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Ted Chaough has come a long way in a year. At the halfway point of Mad Men‘s seventh seven, the adman was staging half-hearted suicide attempts in his propjet. Now, in the wake of SC&P being absorbed into McCann-Erickson, he’s chowing down on boxed lunches with a smile on his face.
Spoilers ahead for anybody not up to date with Mad Men.
Played by Kevin Rahm since the fourth season, at first with some infrequency, Ted has oddly become the most content character on the drama. And as the May 17 series finale looms, he also seems to be one of the most perceptive. Sunday’s pre-penulitimate episode found him giving a knowing glance to Don (Jon Hamm) as he appeared to reach the breaking point with his new employer.
Rahm recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his alter ego’s 180-degree turn, what creator Matthew Weiner told him about the big scene in “Lost Horizons” and how Ted might have reacted seeing Peggy’s (Elisabeth Moss) triumphant, Hokusai-toting arrival at McCann.
A lot of people are talking about that look Ted shot Don as he was fleeing McCann. Did you know any significance about it at the time?
Matt gave me an amazing note that I’m not sure I can share yet. He told me exactly what that moment was. But I think I’ll have to call you after the finale. When I read it, it didn’t seem like much, but Matt told me what it meant after the table read and gave me very a specific idea. I think it’s too revealing.
It’s becoming clear that a lot of the exchanges between characters in the episodes we’ve already seen were probably the last of their kind. Did you get that sense while you were filming them?
Absolutely — especially that scene in the bar. With only so many episodes left, you just know there can’t be many more of these big scenes with all of us. And that’s without knowing any information coming. You also know the show isn’t going to repeat itself with so little time. The last couple of weeks on the show, it was just somebody’s last day every day. It was like the end of high school. It’s bittersweet. Before, we would shoot them and they would start airing pretty quickly. The scenes were fresh in your mind. Now I’m watching them and not remembering what’s going to happen or what scenes I’m going to be in. It’s all blurred together. It seems like one long episode.
I imagine you’re very focused on your own material during the table read. Do things play differently when you see the final cut?
What’s interesting is that the writing on the show is so good, the scenes can be played multiple ways. Typically, with television, a scene is written one way and that’s how it’s going to be. But on Mad Men, there were several scenes this season, and the prior one with Elisabeth Moss, that it could be played multiple ways. We were allowed to try it, so I was always excited to see which take they were going to use — which story they were going to tell. The other interesting thing about Mad Men is that if you sat in on the table reads, you would think it’s a full-on comedy. We would laugh so hard because of all the inside jokes. That one episode of Pete saying, “Not great, Bob,” in the elevator? That got a laugh when people watched, but that got a crazy laugh at the table read. There’s a lot of humor at table reads. The mood really changes when you start shooting, but it’s very lighthearted fare at the table read.
When did you get the heads up that Ted left his family back in Los Angeles?
I kind of got the information as the audience did. That first episode back, Ted goes into Don’s office and says, “There’s going to be a bunch of Vogue models at this party. We’re going to start at my place.” Also, they didn’t hand me a wedding ring when I was getting propped up. So clearly he was either separated or getting divorced. A lot had happened since he came back from California. Then, he talks about meeting this new woman and how he can’t go to California. That’s when it’s all clear. It’s so interesting for that to unfold in the storytelling. He doesn’t just come back and go, “Well, I’m divorced now.” It’s very telling about why he left and who Ted became while he was in California. He was so depressed, maybe not so much about moving there, but for doing it for the “right reasons” and it not working out. He had already destroyed that marriage.
Is Ted one of the few legitimately happy characters on the show now?
Absolutely. I loved that episode where Don goes to Roger, Ted and Peggy to gather information to write that speech. He’s asking them what the future is, what they want. Everybody gives their version, and he’s not happy with their answers. Ted just wants a pharmaceutical. Peggy wants to have a catch phrase. It’s interesting to watch Don not be satisfied with their answers — yet they are. I also loved that scene between Ted and Don, where they’re preparing to pitch SC&P West to McCann. Ted has always been simpler in that way. He wants to do the work and do it well. But he doesn’t want to be a manager. He doesn’t want to drive the ship. And now he has this lady friend in New York, he’s absolutely happy. Just look at the meeting with Miller. Ted is happy to go into that big meeting, hear the pitch, come up with a few ideas and go home. That’s not Don Draper. He’s a lone wolf.
Do you think Ted would have gotten the vapors seeing Peggy stroll into McCann during the latest episode?
Oh my god. How genius is that? And Semi [Chellas], who wrote the episode with Matt, she made a great comment. As wry as Peggy looks with the glasses and the cigarette, how bad of a hangover must she have had after drinking vermouth for six hours? The whole time Ted was in California, there was this great runner. Every time they did one of those conference calls, he’d always bring up Peggy. He clearly still cared for her. But what he said to her when he left, I think he still believes. I think he did what he thought was best for her as well. He was looking out for her, which I think is important to know about Ted. I think he’s happy for her.
What do you think happened to Ted’s buddy, Jim Cutler?
We just don’t see him anymore. I always got the impression that he went to a division of McCann. Once they made the deal, he was out of there. I can’t see Jim retiring. But I think he was gone immediately after they made the decision to sell to McCann. And that was one of my favorite moments of all time with that character, when he’s trying to talk Ted out of the vote but then he raises hand and goes, “It’s a lot of money.” I think he took the money and left all of those bozos behind. He had his fill of Don Draper and Roger Sterling. I imagine him somewhere on the 21st floor.
We need a map of where all of the offices are.
Yeah, I want a diagram. I want to find out. There’s an art form to those annoying “On the next episode” teasers. After the finale, if I had my way, at the end of the episode you would have one of those — but like an Animal House-style montage of freeze-frame shots that would tell you what every character did up until like 1987. I want to know that Ted Chaough had something to do with the 1984 Apple campaign.
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