Emmy 2012: 'Mad Men's' Ben Feldman on His Big Break and Ginsberg's Future
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's latest recruit scores a nomination out of the gate -- and takes cues on his job's longevity from hair and makeup.
Like its famously Emmy-free cast, Mad Men's guest actors always figure into the show's glut of nominations only to walk away empty-handed. That could change now that newcomer Ben Feldman nabbed his surprising nomination in the category typically reserved for series fixture Robert Morse. Feldman, who joined the series young copywriter Michael Ginsberg, parlayed one episode into playing something of a rival to Jon Hamm's previously invulnerable Don Draper. It was their confrontation in "Dark Shadows" that Feldman chose for consideration. And it's not even his favorite scene.
The Hollywood Reporter: You had a lot of scenes for a guest star. Any chance of becoming a regular?
Ben Feldman: I'm a recurring guest for now. You're pretty much in the dark about most goings-on in the Mad Men world. I tried to take my cues based on if the hair people were trying to figure out how fast my hair grows. All of a sudden I'm thinking, "Wait, they're planning ahead for another episode." I never really knew if I was ever going to come back again. In fact, after my first episode, I remember hugging writer Erin Levy and saying, "You know, it was really great working with you." I remember her looking at me like I was kind of crazy, thinking, "I'm going to see you next week." That sort of happened every single episode.
THR: So you probably didn't get a lot of backstory on your character, Michael Ginsberg.
Feldman: You get a lot of wonderful acting notes when you're on the set. Matthew Weiner is very involved and wonderful in helping sculpt the character on the day when you're shooting. I think Matthew doesn't want any actor to play information that's not being presented. He doesn't want to tell me, you know, "Three episodes from now, you're going to talk about being an alien." Because all of a sudden, I'm going to get it in my head, "Well, maybe I'm an actual alien," and show up to work green.
THR: What was your favorite scene?
Feldman: The moment with Peggy [Elisabeth Moss] in the office late at night, talking about the Holocaust and concentration camps, is up there. There's also a speech that I give about Cinderella when I'm pitching something. It's this incredible monologue. On the surface, it's about Cinderella, but it's about all these undertones of control and women versus men. I put a bunch of work into it like, "I think I've got this." And then I sat in Matthew's office for like an hour-and-a-half and discussed it. I was unaware of how much thought they put into every single syllable that comes out of your mouth. I walked out going, "Wow, I can't mess this up."
THR: Is that the biggest difference between Mad Men and other jobs you've had?
Feldman: Aside from the secrecy, which is probably the number one thing you notice from working on this show. I've never -- other than on the movie Cloverfield -- ever experienced it at this level. But it's a respectful privacy. If it were the kind of show that we weren't that excited to be on, they'd have to bring in the nondisclosure documents. You get speeches at the beginning of every table read that this is not something to talk about.
THR: How did you celebrate your Emmy nomination?
Feldman: I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to my girlfriend standing next to the bed, groggy and angry because she didn't understand why my publicist was calling. She only knew that she hated her. It's funny finding out that early. I was talking to Christina Hendricks, and I think she went back to sleep -- which is unfathomable. You're up! Then you call your parents and a whole bunch of people. Once you're done with those phone calls, it's 8 a.m., and you're like, "Wow, what am I going to do with the rest of this enormous day?" So we went to breakfast in Beverly Hills because that's what fancy people do.