In just a few brief scenes, Mad Men's Lou Avery has become one of the most hated characters on TV.
After taking over as Sterling Cooper & Partners' creative director in the wake of Don Draper's meltdown and suspension, Lou (Allan Havey), quickly made his presence felt. Although Lou isn't bogged down by a host of personal problems like Don (Jon Hamm) is, he's a bit of a square and lacks Don's creative spark, which almost instantly put him at odds with Draper protégé Peggy (Elisabeth Moss). Making matters worse, Lou recently refused to continue sharing his secretary Dawn (Teyonah Parris) with an out-of-the-office Don and, in the process, displayed a healthy dose of old-generation insensitivity much to the chagrin of Dawn and Joan (Christina Hendricks).
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So, is Lou really a bad guy or is he just misunderstood? TVGuide.com chatted with Havey — a stand-up comedian who was once considered to replace David Letterman on NBC's Late Night — about filling Don Draper's big shoes, being so reviled by the audience and butting heads with so many people in the office. Plus: Is Lou worried about the possibility of Don coming back to work?
We saw you a couple times in Season 6. Did the producers hint at any point that they had bigger plans for your character?
Allan Havey: No. I gave the guys a hard time in the airport [in Episode 6], and then they brought me back for that last scene, and that was it. I had no idea. There were no promises, there was no inkling. I was just happy I got on the show twice. And I didn't hear anything until October. I don't even think they knew, to be honest with you, and I didn't ask. I dreamt about it during the summer. I visualized it, but I didn't inquire or ask anyone. It was just one of those things. But it was a big surprise.
So what happened when they decided to make your role bigger?
Havey: Come October, I heard, "Hey, they're thinking about extending your character. Come back in and read with [creator Matthew Weiner]." We had another casting session for another 40 minutes. I think they wanted to be sure I was comfortable with handling bigger scenes and how I was to work with.
At that point, what were you told about what kind of guy Lou Avery is?
Havey: At the beginning Matt said, "You're the boss now." I said, "Well, is this guy kind of a jerk?" And Matt said, "No, you're a great guy. You're just coming in. Everybody loves you." I don't think he tells actors what's going to happen later, and it was the best advice and direction I could have gotten because I was really just taking it day by day and episode by episode.
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Even if Lou is liked by some people around the office, the audience...
Havey: Oh, they hate his guts. [Laughs]
Right. How does it if feel to be so reviled after so little screen time?
Havey: As the season went on, I thought, "Oh, people are not going to like this guy." I've been a Mad Men fan since the beginning, so if I had been home watching this guy, I probably wouldn't have liked him either. But as long as people have a passionate response, that's all an actor can really hope for. To me, it's a very high compliment.
Your background is in stand-up comedy. Do you enjoy playing a guy who is so humorless?
Havey: It's a lot of fun. I've never had a part like this. When I'm a comedian, I write my own stuff and make my decisions. [With this,] it's all in the script. All you have to worry about is hitting your mark, saying your lines and taking direction. As a comedian you have to watch out for yourself and defend yourself, but when I got this job — which was a dream come true — you just have to trust everyone. I don't have to work on my comedy chops because their writing is so good. I just have to deliver the line and the laughs will come.
What are your thoughts about who Lou is and how he feels about this job?
Havey: I think this guy is very comfortable with who he is. He's been in the game a long time, and he comes from a very respected agency at Dancer Fitzgerald. He likes this change. [He feels like,] "Oh, I can go here and be the top guy." He heard that Don Draper screwed up in a Hershey meeting. He doesn't know exactly what happened, but certainly Draper had a reputation in advertising. For Lou, it's great. "I get to go and work with young people, some fresh blood, and I get to bring my experience there."
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Although Lou might know about Don's bad reputation, is he at all intimidated by his reputation as a bold, innovative creative director?
Havey: I think Lou has a pretty big ego. He heard the reputation about Draper, but once he heard he was hitting the booze and stuff like that, it was no problem coming in. He came in on Thanksgiving weekend. Obviously they needed someone, so Lou probably looks at himself like, "Hey, I came in here and saved the day."
But looking through Peggy's eyes, Lou is fine with putting out "just OK" work. Does Lou think is ideas are cutting-edge?
Havey: Lou is just from a different generation. I don't think he even thinks about [being] cutting-edge. He genuinely believes that "Accutron is accurate" is a better idea. Lou's trying to establish who he is there, so when Peggy chases him down the hall and tries to pitch it to him, he's like, "Forget it. You don't have to do this." This is no big deal to Lou. It's business as usual. Yeah, the kids are a little wild, but I'll settle them down.
When Lou says to Peggy, "You're putting me in the position of saying, 'I don't care what you think,'" is that just about Accutron, or is it a larger indictment of Peggy's ideas?
Havey: In any creative, collaborative effort, anybody who has an idea for a long time thinks their idea is the best. Very few people say. "You know, I had a good idea, but that's a great idea." I think Lou is one of those guys, and that's not that unusual.
So, Peggy's screwed?
Havey: [Laughs] If Lou hears a better idea, I think he'll go with it. I don't think he's that much of a hardass, but we'll find out.
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Lou also had a bit of a tiff with Dawn in last week's episode. He certainly didn't come off as a guy everyone in the office would love.
Havey: I think it was a speed bump. He thinks, "I'm working here during lunch. I don't want someone's kid coming in here and bothering me." It kind of spiked in his brain that sharing Draper's secretary is not going to work. "This is a problem, so let me have my own girl so I can focus on my work." I think that's all he's worried about. In Lou's mind, he's being a professional.
But there's a certain undertone of racism.
Havey: It makes sense that a guy that age in 1969, in the position he's in, is going to be insensitive. But I don't think he's a racist. He's like, "I know what the score is. You can't fire her, but move her. I want my own girl." At least he does it in front of Dawn and Joan. He's not going behind her back, and that's kind of interesting. The more I think about Lou, the more interesting he is. But I'm not defending the guy. He's a bit of a prick.
For now, Lou is still technically filling in for Don. Does he fear that making waves like that in the office might put him in danger of losing his job? Or does he have the partners on his side?
Havey: Lou is threatened sometimes, but I don't think he has fear. Not yet, anyway. Lou is one of those guys: He's not a drinker, he's not a smoker, he doesn't play around on his wife. Lou is pretty much a straight arrow. He's a big boy. As long as he gets the job done and Roger and Cutler are nice to him, he knows how the business works.
So, you think they'd take his side over, say, Peggy's?
Havey: I don't think he's worried about Peggy. He came from an established place, and this is a woman in creative. I think the prospect of Don, if he does come back, would be threatening to Lou, but certainly not Peggy.
Is Lou looking over his shoulder? Or has Don been gone long enough at this point that Lou feels secure?
Havey: I think Lou is feeling pretty smug and satisfied. I don't think he's worried about Don Draper at all at this point.
Mad Men airs Sundays at 10/9c on AMC.