Ben Feldman goes from ‘Mad Men’ to ‘A to Z’

Ben Feldman
Cristin Milioti as Zelda and Ben Feldman as Andrew in “A to Z.”
(Jessica Brooks / NBC)

Ben Feldman is moving on from nipple-gate.

The 34-year-old actor is perhaps best known, as of late, as off-kilter copywriter Michael Ginsberg on AMC’s “Mad Men” who, when we last saw him, had a breakdown -- resulting in a severed nipple -- set off by the introduction of the new office computer.

Things are less manic in his new series.

In the NBC comedy “A to Z,” Feldman stars as Andrew, a hopeless romantic who works at an online dating site and has a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams: a less sentimental lawyer named Zelda (played by Cristin Milioti).


The half-hour rom-com, which premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT, chronicles their relationship from beginning to end. 

Is it refreshing to be on a show that doesn’t require your character to mutilate his nipples--or, for that matter, lead to you talking about nipples to the press?

Uh, I will only talk about my nipples during this interview. Don’t get it twisted ... Oh, god. I truly did not mean for that to be a pun. That was so unintentionally cheesy. My nipples are thankful they get to stay in one piece on this new show ... so far.

You know what’s funny? That episode of “Mad Men” aired the night of the NBC upfronts [in which the networks pitch their fall slate to advertisers], and I literally said to my publicist, “I’m going to do this red carpet for the NBC upfronts, I’m happy to do it. But I’m just giving you a warning right now, a lot of the questions are going to be about nipples.”


It was weird, because people would be like, “Ben, big fan of ‘Mad Men.’ Let’s talk about your new show.” And I’m kind of like, “Mmm, you’re not a big fan of ‘Mad Men’ ” -- because, hello, you’d mention the nipples, am I right?  And then I walked by New York magazine. I remember walking by and there’s just this reporter going [demonstrates an uncertain, nervous face]. I turned to my publicist and winked. And the reporter was, like, “Can we talk about last night?” She was, like, shaking.

She was probably shaking because the sight of a torn off nipple in a box is hard to forget.  I also love how you’re going from Ginsberg, who is clearly not OK with technology and its advancements, to a character who works for an online dating company.
The juxtaposition is really weird.  It’s great. Ginsberg was this weird little oasis in my life that was different from anything I had done. I was super lucky to play him. It was a break from playing quirky, charming guy -- although, I mean Ginsberg was pretty [darn] quirky.  There was a lot of nice things about going from that show to this one: (a) Oh, gosh, it’s happening. My challenge is now going to be to not list things when talking about the show because, man, that will get eye rolls.

Let me start again.
First off, to go from a show that has a massive cast and sort of fit in every once in a while to this show, which has a smaller cast and I have a bigger part, I mean, that’s nice. I will admit. And it’s happy, relaxed and laid back and fun. And that’s what the show is.

I feel like Ginsberg would give you props. I wonder if he’d be open to joining an online dating site.
No. I think he would throw his computer out of the window.

It’s interesting that part of the backdrop to the show is the online dating site that Andrew works at, which is a very real way people are dating in 2014. Yet Andrew and Zelda don’t meet that way.
Yeah, I mean, it’s the world we’re in, dating by swipes and stuff. And there will be plenty of that on the show.  

When I read the script, that was genuinely what I got most excited about was that it had this online dating component because I am absolutely fascinated by it. And I missed that boat. It’s truly fascinating to me. I mean Tinder looks like the coolest thing in the world. I’m jealous of my friends who are single and, also, not on television -- because I feel like it would be really weird on TV and on Tinder.
Like, I was at a bachelor party recently and my buddy was, like, the only single guy. And I was, like, “Give me that phone. I’m you for 10 minutes.” And it was amazing. The swiping! It’s fascinating to me.


I’m glad this brings you so much joy. Some of us are mortified by it. Thumbs should not have so much power.
There’s, like, rhythm to the thumbing. It’s a dance. It’s like you’re drumming. And I can stare at the screen the way one might stare at a zamboni at a hockey rink. After a while, I’m just, like, “This is amazing. I can do it all night long.” But, yeah, I’m sure it’s scary. I think I marvel at the fact that it’s an entire world that didn’t exist a few years ago. I feel like one of my grandparents talking to you, “When I was a kid, we didn’t have …”

I’m sure other people are like, I can’t imagine a world where it didn’t exist. It isn’t shown on TV shows or movies that much.
I mean, let’s not pretend “You’ve Got Mail” doesn’t exist.  

Yeah, and there’s “Her” … but that was more creepy, less swoon-worthy. But, yeah, you just don’t see it a lot. Our show doesn’t live in that world too much, but it’s there.

This morning, when I left, my wife was watching “About a Boy” -- the movie. She had never seen it and was, like, “What is this?” And, I mean, she’s got to do work all day. I just saw her, I saw that moment, where she’s not looking at the computer anymore because she’s distracted by the movie. I was like, “Uh, honey, this is ‘About a Boy.’ It’s the best Nick Hornby has.” So I left her watching it.

How much do you know about how the story unfolds for Andrew and Zelda. And is your blood pressure normal now -- assuming there isn’t a Matt Weiner-like veil of secrecy on the show?

It’s weird because there’s a little bit of that in this, obviously. You don’t want to ruin the show. But it is certainly not -- I mean, I’m not terrified like I was on “Mad Men” of saying the wrong thing. But that was like boot camp about knowing what to say and what not to say in an interview.

When I first started on “Mad Men,” I did an interview and this wonderful AMC publicist called me because she was concerned, not even about what I said, just what my tone may or may not have indicated about the future of something. And so I was like, I need to start watching my tone!!


Twitter: @villarrealy

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