Interview: 'Mad Men' star John Slattery discusses Roger Sterling's long, strange trip
Slattery also discusses his latest directing experiences
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In yesterday's first interview of "Mad Men" week, Jessica Pare taught us about the challenges of promoting a show that you're not allowed to preview at all. Of course, she also talked about Megan's gifts as an actress and about the allure of Dark Don. I still like the interview, even if she wouldn't admit she was in Hawaii.
But not all of the "Mad Men" interviews I did focused on the future or on things the actors couldn't talk about.
A four-time Emmy nominee, John Slattery saw Roger Sterling go through some changes last season, fighting back from the brink of obsolescence with the help of enlightenment gleaned in one of the great LSD trips ever captured on film/video. Where does Season 6 find Roger in his journey? Well, without spoiling specific details, Slattery was able to give some insight into the character's progression.
In addition to acting on "Mad Men," Slattery has also become a key part of the show's directing stable, helming the exceptional "Signal 30" last season, as well as "Blowing Smoke" and "The Rejected." Slattery directed two more episodes this season and we talked about his learning curve behind the camera and the unique challenges of achieving the writer-specific "Mad Men" vision.
Click through for the full interview, which manages to be thoughtful and interesting without spoiling anything at all...
HitFix: Last season it felt like we saw Roger go through a process of reexamining his position as something of a class clown at a relatively advanced age and realizing that it may not be a satisfactory life. Has it been fun to play that introspective side to the character?
John Slattery: That's an interesting way to put it. I think maybe he is a late bloomer. Yeah, maybe he's at this stage trying to figure out something that's going to sustain a little more interest than just the things he's been up to before... through this inadvertent acid experience. I think he's opening. I think he's willing to change or willing to do what he has to to find some sort of sustained meaning in the whole thing. I think given the focus on youth that exists now, that existed probably more then, and being the age he is, there are all kinds of things that enter into the question and I think he's interested in something new.
HitFix: This realization could have been negative, but the way you're explaining it sounds like you take it as positive progress?
John Slattery: I do! I think it's positive. I think having possibilities and being open to them is really all you can ask for and I think that's what he's arrived at. When he talks to Marie, Megan's mother, about, "I had this experience and I arrived at this realization that it's too early to give up," so if that's the case, then you're going to soldier on and then what are you going to go after? And what are you going to look for? And I think that's where he is. He's trying to figure out what he's looking for.
HitFix: That's an optimistic prognosis for Roger. It feels like as we left last season and begin this season, Don is unraveling a bit and Pete is unraveling to some degree...
John Slattery: Yeah! Well, I think Roger had his unraveling. I think everybody's on their own timetable. I think all the people struggle -- Peggy, Joan, everybody in the office, they all do. Kenny. Harry Crane. They're all trying. And it's cyclical and it's somewhat liquid and when you think you've got it all figured out... Look at Pete. He gets out to Larchmont or Scarsdale or wherever the hell he lives and he's got it all -- He's got the clients and the pretty wife and the kid and the dog and the pool. And he couldn't be more miserable. If Don's unraveling and Roger is trying to sew it back together or trying to move on from his last unraveling, I think it's just where they are. I don't think it's an endgame for any of them at this point. He hopes not.
HitFix: You could hope for a happy ending for the character...
John Slattery: I don't even know if I want it "happy." It's gonna end, soon. I expect based on what's come before that it will be unexpected and complicated. I think they're very fully drawn characters. They go through all kinds of stuff all the time.
HitFix: What was your reaction to the LSD episode when you saw that script last season?
John Slattery: I thought it was brilliant. I thought it was brilliant to choose Roger to have this experience, the guy who was probably the most, you could argue, shut-down and where he'd come from, that he'd lost this account and it looked like he was gonna be marginalized permanently and rendered pretty much irrelevant and then he's the guy who has this experience and awakens to the fact that there's something else to be considered. That's really smart storytelling and I'm glad that it landed on me. It was fun to do.
HitFix: Did you know immediately how you wanted to play it?
John Slattery: No. I didn't. In fact, we reshot a couple scenes, or at least one scene, because the tone that Matt [Weiner] wanted wasn't there. He has very definite ideas of what it's going to look like and what it's to be played like, but we're not all in Matt's head, so sometimes it isn't that way. Sometimes that's OK. We all add things to it, but sometimes it needs to be readjusted. So no, the answer is that I didn't have a definitive idea of how I wanted to play it and there were a lot of pieces, so you do one piece and knock that off and then do another piece and it cuts together a little more organically than it actually is played.
HitFix: Can you define what the difference was in tone from the original playing of that scene and the way Matt wanted and refined it?
John Slattery: The scene I was referring to was the scene in the bathtub with Jane and I was looking at the 1919 World Series in my head, or out in the bathroom somewhere, and initially he wasn't happy with the set and then he decided that he wanted the tone to be less sorta stoney-y, more lucid and just that you're having this picture and it's actually happening, so that it isn't like you've had too many drinks. It wasn't that. It was something a little more lucid that he wanted, I think, a little more astonished and amused that this was actually happening right in front of his face.
[Slattery talks directing on the next page...]