'Mad Men's Robert Morse on exit: 'It's an absolute love letter'
If you thought Bert Cooper’s sweet song-and-dance farewell on Sunday’s episode of Mad Men was a tribute to actor Robert Morse’s decades on Broadway, you would be correct. Creator Matthew Weiner originally cast Morse in part because of his reputation on the stage, which includes a Tony-winning turn as J. Pierrepont Finch in 1962’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. And when it was finally time for Bert to go into the great beyond, following Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon in 1969, Weiner thought there might be a way to serve both story and actor.
Morse’s initial reaction to wrapping the final scene of his seven-year run was one of relief and elation. “You’re just thrilled that you got through, that you’re still walking, that you still did it,” he says. “It’s what I love, and it was great to have a taste of singing and dancing at the end. And my respect to Luigi’s Jazz Class in New York 40 years ago. I wouldn’t be where I was today [without him], so shout out to Luigi — and thank him for all my movement and style.”
Morse, who is heading back to the stage to star in In Your Arms at Vassar College next month, talked to EW about Bert Cooper’s fond farewell.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What were your emotions on Sunday night after you watched the episode?
ROBERT MORSE: I told friends and relatives, “Make sure you watch Sunday’s episode. It’s going to be a doozy.” But I simply had no idea what I was in for. [Laughs] For the last 36 hours, my phone’s been ringing off the hook and people are emailing. Yesterday was a f–king holiday and I get wrangled by the press agent for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, you guys. This hasn’t happened to me in 40 years. I’ve watched the episode a couple of times, and I don’t mean to be silly, but it’s an absolute love letter from creator Matt Weiner. You couldn’t ask for a nicer send off.
How did Matt explain it to you, and what was your initial reaction?
Matt knew that the show was going to be about the moon landing, in a sense, and he told me, “You’re watching the moon landing, and you say ‘Bravo,’ and you pass away. We’re not going to shoot you. We’re not going to hang you. You’re just going to die gracefully. And Bobby, I have an idea. I got a gift for you.” I said, “What’s that?” “It’s going to be gift to you and to us. I don’t want to say what it is, but you’re going to sing in the end of the show.” I said, “That’s brilliant, but you mean, like Robert Morse?” “No, no, no, you’re going to be Bertram Cooper. In the end, after everything is happening, you confront Jon Hamm and you tell him the moon’s there for everyone, stars in the sky the moon on high, they’re there for you and me because they’re free. ‘You’ve been f–king around too long — another waitress here, another waitress there, married, divorced, you shouldn’t be doing all that. Calm down. Love is what you need. It’s not just where you go. It’s who you meet along the way.'” So that’s the idea. I feel that the song in that moment served to emphasize the episode’s message.
If I was involved with the show, I know I would be there for the day or days that you filmed that sequence.
That’s what happened. You hit it. I was just amazed. A lot of the cast came down to watch because it was my final thing, and they stood in the bleachers off to the side behind the glass office on the right side. And at the end of it, people came up — and some of them had tears in their eyes — and said, “God, Matt did a hell of a job to give you that.” And they gave me a big cake. And my daughter was there, and everybody was hugging each other and everybody was feeling very good about the final show. It was a lovely moment.
In the scene, it seems like Jon Hamm was there for every moment with you. Was that the case on set?
Yes, he stood by the camera for six or seven hours and made it like I’m just not singing to the audience. Even watching Jon Hamm watching me in the shooting of the scene is incredible touching, in and of itself.
You had to keep this under your hat for days, weeks, even months. How did–
Let’s say weeks. I couldn’t even tell my wife.
What was her reaction when she finally saw the show?
She came running into the room. I’m watching it in our bedroom with [my children] Charlie and Allyn, and Libby, my wife, was watching it in the den. I had to play it very cool, and she comes running in: “Did you die?” [Laughs] Oh God! I didn’t know what to say. I said, “We’ll talk about after you’ve seen the whole show.” And I’ll have gathered myself, too, because I was emotionally involved.
The table read, I assume, was the first time everyone involved got together to explore what was going to happen in this episode. How did that feel?
I think, when they heard I was going to sing a song and they saw it written down — you know, “Bobby intermingles between secretaries and sings the song,” and it showed all the lyrics. I think many people, their mouths were open. There was, “Wow, I can’t wait to see that. What an idea. Hope it works.”
It’s a great send-off, but did it immediately bring a cloud of sadness, or at least bittersweetness?
If you lose your job, there is a definite adjustment period where, gulp, you know, it’s over. Seven years, it’s over. I’m used to going to the set. I’m used to reading the scripts, and I’m used to the gang, and love the people and the whole idea of my job. And now it’s over. Except Matt said to me, “Bobby, I don’t want you to leave the show. I want you to come to the set every week. I’m going to send you a script every week. I want you to still be part of the company. Come and have lunch down there, be with the gang. I don’t want you to sit home.” So I feel very good that I’m still included.
Ben Feldman must be very jealous. He got carted off without his nipple.
He just sent me an email, actually. Ben Feldman left because he had to give his nipple. [Laughs] And I left because I just fell asleep from the moon landing. By the way, Ben and I are close, and we were talking about his episode. He said, “Jesus, thank God Matt gave me such an interesting [exit.] What a dramatic way to go off the show.” That’s what he said, and he’s right.
Any souvenirs from your time as Bert Cooper? Argyle socks, perhaps?
I have a couple a pair of socks, but don’t tell anybody.
Perhaps only one person knows for sure, so I feel free to ask you, just as someone who knows these characters: Do you think Don Draper gets a happy ending?
[Laughs] I don’t know what happy is. I don’t know in that day and age where they’re going with this. I don’t know where Don’s going. Maybe that’s the question we’re always going to ask: “Where is he going?” He’s still going, whatever that means. Is he going to go get another waitress? The moon belongs to everyone, the best things in life are free… I don’t know where he’s going. And Matt won’t tell us. It’s a secret.