Jwithout Slattery looks terrible. “I hate to ruin your hopes,” the 60-year-old from New York tells me over the phone. “I’m sweating. I make a cup of tea. I just trained I…” He pauses, searching for the right word to describe his current ghoulism. He sighs. “I look like sh*t.” I can’t corroborate the supposed horror show his looks are, but I’m not sure I believe him. Not John Slattery? Not mad Men‘s impeccably tailored playboy Roger Sterling? But he’s the king of pocket squares! With hair as white and well groomed as a Dulux puppy!
Slattery ruins his public image while circling his feet at home with his dog, at least his voice as we remember it — that smooth, honeyed cadence that makes him Hollywood’s go-to for storytellers, statesmen, and authority figures. Tony Stark’s industrial father in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The politician who tried to introduce golden showers to the decidedly unkinky Carrie Bradshaw Sex and the City. The suburban mayor who played Eva Longoria’s character in Romance Desperate Housewives before being impaled on a white picket fence.
Still, it’s Roger Sterling who is the greatest. Not that he was particularly keen on playing it, though mad Men The film first went into production in 2007. He was originally cast as the narrator for the role of Don Draper, the show’s impossibly handsome, disgracefully cut star, ultimately played by Jon Hamm. Then the producers asked him to read for Roger instead. He was injured briefly. “They said, ‘Here’s the thing — we’ve got this guy,'” he recalls. “[Hamm] claims I was in a bad mood the entire time we were filming the first episode because of that, but I don’t think that’s true.” He digresses. “At one point I saw him and I was like, ‘Oh – they’re sure do got this guy’.”
“When Hamm walked into a room in that getup, people just went catatonic,” he laughs. “Sometimes guest stars would come up to him and their lines would go right out of their heads. They just wouldn’t know what to do. It’s happened more than once.” Other cast members got the same reaction. “Christina Hendricks walked into the room and people s***ed each other — it was amazing.”
Let’s not be modest – he must have unleashed his fair share of breathlessness? “Well… we’ve all been sort of curated,” he concedes. “The look. I’m not falsely humble either. I certainly looked different in that getup than when I walk around every day.”
Seven years after the end of the series, Slattery and Hamm are real besties. To the extent that Slattery is basically doing interviews on his behalf. Both stars in the comic caper Admit it, Fletch, but it’s very much a Hamm vehicle – Slattery is, to be honest, hardly in it. But Hamm is busy filming the third season of Jennifer Aniston’s Apple TV+ series The morning show, Slattery stepped in to talk about it. Hamm is also starring in a movie he directed, next year’s dark comedy Maggie Moore(s), so Slattery thought “that I owe him.” He would also like to work again with Greg Mottola, the director of Very bad and adventure land and the man behind the camera Admit it, Fletch. “If he does anything else, I hope he’s like, ‘That guy’s human! He’s been pushing for a film that he’s in for five minutes.”
Five minutes of it mad Men goodbye aside, Admit it, Fletch is a hoopla. Hamm is a journalist-turned-private investigator investigating stolen art in New York City. Until a dead woman is found at his whereabouts and he becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation. Surrounding him is a litany of eccentric suspects, from Kyle MacLachlan as a germaphobic art dealer to Lucy Punch as a fugitive lifestyle guru whose name might as well be Pwyneth Galtrow. Slattery plays Hamm’s former editor, or “a gruff, foul-lipped drunkard,” as he describes it. “I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he jokes.
Admit it, Fletch is adapted from the same Gregory Mcdonald novels that inspired it fletching, the ’80s comedy that helped make Chevy Chase a movie star. Well back then. I tell Slattery that as a British millennial with only a vague knowledge of Chase, let alone franchises in which he starred, I didn’t really know what to expect from the film. “Those of us of a certain age loved that movie,” he says. “I forgot what year that was – do you know? Let’s see…” He consults Google. “Eighty-five! So about a hundred years ago.”
That fletching of 2022 seems very different from its predecessor – bubbly, goofy, tongue-in-cheek glamor (Marcia Gay Harden is hilarious as the hypersexual billionaire wife whose over-the-top Italian accent makes “Fletch” sound like “Flayshhhh”). “I know they wanted to do something completely new and assumed, quite rightly so, that most people in the cinema audience hadn’t seen the original, which was fine with them.”
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Slattery loved the original fletching, just as he loved Chase in his prime. But he was a movie buff in general. When he appeared as himself in the sitcom produced by Tina Fey Girl5EvaHe claimed he was “too busy fighting [his] five siblings for food to develop a single interest”. In fact, he calls his Boston childhood “conventional” and incredibly undramatic. His siblings — four older sisters and a younger brother — all hit it off, that Girl5Eva The line is more of a comic invention than the truth. He exercised and watched TV compulsively, eventually “figuring out that people are actually doing a job — that what I see on TV doesn’t just happen.”
Like most of the cast mad Men, Slattery was a jobbing and generally under-the-radar actor for years before this show came along. After moving to New York in the late ’80s, he struggled to get an acting job for nearly 18 months, but eventually found himself in plays and television. In hindsight, at least, he still likes to look back on those days. “Frolicking around, taking the subway from deep Brooklyn to the city, trying to figure out how to live on five bucks a day… all of this sounds cliche now, but that’s really how it went.”
for years Sex and the City was the project that people recognized him for the most. Yes, because he was sleek and handsome in it, but mostly because his character very politely asked America’s sweetheart if she would go to the bathroom with him. “Right after it aired, the mother of a friend of mine asked if my parents had died,” he says. He explained that they were very much alive, but she still didn’t believe it. your justification? “He would never have done that if his parents were still here.”
In hindsight, however, he laughs at how big a deal that story was back in 2000. “Everything that has happened since then? Look at Donald Trump,” he chuckles, presumably referring to the much-debated rumor of a presidential, um, “pee-tape.” “What I have done Sex and the City was a no-brainer compared to this creep.”
Sex and the City may have opened doors for him – and encouraged him to avoid areas of Manhattan regularly scrutinized by the Sex and the City Bus tour – but around that time he discovered another passion. “I was on the sets asking a lot of questions, and I realized I had opinions,” he says. Slattery realized he wanted to direct as well. He would later take the reins of five episodes of mad Menand directly in 2014 God’s bag – a dark urban drama that tragically turned out to be the last film Philip Seymour Hoffman completed before his death.
The mention of Hoffman is the only time in our conversation that Slattery seems speechless — like a loner momentarily at a loss. He takes a deep breath. “I’ve never seen anyone who was able to nurture such emotional depths as he did while being so technically alert,” he says. “He knew where the camera was, where he was in relation to the camera, the best angles for himself. It was breathtaking for me.” On the set, he told Hoffman how amazing he was. “I basically started crying after watching him do a scene.”
As a director, he admits he struggles with always having authority on set, that he’s not a natural leader of the pack. “Even in my own house,” he jokes. “But I suppose that’s where the acting comes in — pretending you’re in control.”
I can’t tell if he’s still humble. I’m sure he can command a set as well as I bet he doesn’t look as vicious as he says today. But I have to take his word for it.
Confess, Fletch opens in cinemas on November 18th
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/john-slattery-interview-confess-fletch-b2226490.html Interview with John Slattery: “When Jon Hamm walked into a room as Don Draper, people went catatonic”