there before, not because I’m on a TV show. I like that.
So you don’t get recognized here as a star on Mad Men?
Yeah, it’s funny. When I was on Desperate Housewives, the further away I got from L.A., the more people recognized me, but [for Mad Men], it’s more in L.A. that they do. I get a lot of looks like, “I know that guy.” I’ve been told that I look younger in person, and that has a lot to do with Ted’s hair and clothes. With those suits and the flipped-back hair, everyone looks older. So people [here] kind of look at me like, “Did you go to school here? Did I meet you at Chico State?”
I’m in and around the hospital a lot, so with people who work with my wife, it’s gotten out what I do. She kept it secret for a long time. She didn’t want that to become a distraction. I’ll tell you a funny story. When she and I first started dating, she was coming to L.A. to interview at UCLA and USC for her cardiothoracic training program. And that weekend, [Desperate Housewives costar] Eva Longoria was opening her restaurant Beso and we were invited. I was playing a gay character [Lee McDermott] on the show, and Tuc Watkins [who is gay and played Lee’s partner] had not come out yet in the press. So when we first started doing the show, he was like, “Look, I’m just not going to tell anyone either way when they ask if I’m gay.” I was like, “OK, I’ll do that with you.” I had just started seeing Amy when I got the job, but she lived in Louisiana, so it was no big deal.
So we go to this restaurant and I don’t expect this to happen, but all of a sudden there’s a red carpet at the opening of this restaurant. And I go, “Oh no.” So I turn to Amy and I’m like, “Look, this is really awkward, but is it OK if you don’t walk down the red carpet with me?” And she goes, “Are you kidding me? I don’t want to walk down the red carpet with you.” Then I get offended. I’m like, “Why not?” She goes, “I’m about to interview at USC. I don’t want them to know I’m dating an actor!”
That’s a great story. Have you guys made any discoveries while out and about in Sacramento?
We found a great place called The Porch. [We’re from] Louisiana, so it’s perfect for us. They switch out the menu so often, but I have not had a bad meal there. We had great grits one time. Oh, and there was a pork belly thing. I can’t remember what they did with it, but it was unbelievable. When her parents were in town, we took them there. And there’s a little Korean barbecue place near Alhambra, Tako. They do Korean barbecue burritos. I just love that place. We also found a French bakery right by Trader Joe’s on Folsom [Boulevard], Les Baux. Love that place. That is a staple go-to brunch [spot] for us.
In the MARRS strip in midtown, there’s a cool place with a pig on the logo, LowBrau. Oh my God. That’s another great brunch place. They have an egg special that’s so good, and the French toast is amazing, too. And Evan’s Kitchen. They had a really cool guy playing old jazz standards on the clarinet. I had some sort of omelet and it was really good, and Amy’s biscuits and gravy were amazing. When I’m not working, I’m playing golf, and a friend of mine is a member at Del Paso [Country Club] so I’ve played there a couple of times. The course is immaculate. It’s a beautiful track. Just gorgeous.
Hopefully when Mad Men is done, you’ll get to play some more rounds there. On that topic, can you talk about some of the other projects you’re working on? Apart from The Odder Couple, of course.
Exactly. There’s a sitcom, Surviving Jack, on Fox that premiered in March. It takes place in the ’90s. Chris Meloni is the dad and the main kid in it is a freshman in high school. I’m the voice of the kid as an adult. I’m kind of the narrator. Think Wonder Years. It’s pretty much the excuse to add jokes. Chris Meloni is hilarious. Rachael Harris [who plays the mom] is hilarious. It’s from the guys who created $#*! My Dad Says. Have you ever seen that show? This is the kind of show they were trying to do.
You’ve also got a movie coming out called Nightcrawler, right?
Yeah, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Bill Paxton. And Rene Russo—[the film was] directed by [her husband Dan] Gilroy. She is lovely, by the way. I love that woman. Those two are fun. They would be fun to have a dinner party with. It was a fun set. Jake plays a guy who is a little odd, I think is one way to say it. And he starts videoing crime scenes around L.A. and selling it to the local 10 o’clock news. Rene Russo plays the main news editor and I’m just under her. I’m kind of the moral compass and I’m questioning his motives and his access. Everyone’s happy because he gets such great stuff, and I’m like, “Wait a minute. How did he get that shot? This seems sketchy.” That’s kind of the basic idea. I think that’s supposed to come out this year.
And what about further down the road?
I don’t know. There are hopefully kids in the future. It’s exciting, the idea of raising kids here. I think this is a great place to raise a family. It seems to me that neighbors tend to know each other and people tend to look out for each other. It’s like a much, much less demented Wisteria Lane. In our neighborhood, there are tons of kids. You always see people with their kids riding bikes and with the dogs attached and running. That’s going to be us. I’m looking forward to it.