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Ben Feldman talks 'Mad Men,' Ginsberg, F-bombs and crying rooms

August 22, 2012|By Glenn Whipp
(Michael Yarish/AMC )

When Ben Feldman told his parents he had been cast on “Mad Men,” his stepmother couldn’t contain herself. “Oh, you’re going to be so handsome like the silver-haired guy!”

Feldman didn’t have the heart then to break the news that his character, the brash, confrontational Jewish junior copywriter Michael Ginsberg, wasn’t exactly cut from the same cloth as John Slattery’s Roger Sterling or, really, anyone else who had ever appeared on the show. Ginsberg is a new breed. He wears plaid coats with mustard-stained shirts. He’s sweaty. He’s got dandruff. He dropsF-bombs and wears (shudder) jeans to the office.

Feldman brought a youthful energy to the show’s acclaimed fifth season, winning an Emmy nomination for guest actor drama for the episode “Dark Shadows,” in which Ginsberg repeatedly clashes with creative director Don Draper. We caught up with Feldman, 32, from his Laurel Canyon-adjacent home to talk about his work, the Beatles and one word we didn’t hear but that might eventually surface on DVD.

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The scene everyone remembers from “Dark Shadows” is the elevator ride Ginsberg takes with Draper. Ginsberg’s peeved that his ad didn’t make the presentation and tells Draper: “I feel sorry for you.”

And Draper comes back with: “I don’t think about you at all.” Jon Hamm as a person is a really cool, down-to-earth guy. But Jon as a character can be an imposing presence, especially when you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with him in an elevator and his character is threatened by yours.

“I don’t think about you at all” is now right up there with the show’s most-quoted lines.

And I don’t think there was a single take where I as a person wasn’t genuinely offended and hurt by that moment. There’s a lot of reality playing those scenes. Jon’s a great actor.

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You’re saying there was some pillow-sobbing later that night …

That’s usually how I end my work day. I have my crying room downstairs. It’s off-limits to my girlfriend. I just go down there and have a good cry.

Much was written after that episode debating which Sno-ball ad was better -- Ginsberg’s or Draper’s. The vast majority liked yours better.

I wonder if people were manipulated. If I was the angrier, more defensive Don Draper and he was the Ginsberg, maybe people would be saying the same thing about his ad with the devil. What was fascinating to me about that episode is you could debate for a long time, as the characters did in one scene. That said, yeah, I liked mine better.

My favorite Draper-Ginsberg moment came in an earlier episode, where the agency is looking for a Beatles-sounding song for a spot. Draper signs off on this easy-listening version of “September in the Rain.” When Ginsberg hears it, it looked like your head was going to explode.

“Turn it off. It’s stabbing me in the … heart.” I don’t remember a lot of lines but I do remember that one. When you’re not on HBO and you seethe F-word, it stands out.

Wait. I don’t remember hearing that word.

I think they dropped the audio out. Hopefully it’ll be on the DVD. That same episode, there’s that montage to the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I was so excited to be part of it, to be in a scene with the Beatles, but Ginsberg didn’t make it. I was devastated. Another trip to the crying room.

It was a great season for episode-ending montages. There was that one in the season finale, too, set to “You Only Live Twice” with all kinds of crazy things going on.

You mean Slattery’s nude scene? I had one, too. It was in my contract to have at least one nude scene in every episode. But they didn’t have to honor that in the final cut. (Laughs)

Maybe another bonus feature for the DVD set …

Yes! Just a montage of my nudity!

I understand the writers are in a room somewhere plotting out the upcoming season.

It’s a bunker in Bangladesh, I believe. I wish I could be a fly on the wall in that room.

But Ginsberg’s coming back, right?

I know nothing about the sixth season. Whether you’re never going to see me again on the show or whether “Mad Men” will be a one-man show starring Ben Feldman is nothing I could ever speak of.

You’ve been sworn to secrecy, like everyone.

With “Mad Men,” you feel like you’re a member of Seal Team Six when you’re shooting. It’s exciting. If people are that worried about my job getting out to the general public, then my job is pretty cool.

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