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Interview: 'Mad Men' star John Slattery discusses Roger Sterling's long, strange trip
Slattery also discusses his latest directing experiences
HitFix: And this season, how many times did you get to direct?
John Slattery: Two. I start editing Monday on my second one.
HitFix: And this is now the third season you've directed and the second season you've directed multiple episodes. Is there a "John Slattery" episode at this point? Do they target certain kinds of episodes for you?
John Slattery: No. I would say that's definitely not the case, because my schedule is, as is Jon Hamm's, we're here. They know that they have us from October to April, while the other directors come and go. Initially, I was supposed to direct two episodes earlier in the season and then 7 and 10, that was where I ended up. So now, you really get the scripts you get. I think they consider thoughtfully whoever's going to direct the first show. You want somebody who knows what they're doing. I'm getting to the point where I feel confident that I... I mean, I get through my day and I can bring my little spin to it, but it's pretty obvious what the intentions are. By the time we shoot it, there aren't a lot of questions as to what it wants to be. It's whether or not you can bring something to it that's yours and still tell the same story.
HitFix: Do you have more latitude now that you've done this a few times and you've proven you can be trusted with the material?
John Slattery: I wouldn't say that. You can pitch things and you can be denied or they'll be accepted, but it's still scrutinized and there's definitely an ongoing concern that it be done in a certain way, which is good. And then you find your way. You figure out how to shoot it. No one's gonna tell you necessarily how to shoot it or how to talk to the actors and get the performances. So you have these meetings and the intention of the scene is described or is explained and then you go out and, you know, if you get that, you can get whatever else you feel like you can add to it.
HitFix: As you look towards a Season 7 and hypothetically directing more, are there people you haven't gotten to work with or dynamics you haven't gotten to play with that you'd like to try your hand at?
John Slattery: I haven't worked that much with January Jones. Well a little bit, but I really think that she's terrific. She has a way of making it look like it's all really happening in real time while we're shooting it and it's sorta wild to watch. But they're all great. Vinnie. Jon. Lizzy Moss. They can do anything. Christina. And at this point, we've shot these rooms a lot, we've shot these sets a lot, we've all worn these clothes before. We're not repeating ourselves scene-wise, but we've been playing these characters long enough that they all know how to play the characters, so you're just offering them an idea or some kind of hopefully organic adjustment to what they just did, so you give yourself some options. But they all know what they're doing.
HitFix: Do you give yourself little projects each time you direct? Something new you want to learn how to use or something you've never tried before behind the camera?
John Slattery: Inevitably something comes along. There are big groups of people or exteriors with period cars or a crane, there's always something that you think to yourself, "I have no idea how to do this" and yet there's 100 people looking at you going, "What are we doing now?" So there is some element of it where you're inevitably flying by the seat of your pants. You have a plan and then you realize shortly upon arrival and the plan's not gonna work and then you figure it out, but a lot of people that really know what you're doing are standing around you, though.
HitFix: That was going to be my next question. Is that "seat of your pants" quality even quite the same when you're working with the same DP, the same costume designer, the same production designer, etc etc.
John Slattery: Yeah, you go, "I don't know. What are we gonna do?" You know what, actually? I would have to say that at this point, I have it all worked out in my head, but then rather than say that to someone, I'll get into the room and go, "OK. So let's rehearse the scene" and they'll rehearse it and leave open the possibility that I may want to go from the other side of the room or do some other thing. And sometimes that happens and sometimes you look at the DP and you go, "OK. It's obvious we have to shoot like this." So he'll offer his solutions or suggestions. I enjoy it. It's stressful, but I enjoy it.
HitFix: And you've done this and Jon's done it. Is there anyone else from the cast who you think out to dive in and direct an episode next season?
John Slattery: With this material and these people standing around you, with Chris Manley, the cinematographer, and Dan Bishop and Janie Bryant and all these people, the art direction, the lighting... They could all do it. They're all smart. They've all been standing on a set for 20 years. They could all do it. You have to want to.
HitFix: And it sounds like it, but are you viewing this definitely as being a penultimate season?
John Slattery: I am, yeah. I think we all are.
HitFix: Well that's obviously what the contracts say as of now, but you're taking it as being definitive?
John Slattery: In all the conversations I've had, there isn't any indication I've gotten that it's going to go any further than seven seasons. That's how we speak of it and everybody talks about it like that. And it makes sense to me. How long are we gonna do this? We've told the story of this group of people really well, I think. I don't know. It's really not up to me, obviously. I haven't even thought past the end next year. I haven't thought past the end of today. Because I don't know what's happening in the last two scripts. We're up to No. 11, so I really have no idea how this season's gonna end. I just hope I make it to end of next season. If we do a seventh season, which we will... Well, someone will. I hope I'm included!
HitFix: Are you talking John or are you talking Roger?
John Slattery: Well, without one, where goes the other?
HitFix: Well if *one* had a heart attack, the *other* could still direct an episode.
John Slattery: I suppose I could. Hypothetically speaking. He claims to know, Matt that is, where it's going or how it ends. He says he has a final image. I've read that.
HitFix: Oh, you've read about him saying that. But he doesn't tell you this. He doesn't try to reassure you on this.
John Slattery: He doesn't say anything about me. He says he knows how *it* ends. We've seen... You know, you lose a guy like Jared Harris and you think, "Oh shit. That could be me." Because actors don't come much better than him. I think we all miss him. And everybody knows that. But the story dictates that someone has to go and it was him.
"Mad Men" returns to AMC on Sunday, April 7.