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Going mad for the stars of Mad Men

Looking quite at home, Vincent Karheiser

Tour guide: Vincent Kartheiser

When SheKnows first walked into the Mad Men costume department, it was a bit hard to focus. The walls, floor and display tables are blindingly white, but as our eyes adjust we spot a few racks of period apparel: posters from Sterling Cooper advertising campaigns that promise smoking is good for you, and even a few Playboy magazines tossed on the table for good measure.

When we open the magazines, they’re something else entirely. It’s not an issue of modesty. Mad Men likes to keep things real, but a real, 1960s Playboy would be faded and used. To create a fresh and clean look, the art department recreated a few covers to throw over House and Garden or Glamour magazines when necessary.

But we digress, and the next stop is much more interesting: It’s Vincent Kartheiser, who we asked what it’s like to play Sterling Cooper’s resent bad guy.

“We all are a bit of a Pete Campbell,” Kartheiser’s says. “We all have that little brat in us. He does things that are awkward and uncomfortable. He’s the guy in the office who’s a douche bag. He’s sleazy and says the wrong thing at the wrong time, but he’s not a bad guy. He’s just trying to get his, and not everyone can get along.”

Vincent’s prickly Pete

Last year, the little blackmailer tried to use the sad story of Don Draper’s stolen identity to his advantage. Clearly, a bad buy move, but it’s equally clear Kartheiser doesn’t like the label and we can’t help but tease him for being so defensive of his character.

“I should be defensive,” he laughs good-naturedly. “I’ve heard that question so much that I’ve started questioning how much thought is going into it. Ultimately, you have to look beyond the idea of bad guy versus good guy. This is life. This isn’t Star Trek. We have no Romulans. Dislike Pete if you want, but I don’t think he’s the protagonist.”

Elizabeth, Vincent and Brie share cocktails

For those who are new to this show, in this world of Mad Men, the Campbell name is quite powerful — and Kartheiser says that Kennedy-esque reputation leaves his character in a tenuous position.

“It helps and it hurts,” he considers. “Pete has this last name that gets him the job, the money and the girl, but he can’t outlive it. That’s all he’ll ever be. Even though he’s all these things to his wife, and even though he has great ideas, he’s ‘just the guy with the good name. What an idiot.’ ”

There’s more going on with this old money man that his coworkers realize, but all they see is the silver spoon dangling from his mouth.

Vincent's character has swagger in spades

“This guy could probably take a seat on the stock exchange if he wanted to, but he walked away to do something his family disowned him for,” Kartheiser said. “His family doesn’t respect him at all. They look down on him for his choice. He has big balls and takes a big risk, but no one at the office realizes that.”

Mad about dad?

His character takes on more credence this season, now that Pete’s lost his unsupportive father in a plane crash. It was certainly eye opening to spend an evening “mourning” with that strange, cold Campbell clan!

And with the story still playing out, the loss is sure to affect the prodigal son. “This comes from a time, the ’60s, when we actually felt we should do better than our fathers did,” Kartheiser says. Whether or not Pete faces his daddy issues, he still has Don Draper to emulate and surpass at the office.

Historical design details abound on the set of Mad Men

“You’re going to start to see more and more parallels between these characters,” Kartheiser previews. “It’s going to push the onus on the audience to say, ‘Why don’t you like Pete? What makes him so different from Don?’ They both cheat on their wives, they both have secrets…”

But don’t mistake Kartheiser’s devil’s advocate frame of mind for him being his character’s fool. He knows why one is beloved, while the other is reviled.

“Don’s clever, funny, handsome, strong and simple in the way he approaches things,” Kartheiser says. “Pete’s condescending and he doesn’t realize everyone has a tough life. He reminds a lot of people of rich people they know and I don’t think people like people who come with silver spoons.”

Up next…SheKnows photos of our set visit to the perfectly captured ’60s of Mad Men

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