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'Mad Men' Finale: Vincent Kartheiser On What's To Come And The Inner Workings Of Pete Campbell

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Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell on 'Mad Men.' | AMC

For most of "Mad Men" Season 5, there have been multiple hints about someone committing suicide, and all along many thought it was going to be Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser). As viewers discovered last week, it was actually the troubled Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) who paid the ultimate price. So what can fans of the AMC drama expect going into the Season 5 finale after that deeply emotional episode?

HuffPost TV spoke with Vincent Kartheiser over the phone and he spoke candidly about the darkness of Season 5, how Pete has changed, and confirmed that John Slattery is the coolest guy alive.

Wow, that episode. What are you guys trying to do to us?
[Laughs.] Yeah. What did you think of it?

Well, we all kind of knew it was coming, but it was still shocking.
Did you think it was going to be Lane?

I think many people thought it was going to be you, but after a while it was pretty clear what was going to happen.
Oh, wow. Really? And once the episode started, you knew it was Lane.

Yeah, exactly. What was the vibe on set while you were shooting the episode? Was there heaviness to it?
Surprisingly not. We're all going to miss Jar [Harris], and we all had the opportunity on set to tell him how remorseful we were that we wouldn't be getting the opportunity to work with him anymore. We all love his character portrayal every week -- we really do. But as for the actual shooting of the episode, we're all professionals. And the set was still light, even though the material was dark.

Would you agree that this season on the whole has been very dark and dour? Everyone seems so depressed, or in dire straits.
Yeah, I think it's a tragic season. Everything's changing so fast, especially in the world around them, and that can put men of a certain age at a crisis point.

What about Pete? He's certainly changed a lot this season as well.
Well, Don Draper's been on love leave, and Roger Sterling doesn't really want to deal with that many accounts, and so in the office Pete is head of accounts, and he's a junior partner. He's running the boat. He's doing what he's supposed to be doing. I think he stays a bit late sometimes because he likes being in the city, and he doesn't look forward to the train ride back to the 'burbs. In his personal life ... his ego and his self-worth are shaken a little bit. As adults, we have this idea that when we accomplish things that we want to accomplish, it will give us a sense of importance, security and well-being. As most people know after a certain age, when they actually do accomplish these things, it doesn't really do all of that. It doesn't solve your problems, it doesn't make you feel better, and I think Pete is finally realizing that this season. You can get the respect of your peers and the respect of your competitors, but that's not necessarily going to right all the wrongs. That's why Pete reaches out in desperate ways sometimes -- the young girl at the school, or another man's wife.

Pete certainly upped the hate ante when he "pimped out" Joan. He's public enemy No. 1 now.
I'll say this: I would personally never do that, just to be clear. I don't think the fact that it happened in the '60s makes it any less despicable. It's despicable, regardless of how or when you do it. I'll also say: Businesses oftentimes have to resort to things that they would never want the public to know they resorted to, in order to get a foothold. What's the old saying? "Most great corporations were started with a great crime." It's true! And Pete is OK being the guy making that really rough call -- he can stomach it. He can stomach how the sausage is made. The rest of them sit around and say, "It's not my choice," and Pete stands up and says, "I'll do it. I'll go to him. I'll go to her. I'll go over Don's head." I don't respect him for it, but I do think sometimes it takes someone like that, someone ready to be accountable, in order to get ahead.

Pete's lust for success never seems to end.
No one's does. That's what ambition does to you. Once you have something, you always want more. And you also don't want to let go of what you've acquired -- status, money, all that. There's a reason why multimillionaires continue to go to work every day.

From all the research I've done about you, your real-life personality seems about as far away from Pete as can be. Do you ever feel like you have two different identities?
Nah. We all have different parts of ourselves, and I'm sure there are people out there who think I'm one way, and other people who think I'm the exact opposite. And you know, I think there's plenty of me in Pete Campbell. People on the show like to say that I'm very different from my character, but what else are they gonna say? I play a really despicable, ugly character. To most people, that summation is what the character represents. So my co-stars don't want to completely ruin my love life. They're trying to be nice. [Laughs].

How do you reconcile playing this type of character? Do you ever look in the mirror with disgust?
No, no. It's fun. And I can relate with most of the things Pete does. I'm not saying I do them, but most of his actions -- in those situations -- are justifiable. I don't think it's that far off from what other people would do.

On a lighter note, the fistfight episode. How fun was that to shoot?
Yeah, that was great. I loved that whole episode. John Slattery directed that one, and he's amazing at it. He helped me so much with my performance. I don't really gush that much about anyone, but he deserves every bit of it. It was really fun to delve into those corners of Pete's psyche.

Is John Slattery as awesome as he seems on the show?
The man is a laugh a minute. He's great. He is the coolest guy in the world. So charming. Jon Hamm is too. They're both really charming dudes; it's pretty ridiculous. When I'm around them, I don't even try to be funny or cute. I don't try to be any of the good adjectives because they have those on lockdown. [Laughs.]

And I know you're not going to be able to tell me, but what could possibly happen in the finale?
I can't tell you that, my brother. But watch and see. It's a great one.

The Season 5 finale of "Mad Men" airs on Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.

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