Interview: ‘Mad Men’ co-star John Slattery

Senior Television Writer
03.26.12 10 Comments

After I watched the “Mad Men” premiere (which I reviewed here), I did a couple of interviews about the events of it that I agreed to run the morning after it aired. One was with creator Matthew Weiner, and this one is with Roger Sterling himself, John Slattery. Slattery and I spoke about Roger’s position in the agency, his reaction to a familiar character’s return to the office, and, in non-spoiler territory, about his experience directing his third episode this season (he and I discussed his directorial debut last season), and how Jon Hamm did when he followed in Slattery’s footsteps and got behind the camera, all coming up just as soon as I buy myself a very beautiful picture of something to look at…

Without Lucky Strike, and with the company in the position it’s in, what value does Roger offer at this point?

I think that’s up for grabs. I think if you look at the first episode, he’s just trying to hang onto his office. Pete Campbell puts up a good argument. He’s the one bringing in all the business. And Roger, despite the fact that he had the account that kept the lights on in the place for years, that’s not the case anymore. It’s “What have you done for me lately?” And there’s no argument against it. Pete’s right. I have to figure out my own way to go around that. I think he is scrambling. I’m trying to figure out what to do.

You have to take his age into account, too. It’s hard to start over, to regroup like that at that point. So that’s basically where he is. I think he’s on unsteady ground.

Well, how worried is he about his position? There’s a sense that he makes that deal with Harry to try to head off bigger trouble with Pete.

His name is on the building, but does he care? That’s the bigger question. You could argue that his nose hasn’t been to the grindstone for the last few years anyway. Maintaining that account was his only job. So he could sail off into the sunset. He has the money, doesn’t need to work. So that’s basically what remains to be seen.

There’s that great moment in the premiere where Roger asks Jane why she doesn’t sing like Megan, and she asks him why he doesn’t look like Don. What exactly happened to that relationship in the last four years?

I will quote someone later in the season who says, “You know what happiness is? Happiness is the moment before you want more happiness.” Happiness only lasts so long.

So is this something that Don should be worrying about down the line with Megan?

I don’t want to go that far. If you look what’s happened before, and what these characters have come through. It’s interesting; the whole season is about change. Obviously, we’re getting into this iconic period of the ’60s, and change is all around them, and who decides to go with the flow and who decides to dig their feet in and try to remain who they are.

I don’t know how much you can say about this, but when Joan brings the baby to the office and Roger marches up with a smile on his face and says the “There’s my baby!” line, what exactly were you playing there? What’s going through Roger’s head?

What I’ll say is that the thing that appeals to me about Roger is that he isn’t someone who gets rattled easily. There’s a potentially overwhelming theme. Whether it’s a front or not, he seems to take it all in stride, as though people bring in his babies every day. Maybe he goes back to his office and starts shaking. But I think he has to keep up appearances.

Did you direct any episodes this year?

I directed the fifth episode.

And how did you feel, confidence-wise, compared to the two you did last season?

I think I felt the most confident this time. I knew what to expect time-wise a little better. It’s never easy. You think you’ve got it wired, and you’re presented with a whole new series of challenges: location, casting, etc. This one, I lucked out with an amazing script, and I prepared a little earlier all the stuff I had to do on camera. I knew better to get that out of the way, so that I didn’t have to worry about my performance in a moment to moment sense as much. And you have these people, these actors: Vincent and Elisabeth and Jared and Jon, of course, and Christina. You don’t have to do too much. Turn the camera on and get out of the way. And then it’s just a series of adjustments; try one like this, like that, and give you some options. I think it turned out very well.

And when Hamm directed his episode, did everyone give him an easier or a harder time than they gave you last season?

We tried to punk him a little bit. But there’s also 50 other people standing around, and everyone knows how little time there is to shoot everything. I think Vinny started doing the scene and mouthing the lines with no volume, and Hamm came in and said, “What the hell are you doing?” We had good intentions of punking him, and I chickened out. He’s an authoritative guy. He stepped right into that without skipping a beat, and he knows how to be brief and to the point, and knows that, “Okay, we have that one, now let’s try one like this, one like that, and then wer’e done.” It was a pretty seamless transition.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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