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'Mad Men's' Vincent Kartheiser on Season 5: Why I Gained 25 Pounds, Had a Receding Hairline

The actor discusses gaining weight (“none of it muscle”) for Pete Campbell's recent arc and what it was like to inhabit a fictional conscience that’s become engulfed by its “bitterness.”

Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner gave Vincent Kartheiser’s troubled ad agency rainmaker Pete Campbell a crucial psychological arc in the fifth season, whose finale aired June 10. But it came with a physical toll: pudgy weight and a receding hairline.

“I gained about 25 pounds — none of it muscle,” Kartheiser tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It was a very thin layer of hot fudge sundae, chicken wings and pizza.”

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As for the follicular flight: “It would be shaved back every couple of episodes another quarter of an inch. Later, when it grew back in, it looked completely ridiculous, like a five o’clock shadow.” He adds, “It’s pretty wild to watch it — my hairline looked crazy in that last episode; it was surreal. I couldn’t help but giggle.”

The slightly unflattering evolution was, of course, in service of Campbell’s highly unflattering descent this season, abetted by age and anger, in which he repeatedly cheated on his wife and sparred – on one occasion quite literally — with his colleagues. “Pete’s been in this place where he’s not proud of himself for what he’s done,” Kartheiser says.

He ticks off his character’s transgressions, from lying and conniving to, most notoriously, being the first in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office to encourage Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks) to accept an indecent proposal from an executive in order to win a big account for the firm – and a partnership stake in the company for herself. “He’s got a level of self-hate that these kinds of decisions really feed. It’s bitterness seeping into his skin and infecting every molecule of his being. He’s not Don Draper.”