Mad Men’s Kevin Rahm (Ted Chaough)

Don Draper's Creative Rival

May 16, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


[As a tribute to AMC’s award-winning drama Mad Men—which wraps its seventh and final season this Sunday, May 17th—we’re speaking with the actors who played several of our favorite characters on the show. We’ll be discussing many specific moments and episodes from the series’ run, so please take warning: these interviews will contain many spoilers for those not caught up on the show.]

Ted Chaough was Don Draper’s equivalent at Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough, serving as the agency’s head of Creative. The two talented men were able to temporarily put aside their rivalry and merge their firms in order to attract larger, more lucrative accounts such as Chevrolet, but when Ted began a romantic relationship with Peggy Olson—despite being married—it led to him squaring off with Don yet again. It was Ted’s own guilt that caught up with him, however, and he exiled himself to the company’s California branch in an attempt to save his marriage. It backfired, and Ted spiraled into a self-destructive depression that was only fixed by relocating back to New York and divorcing his wife.

Kevin Rahm has more than 50 film and TV credits in addition to playing Ted Chaough in Mad Men for the past four seasons. He was a series regular on Desperate Housewives and I Hate My Teenage Daughter, appeared for three seasons on Judging Amy, and had notable guest spots on shows such as Friends, The Mentalist, Grey’s Anatomy, and Ally McBeal. Recent appearances include roles on Madam Secretary and Bates Motel, and in the film Nightcrawler with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: I know filming wrapped quite a while back, but can you tell me how you felt during your final days on set? What was it like to say goodbye?

Kevin Rahm: It was really hard. It was like leaving a high school that you didn’t want to leave. I had that senior feel. For the last couple of weeks it was someone’s last day every other day. We’d find out it was so-and-so’s last day, that they were in this scene and they would be done by this time, and so we would all show up. They would do their last shot, and then Matt would say something. We would pop champagne. There was a lot of coming home late those weeks. [Laughs] I just told my wife, “Look, I’m going to be home late a lot the next couple of weeks.” That doesn’t happen very often. It was very bittersweet.

I’ve talked to a couple other actors, like you, who joined the series late in small roles—like Jared Harris, and Christopher Stanley—but became pretty major characters. What information were you given about Ted in the very beginning?

Zero! I had no idea. When you audition the names of the characters are all changed, so you had to completely guess as to what was going on … One of my audition scenes was me and [Don] at Benihana, but the script I got didn’t have his name on it, so I had no idea who I was talking to.

I was told that I was his rival, I had a job at a different firm, and they said two, maybe three episodes. Which, I think, is a smart thing to do: you hire someone, and if they fit in well, you like what they’re doing, and you want to see where their storyline goes from there, you can hold on to them. If not, you let them go. That’s opposed to signing someone and then being stuck if that story doesn’t go anywhere.

So, I had no idea—or any thoughts—that this would go on for as long as it did.

When were you told that you would become a series regular?

During season five, which was my second season. I was full-time on a sitcom on Fox which was called I Hate My Teenage Daughter, with Jaime Pressly and Katie Finneran, and Chad Coleman from The Walking Dead. And so I was full-time on that show, and I think I only did two episodes of Mad Men that season because I was under contract somewhere else.

I knew at the end of that season that they had called for my quotes [for the next season], but I was under contract and we didn’t know if that show was going to get picked up or not. It was the only time in my career that I was okay if a show didn’t get picked up. [Laughs] I knew, “If this show doesn’t go, I get to go to Mad Men. So it’s okay if it doesn’t go.”

Do you remember any specific notes Matt gave you along the way to help you understand Ted’s character?

Early on—in the first couple of episodes, really—Matt said, “You are just as good as Don Draper is. You believe that you are as talented as he is; therefore, he’s not threatening to you.” And that was very helpful.

A couple times I would forget to be the boss, if you know what I mean? I’ve never been in that position in life—my real life—so, that was one of things he would remind me of early on. He’d say, “Just remember: you’re the boss. You’re in charge.”  

There was a funny moment at the beginning of season six. I was now a regular, and Scott Hornbacher was directing the first episode [“The Doorway”]. I had that scene where it was New Year’s Eve, and I come in to the office and Peggy’s still working. I’m in a tux. I come in and she shows me that footage of the guy with the headphones. We shot it, and Hornbacher said, “When you guys look at each other, look at each other longer.” I thought, okay, that’s weird. We did it again, and he said, “You know, just a little longer.” We were wondering just what that was about, and then it dawned on both Lizzie [Moss] and I at the same time: “Ohhhhhhh. There’s an attraction here.” You would get hints like that, but the whole thing about Ted leaving his wife and being divorced by this season, I had no idea going into it. I’d read the script, and then I stepped on set and they didn’t hand me a wedding ring to put on. I was like, “Oh, that’s good information.”

I know cast members often don’t get info regarding plot points until they get their scripts for the table read.

Oh, absolutely. There was one table read, this was in season four [“Blowing Smoke”]. I was working that day, and someone said to me, “Can you do a Boston accent? Like, a Kennedy accent?” and I said, “Not really.” They said: “You should work on it.” I was like, “What?” They told me at the table read that day, my character does a Kennedy impression. And I was like, “Oh, crap.”

So during my break I went into my dressing room and the only thing I could find quickly was The Simpsons doing their version of it! So that’s what I listened to. It was The Simpsons version of the accent I was doing at the table read. But then, I had time to before we actually shot it.

At that point on Mad Men, I would get the scripts and only have 30 minutes to try to read it before the table read. At least that way I wouldn’t be reading it totally cold. Once I was a regular, you would get it the night before, usually. Maybe the day before. And sometimes that was the day before you start shooting. 

Ted seems pretty satisfied in this final half-season. When we last saw him, he seemed reluctant to even stay in advertising. What do you think changed in him?

Well, I think he destroyed his marriage by cheating on his wife. I think Ted’s not the kind of guy who could do that, then go home and act like it never happened. I feel like it was going to affect him. He’s not a good liar. So, I feel like it was more about being out of the city he loved—which is New York—but it was also about having moved his family out to California to “save” his marriage even though it was already over, on some level. Part of his depression in California was about, A) he lost out on somebody he really cared about, and B) he was trying to do the right thing, which was maybe not the right thing. You know, by staying with his wife.

And so I think part of his joy about being back is about being back in New York, but he’s also living his life. There were two things that were telling, to me, from watching it. There is that scene with Don where Ted says, “I’ve found someone, and she’s really cool. I can’t leave again. I have to be here, because she’s here.” He found someone and it seems to be going well. And then when they go to McCann, and he says “I’m ready for someone else to drive for a while.” He loves the creative part, and at CGC he had people to take care of that stuff for him, and he got to be just creative. Whereas after the merger, he has to be a boss and run a company. That’s not his thing. He liked having help, and he was getting a lot of it there. I think that was his dream. And, he got a pharmaceutical! That’s what he told Don: “I want a pharmaceutical.” And he got it.

What did you see as his turning point with Don? They were introduced as rivals, but by this last season they seem like good friends.

That’s a good question. I’m not sure—I think there were a few moments. I think in season six, after Don made all those weird comments at dinner with clients, because he didn’t want his girlfriend’s son to get drafted. I think when Ted helped him there by calling his buddy. I think that might be one of the points where things turned.

I definitely think Don respects him, and under different circumstances they would have worked well together. I feel there was a mutual respect there for what they were each capable of; I just think they handled things different.

Do you have a favorite Ted moment? You can name more than one.

The first scene that comes to mind is the scene with Don and I, when we’re in Detroit and we decide to merge. That’s from an actor’s point of view. To have a scene that long in television is rare, and to have it be written by them and doing it with Jon Hamm was exciting.

The other scene, which was painful to shoot, actually, was with Peggy, when I tell her I’m going to California. And again, great scene partner and great script, but that was hard. Towards the end of shooting that I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Even when Lizzie was off-camera, I felt like I was hurting her. I didn’t want to hurt her. It was like, “Please, give me a break.” Those are the two that stand out.

One of my favorite Ted moments—and I’m sure you hear this a lot—is when he and Don are in his plane.

Oh, yeah. I got a heads-up on that one because Janie Bryant, the costume designer, called me in for an extra clothes fitting. The thing she had me try on was the bomber jacket.

Any time you get to one-up Don Drama is pretty epic. What’s amazing about Don, and Jon, is that he has no ego about how he’s going to look as a character. He’s totally willing to be made fun of as the character. He steals that scene because he looks so uncomfortable—there’s that look on his face, and the hunched-up shoulders. He looks like he’s in physical pain, which is what makes that scene works. That one was so much fun. And I think [John] Slattery directed that episode—he’s a lot of fun.

What were your part of working on Mad Men, and what are you going to miss most about that cast and crew?

That is what I’ll miss most: the cast and crew. It was a very tight-knit group of people, and that’s not always the case. Sometimes you go to work and then go home, like a regular job. I was grateful that they included me as part of that. I think I’ll remember more the times off-camera than on. It was almost like we were being paid to hang out.

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For more information about Mad Menhead to AMC’s website



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