Welcome to The Mad Men Interviews in which I interview friends who were on my favorite show, Mad Men. My first interview was with Molly Hawkey, who played the first person to ever tell Don Draper he couldn’t smoke somewhere. This time I’m talking with Eric Scott Cooper, who played the TV commercial director who had to deal with rude comedian Jimmy Barrett in “The Benefactor” in Season 2.
For those who don’t know how the biz works, can you tell us how you wound up being on Mad Men?
I actually auditioned for a the Camera AC role – the guy with the clapper. I remember asking my agent why they called me in for a role that age-wise said “late 20s” when I was 37. My reaction was absurd I realize now – when they call you in, NEVER question why. Just getting an audition is like booking a part. There are thousands of actors submitted by agents for every single role.
I got to the studio – went in, and read for the role. As I was leaving, my agent called me to tell me they wanted me to come back for a producer session later that afternoon. I bummed around downtown for a few hours and went back to LA Center Studios. I’d never had an audition/callback with that many people in the room. It’s kind of a blur but I know Matthew Weiner, the show creator and writer of the episode, Lesli Linka Glatter , the director, several other producers, and the Casting Directors Laura and Carrie were all in the tiny, crowded room. I read the single line and they started whispering. Then one of the CDs said “Matt would like you to read for the Commercial Director role.” I remember freaking a little because I’d never had that happen before — and it was a producer session.
I took the copy, looked at it for 30 seconds and said “okay.” They asked if I needed to leave the room and rehearse. It was more lines but less words overall than the first role I read. So I said something insane like “No, thanks. That’s okay.” I just went right into the new role and read for them. They laughed hysterically at the read and I left. Ten minutes later I was at my car, pulling out of the lot, and my agent called to say I booked it. It was the first TV gig I ever booked since I’d started auditioning 9 months earlier! I was bouncing off the walls excited. Unfortunately, the shoot day was the next day — the day I was scheduled to fly to Boston for an event. It cost almost the same amount to change the ticket as what I got paid after taxes and commission fee for the shoot! But it was worth every penny. Also, I lucked out that I got the Director role instead. They kept the Camera AC guy’s lines, but in voiceover only – you never saw him in the scene.
Were you a fan of the show before you were on it? How about after?
Oh my God, YES! I loved the show then and still love it now. I’ve never missed an episode. Do I wish I’d been asked back to direct more commercials with Sterling Cooper Price Draper etc….? Um, yes. But I am still a huge fan and I am very proud of booking such a great show to start my new LA acting career – and in the latter stages of my 30’s I might add.
How many times did you have to audition?
That was the only time I ever auditioned for Mad Men. I’ve been called back for several other shows cast by the same casting directors since then.
Who was your scene with?
My scene was with the amazing Patrick Fischler, who played the surly, jerk-off borscht-belt style comedian, Jimmy Barrett. Patrick was also in ABC’s Lost as a super creepy Dharma initiative guy in a later season. [And I may also add, he was the guy who had the creepy dream of the bum behind the diner in Mulholland Drive.]
Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray) and Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) are the agency people at the shoot.
Patrick’s character was a famous comedian shooting a commercial as the new spokesman for Utz Potato Chip. Jan Hoag played the Utz maven. When she walks onto the set to see how the commercial for HER company is going, Jimmy humiliates her by making loud, nasty jokes about her size and she storms out. Sterling-Cooper almost loses the account. It’s a strong opening scene to the episode.
Anything memorable happen you can share?
I haven’t told many people this. I didn’t have any contact lenses at the time and my glasses aren’t period [appropriate to the era]. So wardrobe got these real vintage frames — but just used non prescription plastic lenses. I have a major astigmatism and I’m extremely nearsighted. I was sweating bullets on set because I really and truly couldn’t see a thing. I had to make special “arrangements” with different crew members, some of whom I’ve seen on other sets since then and there’s definitely a bond. Each time the camera wasn’t rolling, I would get them to take my frames, and hold them while I put on my real glasses. I’d try to plot out and memorize all the marks on the floor and where I needed to look for all the reverse and coverage shots where you’re not actually looking at another actor. When I had on the vintage glasses it was just a big blur. The crew helped me find my eyeline and marks throughout. The hardest part was when I had to walk in the scene. I was terrified I was going to crash into the vintage camera. They told us to be careful around it, that it could break, and how expensive it was. It was a little bit of a nightmare. I kept thinking they were going to fire me. But I learned the lesson that I still need to tell myself every time I book a job and I’m doubting myself on-set. They want you to be there and they hired you for a reason. So it’s okay to ask for a little assistance. They WANT you to do well. When I booked Argo, another project where I had to wear period glasses, I immediately went out and got contact lenses to wear with the glasses!
Also, the scene they shot before mine was with one of my Groundlings teachers (and now Oscar winner!), Nat Faxon. I had no idea he’d booked the show and I hadn’t seen him in over a year or so. He was the first person I bumped into that day at the studio and he really put me at ease. It’s always nice to see a friendly face on a set.
Oh, another fun fact: I was credited wrong in the episode. They used the name on my headshot at the time, “Eric S. Cooper” instead of the name I’d put on all the pages of the contract, including something for how you will be credited, as “Eric Scott Cooper”, which is also my SAG name. It was a nightmare with IMDB to get it tied to my account. It’s never happened since. I make sure to always double-check that specific detail now with the production when I’m signing the contract.
A good lesson. And my God, even though I saw the scene and knew it turned out great, hearing your glasses story made me extremely nervous! What great people to have on set. What’s it like to play a director directing a commercial when you’re actually an actor following a director in a TV show?
It’s very meta. I remember the first time I said “action”, I went a little overboard, yelling it like I was in a 1940s movie. Matt came over and told me to just say it like the director Lesli was saying “action” to start the scene we were shooting. And I did. And it was fine.
What was the reaction from family and friends when you told them you were going to be on the show?
Everyone was super crazy excited, mostly because I’d “finally booked something.” My best friend Michael threw me a viewing party. It was a real high.
It was the third episode of season 2 and it was a buzz show that had aired for one season, but it hadn’t become the huge hit it is now. My grandma Millie had never heard of the show — that’s been a challenge for each project since…oy. She’s 89 and has been the most consistently supportive, cheerleading relative. So it’s okay that she doesn’t know what any of the projects are. She still went to see 2 movies even after she knew I’d been cut, just to watch my name in the credits.
My parents were excited too. Of course I called to see what they thought after it aired and my dad said, “That was it?”. Gotta love it.
Do you have a favorite “Mad Men” character and/or episode?
I waffle between Peggy and Joan. Roger Sterling and Sally Draper are also favorites. I look forward to Pete Campbell’s shenanigans and undoings. I don’t necessarily have a favorite episode. I have favorite seasons, relationships and story arcs.
Why do you act professionally? Do you ever see yourself stopping?
I was a professional TV journalist, an Assignment Editor and Field Producer in Russia, and then Boston for years, before coming to LA 10 years ago. I’d always acted in local theater and worked a lot in improv. I actually moved out here to pursue standup and improv. But I ended up accidentally getting an agent — he found me — and the acting thing started working out better than the comedy. I may continue to try different aspects of the business, but I’ll always pursue acting, whether it’s on a stage, screen, web, talking to myself in the car — whatever. I love performing.
What are you working on now? Where can we see you next?
I’m writing a one-man show and I have some LA storytelling events coming up in the new year, dates to be determined. I’m in 2 films that should be making the festival circuit next season as well. I have a recurring role on The Bold and the Beautiful as Gustav, party planner extraordinaire. Hopefully they’ll call me back soon. Besides that I’m always hustling for more work!
I know you became friends with Jan Hoag AKA “Mrs. Utz” – I met her at your birthday party a few years ago. How did that happen?
I’d briefly met Jan Hoag at a party my friend Claire hosted just a few weeks before the audition. So when I called Claire to tell her I booked the show, her reaction was, “My friend Jan booked that show too!!!” So we saw each other on-set for rehearsal and had a great time. We’ve been friends ever since.
Thanks, Eric! You are awesome.
To see more of Eric, check out his reel: