05/13/2013 01:37 pm ET Updated Jul 13, 2013


"New York City, May 17th, 1968... For Immediate Release:..." Peggy's closing words of Mad Men episode 606 let the world know that, in Matt Weiner's universe of Mad Men, something newsworthy was about to happen. So, the cat was out of the bag. SCDP (Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Pryce) was merging with CGC,(Cutler, Gleason and Chaough), the ad firm that Peggy defected to in the previous season. The two firms were joining forces to snag a car account at Chevrolet. We all know who Sterling, Cooper, Draper and Pryce are. We know Chaough from last season and we now know Gleason is dying of pancreatic cancer, so who the heck is Cutler? That's a question I keep asking myself. I play Cutler on Mad Men and I have no idea who he is. I do know that for the first time in 20 years, I'm back doing multiple episodes of an Emmy winning TV drama. Whew!

"And the Emmy goes to...surprise, surprise... LA Law!" Those were the last words I ever spoke on behalf the other drama series I was part of as I presented LA Law's fourth and final Emmy for outstanding drama to producers David Kelly and Stephen Bochco. I handed them the award, shook their hands and stepped off the stage into a 20-year hiatus from series television.

A few months ago I got a call from my agent. That doesn't happen often enough for any actor so I always like it when they call. This time she said I had an offer from Matt Weiner to work for a day, maybe two, on Madmen. I immediately liked the idea of Mad Men but I wasn't so thrilled about the "one or two day" thing. She said they would pay X dollars if it was one day and two times that if it was more than one. ("X" being a quantity quite a bit smaller than the "X" I was used to in days gone by), but the thing is, days had gone by and much had changed for me since "X" was a living wage. It was sounding like a very insignificant part on a very significant show. I asked my agent to get some details about the character. She said there were no details available. Excuse me?? I asked if there was a script. She said there was no script available. Excuse me?? I asked if the character was important to the story and she said that information was not available. Excuse me?? All she could say was one day for X dollars and two times for more than one day, beyond that, nothing. What to do? I had been acting for more than 30 years and had never been asked to show up for work without knowing whom I was playing. It went against all my years of training. Why, I had to build a character! I had to write a biography! I had to dig into my Stanislavski, Boleslavsky, Strasburg, Hagen, Katselas and Moss and breath life into an ephemeral non-existent being that would occupy my body whenever it heard the word, "Action!"

How could I create without knowing what I was creating? And why would I do that for just one day and for "X," for God's sake! My ego was not pleased. But then I heard the voice of Lee Strasberg, my teacher in the '80s, "There are no small parts... etc." All of my teachers had repeated that mantra over and over throughout the years and I began to feel like a very small actor, indeed. I checked my calendar. I wasn't doing anything special on the day I was supposed to show up for the unknown part so I called my agent and told her that I would do it as long as they could guarantee that I would not turn out to be a gay pedophile. That's where I drew the line! I had just spent a spectacular two seasons on Shameless most gratefully and most shamelessly playing a shameless gay pedophile for the incomparable John Wells and the last thing I needed was to set that particular hook. I showed up for work, they put me in a tux, gave me some big glasses to wear and told me my name was Jim Cutler and that I had bad breath. They also told me that I liked girls and that my name was on the door of the firm where Peggy had gone to work during the preceding season. Whew!

The following week, I got a check and was asked to come back for more. Whew!

Just to be clear, my long hiatus from the business was not entirely unintentional. After LA Law, I became obsessed with climate change and some new technologies that might help mitigate its effects and I focused a lot of my attention there. I also got married and started a family while Hollywood moved away from Hollywood. Hollywood's exodus from itself worked out well for me because I vowed to stay close to the family and, since most of the work was in a different time zone, I got to put my kids to bed most nights for a decade or so. I did have mouths to feed, however, and that meant taking some funky jobs in town to make ends meet. Most of those gigs turned out to be much cooler than they first appeared so I got lucky there. I got lucky again when I was asked to meet Larry David for a part on Curb Your Enthusiasm. I'm convinced that whole thing was a mistake and that Larry David would not have seen me if he had really known who I was. But that's a moot point now because he laughed when I read with him and the next thing I knew I was Big Dog telling Larry David to go f**k himself on TV and I was officially "back in the game." Thank you, Larry David. Thank you, John Wells. Thank you, Matt Weiner. Whew!