News Column

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Outtakes column

May 19, 2013

YellowBrix

May 19--When Vincent Kartheiser sheds the Brooks Brothers suit that belongs to Pete Campbell, his uptight character on the AMC series "Mad Men," he turns into a pretty simple guy.

The Los Angeles actor lives in a bungalow that's barely 600 square feet. He drives a small car. He doesn't own a lot of clothes.

"In a lot of ways I am still not a minimalist," he said. "I travel a ton. I just don't own a lot of possessions. I don't have the space for them. And I don't covet them."

But as low-key as he is, the Kartheiser "Mad Men" fans expect when he appears this week at the Big Island Film Festival is the one who gives life to the ambitious and arrogant Campbell.

"I like playing him," the 34-year-old Kartheiser said in a phone call last week from L.A. "Being that character is fun."

Kartheiser is a guest of the festival and will be honored a week from today with a reception and video retrospective. Fans will be treated to a question-and-answer session -- and hopefully will not have forgotten to have set their DVRs to record the "Mad Men" Season 6 finale that same night.

The festival, now in its eighth year, will be held at the Mauna Lani Resort. Drawing only from the narrative format, it features 54 films from Hawaii and around the world.

Kartheiser hopes to meet young filmmakers and talk about the craft of making movies, he said.

"I like the small film festival format because it gives young filmmakers a chance to support each other and to talk to filmmakers who have gone through the process and hopefully learn something," he said. "And there is great stuff at these festivals."

Kartheiser grew up in Minneapolis, Minn., and returns often to see his family. Unlike in L.A. and New York, in Minneapolis he can slip into a crowd of Christmas shoppers at the Mall of America and no one will recognize him.

He drew from family to bring Campbell to life. The timbre of Campbell's voice was inspired by Kartheiser's late grandfather, a former saxophone and clarinet player who died last year at 89. The actor was there in his grandfather's final months helping with his hospice care.

It reminded Kartheiser that time is precious.

"I had kind of made up my mind a couple of years before that I was going to spend more time with my family," he said. "I had lived out here 15 years and I realized I had really started to change and I missed them and I wanted to be closer to them."

Shooting will begin sometime this fall on the seventh and final season of "Mad Men."

What Kartheiser will do after the show's successful run isn't clear yet. He does not have an actor's wish list.

"I am opportunist," he said. "I see what is out there. I see what inspires me. I am not dying to do a one-man show or something Elizabethan or a Shakespearian project that I have coveted for decades. That has never been me."

He's open to more TV, films and live theater. In July, Kartheiser will star as Mr. Darcy in a production of "Pride and Prejudice" at the Guthrie Theater in Minnesota.

"It is the most rewarding and the most powerful experience you can have as an actor," he said of being on stage. "You are interacting with your audience. When you go to a TV or film set, you are surrounded by a hundred people who are not watching your performance. They know what will happen and you are doing segments of the story."

And the actor is not in charge.

"In theater what you get is complete control," Kartheiser said. "On that night, for that performance, there is one person in charge of your character and that is you."

He also has marriage plans, though he has not made the date public. Kartheiser is engaged to former "Gilmore Girls" star Alexis Bledel, who was on several episodes of "Mad Men."

When it's time to leave Pete Campbell behind, Kartheiser doesn't expect it will be difficult. It's what actors do, even when they have to give up a part that has defined them.

"We play characters," he said. "There are a couple of weeks right after a role where you are diving into a new character, where you find yourself looking back at old characters. But if you are really doing the work that you should be as an actor, which is a pretty intense and focused ritual, at least for me, then that will all get thrown away."

The Big Island Film Festival starts Thursday and runs through May 27. Get details at www.bigislandfilmfestival.com.

AND that's a wrap ...

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser's film and television writer. Read his Outtakes Online blog at honolulupulse.com. Reach him at 529-4803 or email mgordon@staradvertiser.com.

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