When we weren’t debating who created that famous Coke ad, or whether or not the stories of Peggy, Pete, Richard, Joan, et. al wrapped up too sweetly or bitterly, many of us were wondering: What’s up with Leonard? Leonard, Mad Men’s “last great rando,” as Slate’s Julia Turner has dubbed him—the character whose raw, emotional confession in a group therapy session led to Don Draper’s final breakthrough.
I spoke with Evan Arnold, the actor behind Leonard, about how he got the role, what it was like being such a significant part of the ending of one of the most beloved (and analyzed) TV shows in history, and his thoughts on hugging Jon Hamm.
So how did you get cast in the role?
[Casting directors] Laura Schiff and Carrie Audino had cast me before in other projects. Laura had brought me in for Mad Men a few times over the seasons, and nothing went my way until this final episode. And I’m a fan of the series, and [was] very excited.
What was the character description like?
I was not able to see the script ahead of time. I wasn’t told anything about the character, it was just all in the writing.
And it was fun because [Matt Weiner] gives direction in his auditions, and I’d do it again a certain way. But this time he just said, “Great, thank you.” There was no second take and we did it, and then I got the job.
It was not until the table read that I saw the script, and I had a better sense of my character and the episode and a feeling that this might be more of a seminal moment, or a culmination of this and that.
Did your scene change at all from the script during filming?
My scene, I believe, was word for word the exact same from the script. … The only difference I recall from the table read script and the ending was the Coke ad. I didn’t know about that. That was a very fun surprise at the end. And I heard some stories about an alternate ending, a different ending, additional script pages.
So was last night when the finale aired the first time you knew about the Coke ad?
I didn’t even know if my part was still in the script. My wife said, “Stop being silly.” She was the only person who knew I did the role … I didn’t tell anybody, even my closest friends, only my wife who had helped me with the original audition knew what my part was … I just thought, who knows, it’s been so long, maybe things will change. But I’m on the West Coast, I saw a West Coast feed, I just waited and saw, and that was the first I knew about the Coke ad.
That must have been very exciting.
When it finally came to my scene near the end, you know, actors can sometimes be self-critical, and I turned [to my wife] and said, “I think that went all right. That wasn’t bad.”
And I was just so excited, please please, I want to surprise all of my friends and family with this … Facebook, email, Twitter, they all started screaming, they had no idea. And random people I don’t know, other newspapers and journalists, everyone’s been very positive.
What was it like for you to get that hug with Don Draper?
I’ve gotta say, you know he’s this big beautiful charming man, and his diaphragm and chest are right against me and heaving, basically … it’s like a romance novel. But it’s that odd juxtaposition where we hadn’t hung out, we didn’t have dialogue together, we didn’t practice together. I did my bit of business, he listened to me, he came over, and he hugged me. You know, we had a nice, cordial introduction on the set. He is a consummate professional, and then, as actors, you engage. And it becomes intensely intimate at a moment’s notice, and of course, a brief moment.
You know it’s a lot like relationships itself, where doors open and they close, there’s a connection. Do you have the ability, are you willing to receive a connection? And my wife said, “I think that’s what the episode is about, when they titled it “Person to Person,” it was that moment when we two came together.” I said, “Oh, I thought it was just about the collect calls, person to person!”
That’s what’s fun about the titles and the writing of the script, it’s open to interpretation.
A lot of my friends are like “What was that like, Jon Hamm was all up in your action? What was it like?” It was fine, felt good. He’s a good hugger! I hope I was, too.