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Q&A: Ben Feldman on his cringe-worthy 'Mad Men' moment

Television IndustryBen Feldman

Add another notch to the ‘Mad Men’ victim tally. On Sunday's episode, "The Runaways," Michael Ginsberg suffers a psychotic breakdown and slashes his nipple off, as a grand romantic gesture for Peggy.

Sympathy pains never felt so real.

While he managed to escape the toxic SC&P offices alive, Ginsy didn’t leave completely unscathed—or in one piece, for that matter. He was wheeled off to a psychiatric ward. And with the infamous psychiatric care of the 1960s, one question races through the minds: Is there a "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" treatment in store for Ginsy?

Ben Feldman, Washington D.C.-born and a Maryland native, plays the gifted yet troubled Michael Ginsberg. We chatted with him about fake nipples, Ginsberg’s latent feelings of romance for his coworkers and what his recent mental breakdown says for Don as the series comes to an end.

Sunday's episode was incredible. I really enjoyed your performance.

Thank you.

I hope your nipple’s OK. You looked like a marathon runner with that bandage.

[Laughs] Oh yeah, fortunately there were some incredible props. But I did manage to take that nipple home with me and it’s now sitting at my house.

You kept the nipple?! Did you put it in a frame or anything?

What’s funny is all season, and since this is the last season, we keep getting asked whenever we do press events, "Is there anything you get from the set?” and I’ve never been able to answer that question for the past couple months until starting [now]. My wife doesn’t know [about the prop nipple] because she hasn’t seen [the episode], and she doesn’t know what’s happen. So, I kind of wanted to have a little surprise for her when she’s done watching it [laughs].

That’s hilarious. [laughs] I feel it’s like it’s some sort of sick, demented proposal. It’s almost as if Ginsberg has kind of rubbed off on you.

[Laughs]

Ginsberg’s always been eccentric, but his mental stability slowly got worse last season. Were you expecting this epic breakdown this season?

Yeah, I knew slightly that I knew what was going on what was happening in the particular episode. But for the most part, we tend to find out what happens to the characters in real time as we’re shooting, so I didn’t get a giant head’s up. But the things that were happening [to Ginsberg], had been referenced before, [like the] the radio signals coming into his head. It’s always sort of been there to some degree.

You really captured the racing thoughts and high-anxiety common in mental breakdowns. How did you prepare for this episode?

[Laughs] That’s just — that’s just how I am on set. High-anxiety, sweaty, freaking out. It’s just my process. It’s not an evolution.

[Laughs] I’m glad they’re able to find the right people for the right roles. What was it like being restrained in that gurney?

That was the last scene that I shot of that episode. It was late at night and there were all these cast members, who just happened to around too, so some of the people who weren’t even in that scene. So, it seemed so sad and so serious, but watching it I remember feeling it was more like a party than a tragedy.

I guess a send-off to the loony bin should come with confetti. Your dad actually worked at an ad agency in Maryland. Has he seen any meltdowns like that at his office?

I know if I worked for my dad I would have a meltdown [laughs]. No, his company, I think, has it a little bit more together than what’s going on at Sterling Cooper. But both my dad and mom were advertisers in the Maryland area.

Ginsberg’s been obsessed with homosexuals since Season 6, when he accused Bob Benson of being a “homo.” Why is he so fearful of homosexuals? Do you think it’s because he’s fearful he might be gay?

It’s hard to speak to that because it hasn’t really been overtly covered on the show, and I don’t like to put my own thoughts in people’s minds. I think a lot of this show is great in that it opens to a lot of interpretation. But I will say that I think a lot of times Ginsberg’s anxieties and fears may be displaced emotions. And I think [that’s true of] his feelings towards Peggy, his feelings towards homosexuals. I think there are a lot of strong thoughts and feelings inside his head, but I feel like his head maybe shook a whole bunch of them up and they sometimes landed in the wrong place.

So, you do think he has feelings for Peggy?

There is an instant connection between Ginsberg and Peggy — there always has been. The very first time you meet Ginsberg it’s with Peggy when she interviews him. She’s always been there. She’s been there for Ginsberg in his moments of paranoia, she’s been there for the Holocaust moment [where he revealed that he was born at a concentration camp]. I think there is a really, really strong connection. Whether he’s misreading it or he’s looking too hard to find something that’s not there, that’s up to [the viewer’s] interpretation. But definitely, there’s some sort of connection between those two.

When Ginsberg first joined SC&P, then SCDP, he was seen as Don Draper’s successor. Do you think that Ginsberg’s demise was a reflection of Don’s hitting rock bottom last season, or foreshadowing for Don as the series closes?

Interesting. It’s hard to look at anything on this show without a sort of parallel to Don’s actual story and his interactions with other characters. But there are a lot of interesting differences and parallels between Ginsberg and Don. Ginsberg was rising the one moment where Don was sort of pending. But I don’t know, I don’t think they’re connected. I think they’re sort of on the path in the same world, but I don’t know if they’re flying to the same destination.

Will we see Ginsberg again? Or will he get a lobotomy like in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest"?

[Laughs] I’ve been sworn to secrecy like everybody else on that show. If you can get an actor from "Mad Men" to tell you anything that happen that hasn’t already aired, then you deserve an award. It’s my job not to say anything.

Right, I realize it’s your job not to say anything, but it is my job to ask to see if you will say anything.

We’ve all become professional question-dodgers. It’s all part of the "Mad Men" boot camp.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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