Unlike his character on "Mad Men," 32-year-old Vincent Kartheiser, whose face is even more youthful in person, has a beard. His hair is not slicked back like Pete Campbell's, but flops down into his face, and he's sans tie and suit jacket.
That's not where the differences end, either.
Sitting in a hotel room at the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan, between sips of tea with honey -- he's getting over a cold and no doubt weary from endless interviews and appearances to promote the premiere of the AMC show's fifth season this weekend -- Mr. Kartheiser chatted with Ad Age about the numerous contrasts between him and the at-once pompous and insecure Campbell.For one thing, Mr. Kartheiser grew up without a TV and is a minimalist. He's not worried about social status or desperate for approval -- or even to be known. And despite the fact that the Hollywood game is all publicity, he has no Facebook account and claims he's not really sure how to pronounce "Twitter."
Advertising Age: You got your first taste of the ad business long before you joined the cast of "Mad Men." I read somewhere that you did commercial voice-overs when you were growing up in Minneapolis. What was that like?
Vincent Kartheisier: One year I did 65 radio commercials! I made good money when I was a young man doing that sort of thing. I think I was 9 years old when I did 65 radio commercials. And I would do some print. Remember [retailer and catalog company] Fingerhut? I did stuff like that. But not as much as voice; voice was my bread and butter.
Ad Age: On the show you are clean-shaven, wear crisp suits and live in a fancy apartment with your wife Trudy. But sartorially speaking, that's not what you're like. Your personal style seems way more casual. So what does that mean for getting into character and for your relationship with Janie Bryant, the costume designer for "Mad Men"?
Mr. Kartheiser: It's lovely. Anytime we can do something that's so different than ourselves, it gives you a head start into finding parts of yourself you can explore. That's the fun part of my job -- pretending to be someone I'm not. It's what we all love to do, and it's where we feel needed when we're actors. We get a chance to use our imagination and our interpretation of something. It's nice to have things that kind of kick-start you away from yourself, because you're used to making the choices you always make. At least I am. If someone was to give me a clean slate, a piece of paper and said, "Create a character," it's harder than if someone said here are these set things: "You're an ad executive, you wear this suit and you have a wife and a kid." Then I'm already three steps away from myself.
Janie Bryant has impeccable taste, and I have no taste at all. So, without her, I'd be completely lost.
Ad Age: In real life, you're pretty much a minimalist or an ascetic, yet on the show your job is meant to sell people stuff. Does that make you disgusted with the character you have to play at times?
Mr. Kartheiser: Well that's all of our jobs. Even as an actor, that's my job, and the product is myself. ... But I'm never disgusted with Pete Campbell, and I'm not disgusted with other people in real life, either, who don't make the choices that I make. I don't make them because I think they're superior choices. I make them because it's what feels comfortable to me. I'm a minimalist not because I think it's terrible to own a lot of things, but because I find it more convenient not to own a lot of things. It never strikes me to go out and buy things.