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Emmys: John Slattery: 'You don't play the period, you play the scene'

July 14, 2011 |  1:03 pm


John Slattery has received a supporting actor nomination for every season "Mad Men" has been on the air. So you'd think this must be old hat to the actor who plays ad man Roger Sterling. But you'd be wrong.

"Mad Men" has consistently done so well, were you expecting this?  

It would be presumptuous to expect anything. It’s still a surprise and it’s exciting. That doesn’t really go away. The ritual of the experience is more familiar, but it doesn’t dampen the excitement.

To Matt Weiner’s credit, the show gets better every year. So I’m very happy for him. From a writing standpoint, you’d think the more stories you’d tell about these characters, the less there’d be, but they use that to inform the next season, getting a leg up to create a whole new canvas. It grows exponentially. I think the last season is the best it’s ever been.

How has Roger changed over the years?

It grows and regresses, digresses, like people do. The rug is pulled out from under them -- that happens to my character this year. And then things get further complicated. When it rains it pours. Matthew has a great skill at complicating these characters’ lives and keeping them just dissatisfied enough. The tension is what there is to play with –- it helps the actors stay active. Going into a scene with an intention. So from an acting and directing standpoint, the scenes are really, really satisfying to work on.

Are there challenges particular to this show?

On TV, the most challenging thing is not to assume you know how your character would react just because you’ve played it for years. You want to deliver the joke, but you don’t want your character to be a joke. Also, people wonder about the clothes and the cigarettes and the drinks -- but you don’t play the period, you play the scene. You play each moment as it comes.

Who do you think has been overlooked in the nominations?

I know on my show Vincent [Kartheiser], who plays Pete Campbell, has been overlooked for years. Every year. He acts so well that no one thinks he’s acting! I had the privilege of directing him this year -– how alive he is and how far his character is from who he is, people would be amazed. I know this would make him uncomfortable, but I feel like he deserves more recognition than he gets.

What do you think of directing?

It’s fantastic. It’s a great experience. Difficult. Getting it all done in the time they give you. I always wanted to do it, I just never really found the right situation.

What else is in the works for you?  

I did a little movie called “Return” directed by Liza Johnson. It was the only American entry in Cannes for 2011 in the directors’ Fortnight. Just one section of the festival. I play a guy who lives in the woods and does a lot of drugs. It’s always good to try something new. 

I just did another movie called "Family Tree" -- another small independent movie. Gabrielle Union and Jena Malone and Zach Gilford were in it. I play Zach’s estranged father.


Emmy nominee reactions 2011

HBO dominates the Emmy nominations 

Emmys: 'Mad Men,' 'Boardwalk Empire' score big in best drama

 -- Deborah Vankin

Photo: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times