Q&A: 'Mad Men' Actor Kevin Rahm on Sunday’s Game-Changing Episode

'Ted and Don remind me of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson back in the day'

Kevin Rahm as Ted Chaough on 'Mad Men'
Michael Yarish/AMC
Kevin Rahm as Ted Chaough on 'Mad Men'
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For the past two and a half seasons, Ted Chaough has been little more than a thorn in Don Draper's side. As a partner at SCDP's rival firm, Cutler, Gleason and Chaough, he has provided Don with steady competition, competing for clients (Honda motorcycles and Heinz ketchup) or courting Don's most valued employees. Near the end of last season, Ted successfully poached Peggy Olson and rewarded her with a cushy copy chief job and a deserved salary boost. But as of this Sunday's episode, Ted moved into a power-playing position on Mad Men – he not only established himself as part of a brand-new love triangle involving Peggy, but made the jaw-dropping decision to merge his company with SCDP in order to score a high-profile account with Chevrolet. In total MM fashion, actor Kevin Rahm phoned up RS to chat about his promotion from featured player to series regular while teasing the drama that's still ahead: "A lot of good stuff is coming. It only gets better from here."

This past Sunday's episode, "For Immediate Release," was jam-packed with Ted Chaough plot lines for the first time since you joined the cast in Season Four: Ted and Don merged their companies and you kissed Peggy. What was your reaction when you first got that script?
It's funny. Lizzie Moss [Peggy] read it before I did, and she told me I was going to be very excited when I read it. She said, "There's one thing that's cool, but there's a second thing at the end." She wouldn't tell me what it was, so I read it, and the first thing I come to is me kissing her. I thought, "Whoa, what an ego!" But she was obviously talking about the merger. It was completely a secret – I had no idea it was coming. I was a fan of the show before I joined the cast, so when I read the scripts, I read them first as a fan, then I have to get over that and go back and do my work. So I read it as a fan, and my first thought was, "Holy crap, that's amazing." And then I was very excited for what it meant for the character (and what it meant for me). I had more scenes in that episode than I had in seven previous ones.

So now we have this love triangle going on between Peggy, Ted and Abe. Did you feel that there was some sexual tension going on between Peggy and Ted before, or was this a total surprise?
Well, when Scott Hornbacher directed the season premiere, there's that scene where I'm in a tuxedo, and we're both looking at the [Koss headphones] footage. Scott kept saying to Lizzie and me, "OK, just. . . look at her longer, until she's not looking at you, and vice versa." And then we would do it and he'd go, "No, a little longer," and we were like, "OK, what are you talking about?" And that was the moment that we were like, "There's clearly something here." Now, I didn't know where it was going, and I didn't know that was coming, and neither did Ted I think. It's kind of a shocking moment for both of them, because there's obviously chemistry, but it's a work-based chemistry. It's mutual respect based on talent. And that's a very different connection to have with someone, especially if someone has been married for a long time [like Ted].

That scene between Ted and Don in the bar finally saw Ted drop his guard in front of his rival. To me, it seemed like he was admitting that he had been intimidated by Don this whole time.
I don't feel like he's intimidated by Don. I think he respects Don greatly, and he respects Don's work. I think he wants to be as good as, if not better than Don. It reminds me of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson back in the day. Two men at the top of their class who played better when they played each other. And that's how I see it – Ted felt like they weren't going to get the job and that they were both there for no reason, which led to the decision to work together.

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I've been noticing that Ted is a little less cocky this season than he was in previous ones. What do you think brought that on?
It's the writing. It's just having more time with the character. People's reactions to Ted were very different than how I saw him. People thought he was cocky and kind of douchey, and I was very surprised by that, because I didn't feel like I was playing him that way. I see how people see that, but he's different than Don. He handles people differently, and he loves the competition. The only time viewers saw him was when he was giving shit to Don. And because Don is the hero of the show, Ted is the antagonist. But it was very interesting to see, as we spend more time with him, how he's different than Don and how he's like Don.

How early on did you know your role had increased? Audiences got a sense from the season premiere because you had graduated to the opening credits.
I guess the cat's out of the bag that I'm a "regular." I knew last summer, because that all goes through agents and managers. And up until now, I haven't been able to say anything, and it was really hard to keep my mouth shut. My wife knew, and I have a lot of friends who knew I was working, but I couldn't even tell my friends in the business what I was working on. I was actually trying to join a golf club here in L.A., and everyone’s like, "Well, what are you working on right now?" and I was like, "I can't tell you." And I felt like even more of a smartass than Ted Chaough, saying, "I'm working on something very cool, I'm very excited about it, but I can't tell you."

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One of your first memorable scenes was back in Season Four when you prank-called Don with a Bobby Kennedy impersonation. Any other impressions you’re hoping to take on?
Oh, I don't do impressions. When I got that script, I was still a guest star at the time, and they only send you your sides. And you usually get them right before. So I was working the day before, and someone told me, "Oh, by the way, you have to do a Kennedy impersonation." And the table read was literally in an hour. I hadn't seen the side yet, and I had never done one – I didn't even know how to do one. So I went online, and the only thing I could find was the Simpsons version of the character. So that's what I mimicked. But then, after the table read, I went and I listened to the Kennedy brothers' speeches, and I worked on it again before I had to shoot it. But for the table read, it was my version of Mayor Quimby.

You saw "For Immediate Release" for the first time on Sunday along with the rest of us plebians. What did you think of the finished product?
Actually, I went to see Tenacious D on Sunday night. I was there until almost midnight, but I started getting texts around 9:00 p.m. from friends and agents and managers saying how much they loved the show and how excited they were. But I didn't get to watch until after the concert. I watched it alone – my wife was already asleep.

As I said in my recap, looking away from the screen simply wasn’t an option – there was just so much going on.
I describe this season like an old-school roller coaster, where you start really slow up the hill, tick, tick, tick, and it's all this anticipation. And I feel like "For Immediate Release" was when you're just cresting the top about to go in the loop-de-loops.

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