Mad Men’s obsession with ‘90s TV stars continues: In Sunday night’s premiere, Peggy went on a blind date with Mathis’s brother-in-law Stevie — played by Devon Gummersall, aka frizzy-haired geek Brian Krakow from My So-Called Life. And they actually hit it off, so we might be seeing more of Stevie in the future.
We got on the phone with Gummersall (a self-described “huge fan” of Mad Men) Monday morning to chat about stepping into the show’s secretive world, Stevie’s magical first date with Peggy, and how Mad Men actually revived his love of acting.
Welcome to the Mad Men fraternity. How hard was it to keep your role a secret?
It was really not easy. I’m such a huge fan of the show, and have been for so many years, so it was so thrilling to be a part of it. And then to have to sit on it for what felt like a year… yeah, it was real tough. I was excited that it finally came out, so I could finally talk about it. I was in the Mad Men witness protection program for a while. [Laughs.]
How much did Matt Weiner tell you about the role beforehand? Did you get more backstory than we’ve seen on the show so far?
No, what you see on the page is pretty much all you get. And it’s pretty much all you need. The characters are so well-drawn — even the guest characters — that truthfully, it’s there on the page and you just make your choices based on that. Matt has such a clear vision for everything on the show; he was very specific with the way he saw this character and the way he saw the scene playing out. But it’s up to you to bring what you bring to the table.
There’s definitely an air of mystery to the whole process of Mad Men… but that’s what makes it so fun, you know? It’s very secretive. Even when you get the script, you only get your pages — only the stuff that you’re in. I’ve heard that Woody Allen does that, too. You don’t really know that much about what’s going on, other than your storyline, so you’re not quite sure how it fits into the larger story. But that’s how life is, too, right? [Laughs.]
You’re a fan of the show, so you know Peggy’s romantic history has not been great. Why do you think she and Stevie hit it off so well?
My interpretation of it was she found herself on a date with someone who she had a lot of compatibility with. When you’re younger, you kind of naively think, “Compatibility doesn’t matter. I can be with anyone. Love conquers all.” And then you get older and you realize, “You know what? I actually really need to be with someone that I’m on the same page with.” It’s not enough to be attracted to someone, or in love with someone. You have to also be compatible. She just happened to have that compatibility with Stevie that she hasn’t had with other characters.
The trading of the plates was interesting. Stevie’s honesty about his dilemma with the veal may have helped them connect.
Yeah, I think that was a real turning point. It could’ve gone the other way, where we just kind of annoyed each other because my character had been too frank, maybe. But he took a risk by revealing his thoughts about that, and she handled it with grace and was kind about it. So that kind of sent things in a good direction. As a man, you’re always struggling with this thing of, you have to come off a certain way, but you also want to be honest, but you don’t want to be forward. I thought it was written really well, the way that all went down.
Peggy actually makes Stevie wait before sleeping with him; “I’ve tried new-fashioned,” she tells him. Does that maybe make her more intriguing to Stevie, in this free-love era?
I won’t speculate on what happens in the future, obviously, but what you saw last night was definitely along those lines. Everything about that scene felt like a mature, intelligent version of a date, where both of us were pretty honest and upfront. And maybe it’s showing that it’s a different time, too, in the world of the show; things have changed between men and women, and it’s gotten more progressive. So we’ll see what happens. But that’s probably a good… assessment of it.
I love how carefully you’re choosing your words, because I know how afraid you must be of revealing anything.
[Laughs.] Yeah, you know the drill. But honestly, it makes it fun. Mad Men is such a rare show, and it’s such an amazing world that they’ve created, so I’m very happy to play by the rules.
Elisabeth Moss has said that she was a huge My So-Called Life fan growing up. So did she just freak out when she met you?
No, she didn’t, but she was very sweet. And she did mention that she was a fan of the show, and a fan of my work. And that’s really nice to hear, because for me, being such a huge fan of this show, being at that first read-through was a really surreal moment. I was like, “Wow… this is pretty great.” But she was really sweet and made me feel welcome and comfortable. Elisabeth is such a generous actress; it was so fun to work with her, when the cameras are rolling and when they’re not rolling. She’s just so present.
Matt Weiner seems to be a fan of '90s TV: We’ve seen Neve Campbell and Alexis Bledel on the show before… and even your My So-Called Life co-star, Bess Armstrong!
Yeah! I loved that; that was great. And Linda Cardellini was so great on Mad Men. You know, Freaks and Geeks was definitely a part of that same genre as My So-Called Life, where you could write about teenagers in a way that wasn’t condescending and that was really honest and sophisticated. Freaks and Geeks kind of continued that, and did it in a different way. So it was cool that he had her on the show, and a few other people from '90s TV. It’s been funny watching Twitter today. People are really freaking out: “Brian Krakow went on a date with Peggy!”
But truthfully, there’s only been a few times in my career that I’ve been on a show that had such great writing. It’s such a honor to be a part of it. Honestly, for a while, my focus has been more on directing. And doing Mad Men actually got me inspired again as an actor, because it had been so long since I had worked with that kind of writing. It got me excited again.
Mad Men airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on AMC.