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John Slattery's Big 'Mad Men' Regret

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JOHN SLATTERY
John Slattery's Biggest 'Mad Men' Regret | Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

We may be in the final season of "Mad Men," but the AMC series isn't the only thing John Slattery has his mind on these days.

Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling, is also the director of "God's Pocket" (out May 9) starring "Mad Men" actress Christina Hendricks and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. In honor of the film, Slattery spoke to HuffPost TV via phone to talk directing, working with Hendricks and the final season of "Mad Men."

HuffPost TV: What was the difference between directing a movie and TV show?

John Slattery: I’d say the main difference is that a TV show -- because it goes on for 6 months or so -- the sets are there, the stages are there, most of the actors are there all the time. So if you make a mistake, you can go back and fix it two weeks or a month down the line before it actually airs. You can go through the whole edit process and go "You know, we screwed up. We didn’t get that shot." Whereas on this, there’s a 24-day schedule, it was a period movie, there were 40 people in it, 28 locations and it was made for not a lot of money. One [actor's] on for a week, one is on for three days and then they’re leaving town.

So there’s an added pressure to get it right the first time. And "right" is a very liquid term. You don’t want to sit on the whole process by saying, “it has to be this way,” but you also want to leave a scene feeling like you thoroughly investigated it and got what you wanted. It was a different kind of thing than I had ever experienced. Trying to make good creative decisions in a pressurized situation was probably the most difficult thing.

Did you feel ownership of it than the episodes of “Mad Men” that you've directed?

Yeah. It's more mine. “Mad Men” is Matt [Weiner’s] show. You’re facilitating someone else’s creative vision on “Mad Men,” whereas this was my idea -- or at least my idea to take Pete Dexter’s script and turn it into a movie. The script is Pete Dexter’s book reconfigured. But there’s a lot of satisfaction in that. There’s a feeling of responsibility, too.

Was it interesting working with Christina Hendricks in such a different role?

Yeah. I’ve seen her do so many things with her character on “Mad Men,” but outside of that, I’ve seen her try things on the show that made me think “this girl can really do anything.” So trying a whole other thing with the familiarity and shorthand we had from working together for so long was really amazing. She can do anything. Directing actors like Christina is really just a series of adjustments. They come in with so much and they offer you so much.

Are you and Christina close in real life?

Yeah. I mean I live in New York and she lives in L.A. But yeah, right from the first time we met we hit it off. She has a great sense of humor and she’s a great colleague to work with. We’ve all been through this unique circumstance, which is to have this television show running for as long as it’s been running, and it’s changed our lives and given us all kinds of opportunities. While people have similar experiences, no one but the people in ["Mad Men"'] know what it’s really like.

How did you manage to get Philip Seymour Hoffman on board?

I sent [his agent] the part of Shellburn. He said “I like it,” but his agent said he wanted to play the part of Mickey. And it didn’t take me long to figure out what a good idea that was. And then it just became about scheduling. Once he explained to me why he liked it and how much he liked it in such detail, I realized “Oh, he really does want to do this.” At first I thought I’d send it over to him and he’d say he liked it, but there would probably be something about scheduling and he’d probably be busy. But we worked it out.

Lance Acord, who shot the movie and is one of the great working cinematographers right now, claims that we made a drunken bet and he said “I’ll shoot the movie if you can get Phil Hoffman to star in the movie.” People are always like, “How the hell did you get Lance Acord to shoot your movie?” I don’t remember that conversation. I think he was always going to shoot the movie, he was just hedging his bets.

Was Philip Seymour Hoffman happy with the final result?

He saw several screenings when we were editing, and he had notes, all of which we used. He had great input, and then we all went to Sundance and sold it together. And then he and I and Christina did a whole bunch of press. He was really pleased with it. Which, given the circumstances, makes me feel very good about it.

Will you be directing any more episode of “Mad Men?”

I won’t. Christina just told me we only have like four more to shoot. We decided the movie was going to come out the on [May] 9th, and that would have been right in the middle of directing or prepping an episode. And I didn’t want to do that to either project. I would have just screwed both of them up. And I regret it. I’m sad that I’m not going to be able to direct any more episodes of “Mad Men,” but I think I made the right decision.

How do you feel about the end of “Mad Men”? You’ve been working on this for so many years.

I know. I came across a picture of her Kiernan [Shipka] -- her character -- smoking a cigarette. And I thought, “Oh my God. She was six years old when this started.” I’m not dealing with it until I have to. Each time we sit down for a table read and [Weiner] says “This is Season 7, Episode 9, 10 or 11 I think … oh my God.” So, it’ll be heavy. It’s been a big part of our lives for a long time. We’ve all become close. We’ll see each other. You run into people all the time. It’ll be sad, I’m sure.

I feel like Roger is the only person left in Don’s corner on “Mad Men" this season. Why do you think that is?

I was glad that [Roger was in Don's corner], because you never get to steer the ship. But then I read it and I thought “Well, of course he [wants him to come back.]” He makes a good argument, which is that this guy’s a genius and it would cost more to lose him than to keep him. While Roger has loyalty to Don, he’s also pragmatic about the fact that he has a business to run. What sense is there to get rid of the best guy in the business when it’s gonna cost you twice as much?

He does have a loyalty to him, though. He says prior to that, “Come back, I miss you already.” There’s a scene where he recounts some funny anecdote about some woman ... and the guy doesn’t get it. And then he walks upstairs kind of depressed and he’s like, “Ugh, I wish I had my friend here. There’s nobody around who just gets my jokes." They get each other. The scenes between Roger and Don -- I don’t know if they’re fun to watch, but they’re as least as much fun to act in as they are to watch. The two of us bouncing off each other has really been something. Since day one. Since the first scene we ever did together.

What’s been your favorite Roger Sterling moment?
There have been so many, it’s extraordinary … I loved those scenes of him drinking and eating oysters and talking about redheads in what’s supposed to be The Russian Tea Room I guess. And then him throwing up all those oysters. [That scene at the funeral] is a funny one, too. I got to act with my wife, which is always fun. And he tries to hit on her … Oh, he’s such a baby. Danny Strong punched me in the balls, that was fun. I directed that one too, so I was happy about the way that turned out.

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