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'Mad Men': Jay R. Ferguson on Being One Half of the Show's Most Platonic Relationship

The man behind Stan Rizzo (and his beard) talks about being pals with Peggy, what his fictional spinoff would entail and the difficulty of doing other work with his facial hair: "Unless one of the main characters is a homeless guy, then I'd be a frontrunner."

Stan Rizzo Headshot - P 2014
AMC
Jay R. Ferguson

Stan Rizzo's transformation may not be the most meticulously documented on Mad Men, but it is one of the more significant. The only stable man in Peggy's (Elisabeth Moss) life and the owner of SC&P's most avant-garde facial hair, the art director, played by Jay R. Ferguson, seems poised to depart the sixties with his misogynist jock days more or less a thing of the past.

Viewers have been quick to jump at the occasional suggestion that Stan and Peggy could be more than just co-workers, but as Ferguson sees it, they've become the only consistently platonic pair on a show that often chooses to simmer with sexual tension. Ferguson recently chatted with The Hollywood Reporter about the last few episodes -- and in addition to addressing Peggy's unfortunate scenario at the top of the seventh season, he talked about Midnight Cowboy theories, Stan's off-screen Valentine's Day plans and the problem of moonlighting while he's still sporting his epic Mad Men beard.

There will be no Mad Men spinoff, but what would a Stan Rizzo spinoff look like?

I'd love to lie to you and tell you I haven't thought about that. I think it would probably be him off being a fashion photographer in Paris, dealing with the birth of the supermodel and slithering his way through that whole scene. He'd tour foreign countries with a camera bag over his shoulder, in his cargo jacket and beads.

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Do you think Stan and Peggy's relationship has changed at all this season? She has seemed more strained. 

The perception after the first couple of episodes is that it's somehow taken a different direction. But for me, especially in the last episode, you have that look that they shared in the elevator the first time they see each other in the morning. It's a very pleasant exchange. I think it's only when she's having a moment that he's that guy she can always let off a little steam on and he won't take it personally.

Did viewers read too much into the flirtation they resumed last season during "The Crash"?

Especially knowing their history up until that episode, and to have what happened in that episode, one would certainly be reasoned to it going down that road. But nothing ever came of it. I think we're left as an audience to assume that they're one of these exceptions to the rule. They may share an attraction, but their friendship is more important, which we all know is a rarity. I appreciated that relationship, especially on this show where it's the exact opposite with all the other characters and the opposite sex. It's one or the other: They're either romantically involved on some level or they're not friends at all. I really appreciate the friendship Stan and Peggy are allowed to have. They are still susceptible to moments that consider going down the other road, but they inevitably bring it back to what they know to be the right way.

Are they even compatible?

I guess on some level, yes, because of how dedicated they both are to their jobs and how focused they are on their careers. That could also be the thing that drives them apart eventually.

What do you think Stan's off-camera Valentine's Day plans entailed?

Let's see. Did they have pornos in movie theaters by then yet? He would have thrown a little bit of a curve ball, taken a girl to a nice dinner, said it was dinner and a movie, and then the movie was at the Pussycat Theater.

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Racial tensions played a large role in the last episode. How evolved do you think Stan is?

We've never seen that addressed, but I don't think social issues are a thing for Stan. I think in the beginning, there was a clear line between men and women. Racial issues and other matters, I don't think that matters to him at all.

And he's grown a lot in his views on women?

That has been an evolutionary growth for him. I don't think he was like that in the beginning. Over time, and probably due to the influence of Peggy, he's opened up to a women being his equal. He would probably never admit it, but because of Peggy, he could even handle a woman being his superior.

How much were you briefed on what SC&P was like without Don [Jon Hamm]?

We obviously had the scripts, and I've always gotten a ton of questions that are totally unreasonable. And in asking those, I found out the way that it was. Lou [Allan Havey] is the new guy, and he's the one who gives the marching orders, as much as we may or may not like it. Stan has to respect him. It's just another day at the office.

Do you think you ask more questions than the rest of the cast?

I can't speak for anyone else. I try to do my question-asking in private, mostly because I know deep down that there is an obvious answer I'm just not clueing into. Once I hear it, I'll feel like a total dumbass. I want to keep my embarrassment level down to a minimum. Sometimes things are more obscure, and you need to inform yourself.

Has the job gotten easier for you now that Stan isn't always in undersized polos?

You know what sucks about those polos? I worked so hard at getting into shape for those shirts, and every time I felt like I was getting down to a good physique, they would knock the size of the shirt down again. They wanted me to look out of shape was my interpretation of it, though I'm sure it's not the case. I could never get down to the point where we were at the smallest polo they could find and I was completely svelte. I was just so grateful when he made the transformation from jock to hippy and everything loosened up.

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Have you seen that Stan's promo wardrobe is now being compared to Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, theorizing that he's going to become gigolo?

I think it's a very exciting theory. From whoever's mouth who said that to Matt's ears. There are a lot of flattering comparisons that have emerged serendipitously over the pat few years, and that is right at the top of the list.

You just filmed a pilot, Save the Date. Did you have to do that with Stan's beard?

I did. And it was not their plan, God bless them. They bent over backward and made every effort for me to be part of it. And God knows I wouldn't be able to be hired anywhere else with this look. Unless one of the main characters is a homeless guy, then I would have be a frontrunner.

That could be a show.

It's not a bad idea, really. It's an untapped genre.

If the pilot is picked up, will you reshoot sans beard?

Nope, unfortunately, the Stan Rizzo could live on embodied in a new character.

You starred in the sea monster drama Surface, sadly canceled after one season with a pretty big cliffhanger. Did you have any idea where the show was heading?

I want to kick myself so often for never locking myself in a room with the Pate brothers [co-creators Jonas and Josh Pate] and asking them to tell me what the deal was. Up until very recently, really, I've wanted to contact everybody to see if they wanted to do a wrap-up to the whole deal. I loved doing that show. As popcorny as the show could be, I was doing stuff I'd never done before. I was just having a blast. It was heartbreaking when that show ended. I took it really hard. By today's standards, had it been on during this climate and had the audience we had, it would be a hit. But it was darker days for NBC, and it didn't make sense for them because it was a very expensive show to produce.