John Slattery is more than just the well-coiffed, dapperly dressed Roger Sterling he plays on AMC’s Mad Men. For starters, he has garnered four consecutive Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama but has yet to net a win — a fact that can be attributed to welcome competition from the acclaimed drama’s stellar cast. He’s also a skilled director who is readying to step behind the Men camera for a third time. What’s more, Slattery’s just really funny — as demonstrated in his feigned disgust over costar Jon Hamm being “better at everything than anyone else.”
TVLine sat down with the actor to discuss said Emmy snubbery, the (eventual) return of Mad Men after a much-too-lengthy hiatus, and more.
TVLINE | Since the Emmys are right around the corner, lets tackle that topic first: You’re nominated for a fourth consecutive time — as are some of your castmates — yet Mad Men has yet to score an acting win. What gives?
I think the whole thing is rigged, personally. It’s a conspiracy. [Laughs] What do I say about that? You can’t get offended. The fact that you get nominated at all and that anyone even cares what I do is flattering enough. If you go into these things expecting to win, then you’re an idiot. Having said that, would I rather win than lose? Sure. It’d probably make the awards show more fun to sit through.
TVLINE | How do each of your nominations, when paired with zero wins, impact your mindset going into the big night?
[Sarcastically] Mostly, I’m filled with bitterness. I start feeling bitter as soon as I start getting dressed, and it lasts the entire night….
TVLINE | Oh, and I’m sure the same goes for the entire Mad Men cast.
Oh yeah, they’re all furious, the whole group. [Laughs] Everybody is pissed off and hates the Emmys — except Matt Weiner. He loves the Emmys; it’s his favorite day of the year. [Laughs] Really, we’re all just glad to be there. And then we all start whispering “loser” to each other as we start losing, one-by-one. In all seriousness, as corny as is sounds, it is a surprise and an honor to be nominated.
TVLINE | You’ve now returned to working on the show after a longer-than-anticipated hiatus. How was that first day back on set?
You know, for some reason I seem to be first up on the first day most of the time. I don’t know why, but then all of a sudden you’ve got a drink in your hand! In my first scene this season, I was supposed to be half in the bag and telling jokes — and I forgot how to smoke and drink and talk at the same time. [Laughs] It was trickier than I’d remembered. I was nervous the first day back, like the first day of school, but that wore off after awhile.
TVLINE | Your costar Jon Hamm directed the premiere episode. How was it working under him? Any fun stories you can spill?
The only difference between Jon as an actor and Jon as a director is that he was actually on time for work — that’s the only one I can detect. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Were you able to impart any wisdom given your prior experiences directing Mad Men?
No, just like he usually does, he steps right in and he’s the best guy at everything in the room. [Laughs] He’s a very smart guy and obviously knows the show better than any of us because he’s here from the first shot to the last shot, every single day. He understands the process of not only the show and how it’s produced, but acting as well, so it took a very short time to do all of these scenes in a day. He understood the pace that we had to do this episode in, and he gave brief, useful direction. We’ve obviously been playing these characters for a number of years now and know them well, but you have to play a scene moment-to-moment, and Jon just gets it. He jumped right in like he’d been doing it his whole life. He’s just better at everything than anyone else. He looks like that, and he can do everything better, too.
TVLINE | I can’t argue with that. You’re now gearing up to direct another episode of Mad Men. Are you looking forward to it? Or is it really stressful to tackle a project like that?
It’s fun and it’s challenging, but I’m not stressed about it. I look forward to it. We never get the script until just before we start, so I have no idea what the story will be. I guess I’m a little less daunted having done it before, but I also know that it’s a lot of work. I’m a little more emotionally prepared for it than the first time, and now know that the anticipating of it is much scarier than the actual doing of it.
TVLINE | Your cast is full of such professionals — and the show clearly speaks to that — but is it difficult at all to actually give direction to castmates? Especially in scenes that you also have to act in?
The acting and directing at the same time is a little distracting, and I think Jon Hamm would agree, only because you have to finish a take and then go back and watch it and redo it; it’s a split focus. You want to get the scene right from an acting standpoint, but you’re also watching [for the direction]. The second time I did it was easier, and in my case, I just have to be more prepared than usual.
TVLINE | Now, I know you have to be extra tight-lipped when it comes to discussing the new season, but what can you say about Roger Sterling in Season 5?
Yes, we do [have to keep mum]. All I can say is that he’s still here. I’m sitting here right now in the same costume, so I’m taking that as a good sign. And that’s all I can say….