Though he’s now best known for playing surly burnout Stan Rizzo on Mad Men, Jay R. Ferguson has had a long career in Hollywood. At 15, he was picked to star as Ponyboy in the TV adaptation of The Outsiders, and he went on to appear in all four seasons of Evening Shade. He has also popped up on episodes of Weeds, Castle, and Burn Notice. As Mad Men heads into its final seven episodes, The A.V. Club talked to Ferguson about his first love and worst job.
Jay R. Ferguson: Oh, boy. Are we saying worst job as an actor, or just over my lifetime?
The A.V. Club: Over your whole lifetime.
JRF: Mowing lawns in the summer heat of Texas sucked pretty bad. I used to do that for money when I was younger. Professionally… I mean, there have certainly been some projects that I’ve regretted doing after the fact, but I wouldn’t be able to name any of them.
I have to say that I’ve been really lucky and fortunate to not really have that many jobs that I hated. I mean, even when I was younger. Mowing lawns for money in Texas and having to get up at six in the morning to get the whole street done before it got too hot, that was pretty awful. But it was funny that while I was doing that, I had my little cassette Walkman and I’d listen to “Straight Outta Compton” over and over again, so I’d be a little 12-year-old white kid in suburban Dallas mowing lawns singing the words to “Fuck Tha Police.” It was really quite a combination.
JRF: Getting my first big-screen TV was a pretty cool moment. I’m a big sports guy, primarily football, but I love watching golf and movies. I think that for any guy, that the time you get your first big TV is pretty fun.
AVC: Do you remember when that was?
JRF: No, gosh, I had been given one by a friend probably around 2000? 2001? Something like that. But it was one of those old, humungous ones that are like four feet deep and take up half the room. It was a projection screen thing, but that wasn’t the first one I bought. The one that I bought, that was when I felt I had really arrived. That was probably in 2005. So, not that long ago. Ten years ago.
JRF: Even though I’m a family guy, there is something that feels really beautiful about eliminating all children from flying. So, children have to fly on child-only planes. And the pilots have to be children as well.
AVC: Do 14-year-olds count? Or do they have to be under 12?
JRF: I’d actually make it 21; 21-and-under have to fly on separate planes. Because, you know, you get the older kids, and they’re disrespectful with their loud music and stuff on the plane.
Actually, I want to amend it a little bit. Let’s say between 21 and 60, you fly on a special plane. Children have to fly on a separate plane, and people older than 60 have to fly on a separate plane also, because for some reason, after you get a little older, you forget that when you pull on the seat in front of you to get up from your seat that the person sitting in that seat actually feels something. So, I think I’ve got to add that as well. Wow, people are going to love me after this interview.
AVC: Have you ever been on a flight with an entire eighth-grade class going to Washington, D.C.? Or a high school marching band going to Disneyland? Those are the worst.
JRF: I can’t imagine.
Believe me, I’m a victim to this now myself. I would happily fly on all-children airplanes, because the parents obviously have to be with them. You know, that would make the parents have a more enjoyable flight as well because they don’t have to worry about their kids being little assholes. It’s all kids, so it’s just a plane full of little assholes. The parents can kick back and not worry that their kids are kicking the seat in front of them and just have a good time.
JRF: Obnoxious, loud. Not much has changed, now that I think about it.
I loved going to the movies. I was certainly a class clown. I got in my fair share of trouble. I was grounded a lot. I think I was always considered a nice guy, though. I wasn’t a mean kid. I got that going for me.
JRF: There were so many. I had a thing for Kerri Green from The Goonies and Lucas. I had a thing for Molly Ringwald, certainly. I had a big crush on Alyssa Milano.
AVC: Whatever happened to Kerri Green?
JRF: I know, right?
AVC: I’ll have to look that up later.
JRF: Maybe you should look her up and ask her 11 questions.
JRF: Probably the theme from The Dukes Of Hazzard or the theme from Star Wars.
JRF: I love my southern roots, I love old country music like that. It was my favorite show growing up, and Star Wars is my other obsession.
JRF: I got up. I got fitted for my tux for the premiere in a couple of weeks. I went to Subway, and that’s it so far. I’m about to eat my delicious sandwich.
JRF: Not really, but it does make me remember something that was funny. A group of us from the show went into the season-two premiere of The Walking Dead. We were all at a table together: me, and Lizzy [Moss], and [Jon] Hamm, and Rich [Sommer]. So, we’re all sitting around this table, and this guy comes up to me and says “Hey, congratulations!” And I kind of looked at him and said “Oh, thanks!” I just assumed he was, I don’t know, referring to me being on the show or something. I had no idea. And he’s like “Yeah, that was a really good premiere.” I started to kind of get it, but I still didn’t know exactly who he thought I was. I said, “Oh, well thanks! Thanks!” And he said, “You know, it’s weird. I thought I heard you were British?” And then I understood that he thought I was Andrew Lincoln. I decided I could tell him that I’m not who he thinks I am, or I could just play along with it and have fun with it. So I said, “Oh yeah, a lot of people think that, but it’s not true. I’m actually from Texas.” He said “Wow, okay, cool!” Then he asked me a few questions, and I just kept playing along, and one by one, everybody from our table got up and walked away because they were cracking up. It was a pretty funny little joke.
AVC: Did you meet Andrew Lincoln? Have you told him this story?
JRF: No, I’ve never met him.
AVC: Did you get a photo with the guy?
JRF: I’m trying to remember if he wanted my autograph.
Oh, I will say this: When I had my beard—This is not going to seem crazy at all, but there were plenty of people who thought I was Zach Galifianakis. There was a time when I came out of a restaurant in New York and this girl was convinced that’s who I was and asked me for my autograph. So, I gave her an autograph as Galifianakis. And I probably misspelled it, too.
I went along with that one a couple of times. I got so tired of telling people, “No, no.” I was like, “Yeah, it’s me.”
JRF: I’d be in trouble.
AVC: Lawn care?
JRF: I don’t know if I have any skills. I’ve always thought if it didn’t work out for me in this business, I’d go and be a winemaker or something. Just live on a vineyard and pick grapes. It has to be some sort of manual labor, because my skill set is pretty scant, at best.
JRF: For a while there, I collected all my Star Wars stuff, which I still had until my kids destroyed it all. When I was a kid, a friend and I used to go to old ghost towns and dig up old artifacts that were left behind. That was a lot of fun. That’s pretty much it.
JRF: It would have to be sushi or Indian food.
AVC: Do you have any specific place in mind, or just whatever?
JRF: No, I would have some specific places in mind. I would want Nozawa to come out of retirement and serve me my last meal.
Bonus 12th question from Constance Wu: When did you first fall in love, and what did it feel like?
JRF: Oh, boy.
AVC: It’s a deep one.
JRF: Let’s see. I guess I was 15. I don’t know. It felt awesome. I think I knew that was the case when she had to leave to go back to the east coast. She lived out here temporarily. I went to the airport with her, and we were just sobbing in each other’s arms in the airport, and that was the first time that had ever happened. So, that was a wakeup call. Then I blew it, of course.
AVC: What would you like to ask the next person? Usually, we don’t tell people who it is, but I’ll tell you because it’s another Mad Men person: It’s Kevin Rahm.
JRF: How many times have you moved your ball to give yourself a better lie? And you can absolutely tell him that’s coming from me.