18 things we learned from the ‘Mad Men’ PaleyFest panel

LOS ANGELES-The final season of “Mad Men” launches April 13 on AMC. And while none of the actors would dare give even a hint of what was to come with their characters during the show”s PaleyFest session March 21 at the Dolby Theater here (show creator Matthew Weiner has trained them well),  they revealed a great deal about how they feel as the show winds down. And they”re just as sad about it coming to an end as the rest of us.

Taking a cue from “Breaking Bad,” the first part of Season 7 will air this April and May, and then fans will have to wait until April 2015 to see the final seven episodes. The cast has finished shooting the first flight of episodes and will resume shooting the final seven next Friday, March 28.

Participating on the panel were Jon Hamm (Don Draper), Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell), Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson), Christina Hendricks (Joan Harris), Robert Morse (Bertram Cooper), Jessica Pare (Megan Draper) and Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper). Hitfix talked to each of them on the red carpet as well. Those interviews will start posting on Saturday.

The warmth between the cast members was clear, especially between Moss and Kartheiser as they giggled and grinned at each other throughout much of the panel. Weiner walked the red carpet and sat in the audience, but didn”t participate in the panel, moderated by TV Guide”s Michael Schneider.

Prior to the panel discussion, PaleyFest screened the Season 6 finale, which left Draper”s future at Sterling Cooper & Partners (SC&P) in jeopardy as his partners decide he needs to take a long break from work after he botches the Hershey account.

Here are 18 things we learned about “Mad Men” as we take a very deep dive into the evening:
1. The cast feels very sad right now: “I think we”re in some phase of grief right now,” Hamm said. “It”s probably denial. I think we are collectively starting to realize the end is coming faster than we thought it was. There”s nothing to prepare to for it. My operating agenda is have as much fun as we”ve always had making the show until we can”t make it anymore.” Pare confessed that she cries “every day,” thinking about the show”s end. Moss admitted she felt “a boulder in her chest” as the realization that the end was coming. But before it got too heavy, she joked, “It”s starting to sink in that we”re saying goodbye to our work and our characters, but also to this family. I don”t plan on ever seeing any of these people again.”  And then there”s Shipka, who really put it into perspective: “I”ve been on the show longer than I haven”t, which is so weird to think about,” said the 14 year old.

2. It wasn”t easy for Hamm to play the “Hershey” pitch scene: In the final episode of Season 6, Draper confesses during the Hershey pitch that he grew up very poor in a whorehouse, much to the shock of Hershey execs and his co-workers. It”s the most honest he”s ever been in his workplace: “It in way, Don was trying to process his life and his place in his life and his job,” Hamm said. “For whatever reason, it was a completely honest moment, like ‘I”m going to try this. Maybe it will be a step in the right direction,” and it was a step in the opposite direction. It was hard to do because it was unlike any kind of Don we”ve seen in the office, so it was a challenge.”

3. Megan sure sees Don very differently than the rest of us: “Megan takes it for granted that she can have everything. She can have a career and family and a husband that loves her and supports her. I think Don wants to be that man, he wants her to have what she wants as well, but it”s not an easy switch to flip,” said Pare. “I think Megan sees Don in a light that no one else sees him. She thinks he”s charming and funny and warm and sexy and these are not things that people in the office see in him. Maybe it”s naive, but I prefer to think of it as optimistic.”

4. Elisabeth Moss is a fan of “The Apartment”:  Moss made a delightful reference to the movie when she was asked if Peggy would have been happy remaining romantically involved with her boss, Ted Chaough. “Not with him married,” Moss said. “She believes in the best in people. She”s young, she fell in love, and that”s all she saw. I don”t think Ted misled her. I think he thought he was going to leave his wife, but that”s the way it crumbles, cookie wise,” said Moss, intentionally quoting CC Baxter from “The Apartment.”

5. Joan wants Roger in their son”s life, but who knows if it will work: As Season 6 ended, Roger spent Thanksgiving with Joan (and Bob Benson), as he tried to form a relationship with his and Joan”s secret son, Kevin. “Many of her decisions she”s made have been to take care of [Kevin]  and protect her family, fiercely protect them,” Hendricks said. “She has feelings and a deep history with Roger. [She”s thinking], ‘What”s best for my son? Can I open it up to a more modern situation? Can we figure this out?” We”ve just opened that door, so we don”t know where it will lead.”

6. Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks love their scenes together: “They are always some of my favorite scenes to do,” Moss said. “It”s true that we don”t get them very often, it”s like these two planets orbiting each other and they collide during these main events. Joan is always going to be smarter than Peggy, but I think she has a respect for the path that Peggy has taken. Matt said they were never going to be roommates, they”re not going to be necessarily friends. It”s a different relationship, but it”s a strong and interesting one.”

7. Don Draper envy has worn off:  Kartheiser remarked that Hamm”s character keeps insanely repeating the same mistakes, which have made his feet of clay more apparent. “Everyone wanted to be Don Draper in Season, and slowly, less and less people want to.”

8. Pete may have lost his mom at sea, but he lost his bearings when his Charleston partner and wife, Trudy, tossed him out:  “The one thing that was consistent [for Pete] was Trudy and she”s had enough. Pete doesn”t have a lot of friends-really, any friends,” said Kartheiser. “But I don”t think his mother passing was as big of an isolating moment in his life as Trudy reaching her point of fed-uppedness…He”s one of those guys, who”s always sticking his toes in the mud. He can”t help from getting dirty and he always has to pay for it. He never gets away with it.”

9. Jon Hamm has a video he wants you to watch: As talk turned to the mysterious Bob Benson character, Hamm brought up an amusing YouTube video that sets “Mad Men” in the ’80s, with Bob Benson as the star,  and plays the opening credits of the imagined show to the theme song from the ’80s sitcom, “Benson,”which starred Robert Guillaume as a butler, who was much smarter than his employer. “It”s 45 seconds of your life and then you”re going to watch it 10 more times,” Hamm said.  So here is it (and how remarkable that out of the 1,000 or so views it”s gotten, at least one of them is by Jon Hamm). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=la-g5HEM5Gw

10: Sometimes the cast is surprised by the final product:  When the actors watch the show on television, ‘Sometimes, we are like ‘Oh my God, what a moment!,” but we don”t think of it as a moment [when we”re shooting],” said Morse. “We”re like ,”what is my goddamn line? Where should I move?””

11. Some of them know what happens to their character in the end: “I think some of us know where our characters are going to be, but I don”t think any of us have the scope, tone or vibe of the whole,” said Hamm, “and I think that”s probably been consistent through the majority of the show. Matt will tell us certain things or ask certain things about what”s going on in the characters” lives.

12. No one expected the show to make it as long as it has:  “After we shot the pilot, it was like, ‘Well, that was fun. We”ll never see each other again,” said Hamm. “It won”t get picked up like 99% of the pilots. Then after Season 1, we didn”t know if we”d get picked up. Season 2, same thing. There was all this drama. ‘If and when, but mainly if”.”… With Season 5, we realized we”d have an end [when the show got renewed through Season 7]. That must be an incredible gift for a writer, to know ‘I have X amount of episodes left to get to the finish line.” Without putting words in his mouth -because he puts enough in mine-I think that”s probably what Matt would say.”

13. Jon Hamm can go a really long time without blinking: Moderator Schneider brought up how much of  ‘Mad Men” takes place without the characters saying a word and asked Hamm to address how much of a challenge it is to convey things via silence.  Hamm, who was seated beside Schneider, turned to him with a mock serious look on his face and simply stared at him, not saying a word, as a way of answering the question. But it went on and on and on, for at least 90 seconds, much longer than one of Craig Ferguson”s “awkward pause” running gags. To his credit, Schneider went with it and stared back, as the silence became very uncomfortable. With a close up on Hamm”s face, it was clear that he also wasn”t blinking, which added to the tension. Finally Schneider broke the silence.

14. Pete”s thinning hair is really a pain for Kartheiser: For the last few seasons, Pete”s hairline has been receding. Kartheiser has a full head of hair, but he”s agreed to have his hair shaved back for the part. “I don”t know how far we”re going to take it,” said Kartheiser, when asked if we”ll see Pete go completely bald. “My hair and make up regimen has gone from 15 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes. It”s not fun. It was an idea of Matt”s and I liked it. It”s a physical thing, but it plays into [Pete”s] psyche and his aging process. It”s fun just to do it everyday because I really feel like I”m transforming even more.”

15. Sal could still return:  Never count out the beloved art director or any old character popping up again, as we saw with Duck this season or with Rachel Menken in Season 3.  “They all still work in New York,” Hamm says. “We do have these people who blow in and out of these characters” lives, so I certainly wouldn”t rule it out. It”s not up to me, but we”ve always been very good, as a show, at keeping that universe very real.

16: Pete scared Kartheiser: When asked if any of the actors dream about their characters, Kartheiser said he once dreamt “that Pete Campbell was looking through a window at me, saying ‘Get me out!,” Pete Campbell looks really creepy,” he said, with a laugh.

17. The show is extremely accurate, unless you don”t think so: “A bunch of us have met [advertising] people from that era and they fall into two distinct categories,” said Hamm. There are ones who say, “‘None of it happened like that. You guys are crazy,” and the other is ‘Yep, it all happened.” So maybe half of them didn”t get invited to the party.”

18. Elisabeth Moss and Matthew Weiner shared a special moment: Each actor revealed their most memorable moment. They ranged from Hamm loving the first day of shooting to Kartheiser realizing his character”s desperation in Season 1 when he chases Draper down and threatens to reveal his big secret, Hendricks reading the “Babylon” episode and learning about Joan and Roger”s affair and thinking “this is going to be so much fun,” and Pare”s sensing that Don was going to propose to her (and that she”d get to stick around the show)  when the prop master came to measure her ring finger, but the sweetest one belonged to Moss in that it serves as a reminder that, as successful and acclaimed as it has been, “Mad Men”s” run was anything but certain: “I remember and Matt remembers, when we shot the pilot at Silver Cup Studios [in New York] and we were on the roof, watching the skyline, and we were like, ‘That was really wonderful” and ‘I hope I get to come back and do it again”,” recalled Moss, starting to choke up. “It was just this simple, honest moment and eight or nine years later, I look back on that with a lot of fondness. It was really special to me.”