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'Mad Men' star Aaron Staton on the premiere, Ken's revenge, and that eyepatch

He got to keep the patch as a memento.

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Michael Yarish/AMC

A lot went down in last night’s Mad Men premiere, and much of it had to do with Ken Cosgrove. The longtime accounts man lost his job and flirted with the idea of pursuing writing full-time before deciding that he’d rather exact revenge on his rivals. We spoke to actor Aaron Staton about his character’s new course—and his old eyepatch.

So it was a big episode for Ken. Were you sad to see him leave the agency?

Not under those terms! I would’ve been in any other case, I think, but who doesn’t love a sweet revenge story? [laughs] I guess what I want for Ken is… he’s a guy who always has his happiness sort of come to him, so I hope that continues to be the case. But I feel pretty satisfied for the guy! Getting to walk in and say that to your boss, somebody who’s been kind of a nemesis the whole time he’s worked at that company? I’d have to imagine that while it’s not something he dreamed of or had gone over in his head for years, it must’ve felt pretty sweet after all these years.

This was his chance to leave this world behind and pursue the writerly life, and for a moment it really seemed like he would… but he didn’t, obviously. Why do you think that is?

I think it was only revenge! I really think it was only because of ambition and power. And remember, he made this decision a couple seasons back—Roger forced him into it. He forced him to choose between the writing or the his work in that building, in advertising. And Ken chose ambition. So I think it’s not that he made a brand-new decision on that moment, on that day. He had sort of decided before. And as he said to his wife, he said he hasn’t written in a long time, and I think that’s true. So I think this decision is somewhat in keeping with the same path that Roger forced him onto, in a way.

So in a big-picture sense, Roger’s dream-crushing advice to Ken from seasons ago is coming back to haunt him now?

Maybe, maybe. But I also think ultimately in the moment [in the premiere], it had less to do with Roger than it did with that conversation he had with Pete. I really believe everything he said to Don in that phone booth, he 100-percent believed. I think that he was going to go write that back. I think he really did have this kind of epiphany, what he considered to be fate pointing him in a direction. But then he was in the room with Pete, who was just gloating, really. Not purposefully, but Pete was going on on how hard it would be to spend all his money, and I think in that moment, Ken sort of decided, “I can’t let this guy win!” So he thinks, If I have to lose—if we [Pete and Ken] both have to lose so that he doesn’t win—so be it.

That last Ken scene, when he tells off Pete and Roger—that was definitely a satisfying moment on a show that doesn’t provide too many “Hell yeah!” moments. What were your first thoughts when you read it in the script?

I was cheering! I was so excited to get to say “Until we meet again.” [laughs] What a… it’s just so fun. And I really do think it has a lot to do with Pete. Ever since they were up for the same promotion, back in I think season 2, they’ve had this back-and-forth. I think of the scene in the elevator that back then, when they were both trying to be so careful about speaking about the promotion that they were both up for. After all these little moments, I think it was just a payoff for me. That was the thing I was most excited about.

Let’s talk about the eyepatch. A lot of people thought it was temporary. But now it’s 1970, and Ken’s still got it on…

Well, 1970, that’s when the eyepatch was in, right? I think that was the year of bellbottoms and eyepatches. Ken was really a trendsetter! [laughs] No, I’m with you, I wasn’t sure at the time either about how long he’d wear it. I didn’t know until I got this script. But off the top of my head, I’m not even sure how much time has gone by between the moment he was shot by the GM folks and this episode. It’s been like what, six months maybe? It hasn’t been years and years. But it’s been long enough to where obviously it’s healed and he’s had it somehow shut.

But you’re right, the answer could’ve been either way—it could’ve been that he still had some vision and maybe he’d heal. But I think it no, literally they shot his eye out.

So there’s just no eyeball there anymore, right?

I think that’s it, I think that’s it. And I think rather than having a gaping hole, they sewed it shut.

As an actor, when you found out you’d be in the eyepatch again, were you at all annoyed?

Oh, no. The opposite! I mean, looking out of one eye is bizarre. But when you get to wear an eyepatch as an actor? You get all the depth perception jokes, you get all the comedy that comes with it? It’s pretty rich! With all sensitivity to people who actually do have to wear an eyepatch—obviously, that’s not fun. But in terms of on-camera and the comedy that you can play off, that’s fun.

Do you think you’ll get to keep the eyepatch as a memento when it’s all said and done?

I know I’ll get to keep the eyepatch because I have it! [laughs] I have that and I have a nameplate. But it’s funny, because the eyepatch didn’t come about until a season ago, and for it to be the sort of one memento I have is a fun thing. I’m sure I would’ve taken a piece of art of something if I could’ve, but it’s fun to have something so current [in the show] but my memento.

Where is the eyepatch now?

It is in my possession, but I don’t carry it around or anything. It is in my room, in a bag. Maybe one day if I get a fancy office, I’ll show it off over in the corner or something. But at the moment, it is securely it is in a bag in my closet.