Even during "Mad Men" episodes that don't heavily feature Roger Sterling, it's now conventional wisdom that star John Slattery will provide one laugh-out-loud moment per show. Perhaps as an audience we're being trained to appreciate Slattery, even in small doses; even during a screening of "Iron Man 2," there was an audible gasp of excitement when Slattery appeared briefly appeared onscreen as Tony Stark's father. John Slattery just has a way of making you want to see more John Slattery.
Fortunately, for Slattery fans, there's plenty of him in the new indie drama "In Our Nature." Slattery plays Gil, a successful lawyer who accidentally brings his girlfriend (Gabrielle Union) to his upstate New York vacation home the same weekend that his estranged son, Seth (Zach Gilford), and his son's girlfriend, Andie (Jena Malone), happen to be there, too. This leads to more than a few terse moments between the two men, including an argument over the definition of "vegan" and the passive-aggressive use of household cleaners. We met Slattery at a Soho hotel room to discuss the film, his career strategy and why he finally accepted that the details of "Mad Men" (and his upcoming appearance on "Arrested Development") have to remain so secretive.
I'm in the midst of back-to-back interviews. Right before you I spoke to Ian McKellen, with two actors I admire, all I can hope is that everyone is in a good mood.
Was he in a good mood?
He seemed to be in a great mood.
He's pretty amazing. I don't know if I would want to see Gandalf in a bad mood.
The part in this movie that really hit home was the argument at dinner over a vegan meal. I've seen a lot of strife caused by vegan dinners. Have you experienced this?
No. But I'm sure if I came home to my house when I was the age of Seth in the film and said to my dad, "Oh, I don't eat that because I'm vegan," I'd get a similar reaction to the one that he gets from Gil. "What the hell is the difference? Vegetarian is bad enough -- what the hell is vegan?"
I watched someone go out of their way to make another friend a vegan meal, but accidentally used horseradish sauce, so it went wasted.
What's in horseradish?
I'm not sure. It might be mayonnaise.
Because horseradish, the root ... that's interesting.
Basically there are four actors in this movie on one set. Is that challenging or is that fun?
Well, you know what? It's not challenging for an acting standpoint. I mean, I guess ... I'm just trying to think. It's challenging for the director to make the movie cinematic if it's one location with four actors. I guess.
And there's not a lot of fixing in post, I would assume.
No. I mean, I guess there's editing. You can do multiple takes and figure out what takes to use and stuff. From a convenience, you're basically in one location. You arrive, you shoot the movie there. There are theoretically different locations in the movie; inside, outside ...
The pond, living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens. So, you know, it gives it a sort of a visual variety in that way. But, I guess the challenge is that you don't necessarily have all of the visuals aids and accompaniment that you normally have with a movie of a larger size or one that takes place in a lot of different locations.
There's a lot of passive-aggressiveness in this movie. One example -- when your character wipes the liquid off the coffee table with a cleaning product instead of just telling Seth not to do that -- reminds me of my childhood household.
I think that's more of an obsessive, OCD, than it is passive-aggressive. I mean, I guess it is passive-aggressive: you're not saying what's pissing you off. Instead you go get the 409 and scrub off a tiny stain. On the other hand, I've been on the other side of that. Where you have people over and people are spilling stuff all over your house and that drives you crazy, too.
What film roles are you looking for? Because being on a television series, I'm guessing you look for something different than that. Is that a reason you took this role?
A little different, you know? And this is a departure, but sometimes it's just the sort of simple reality of one role to another is enough. I mean, say if another domestic drama came along of a guy who is of a similar age who is a stock broker for a living, you know, it might not look that much different than this but it might play a lot different. And the story would be completely different. I guess you look for a variety in temperament and character in all kinds of material. You know, I don't know. You just look for what sparks you in a visceral way -- in an emotional way. You want to find something that you go, "I have to do this." You want to read a script and go, "I totally understand this and you can't make it without me." That doesn't happen that often, but, that's what you want.
I feel, as an actor, people want more of you. People want more Roger Sterling. After "The Adjustment Bureau," people were upset that your character disappears halfway though. At the screening I was at, there was an audible sound of joy when you showed up in "Iron Man 2" as Tony Stark's father. Is that a nice position to be in?
It is! That sounds good. Maybe I should just keep it limited -- leave them wanting more.
Do you like that? In a, "Hey, I got my one line in, I'm done and everyone is laughing."
Yeah, I mean, sometimes you do things for different reasons. I have a young son. When the call from Jon Favreau came in to do "Iron Man 2," he said, "Do you have a kid?" I said, "Oh, I have a young boy." He's like, "Well then, you have to do this." You know, it's not exactly the most creatively satisfying situation. But it was a lot more creatively satisfying than I thought it was going to be.
Oh? How so?
Because it was emotional in a way that was demanding. And it provided a function in the film that was important. You know, it could have been two minutes in the movie that you see from 50 feet away when [Tony Stark] is watching this old film, or whatever. You know, you do different things for different reasons. Sometimes you do a couple of scenes in like a "Charlie Wilson's War" that I did and, you know, there's one scene that's so good that I have to do this. And it's Mike Nichols and it's Phil Hoffman. And the part can be scene as two-dimensional, except for this one scene. And I know that you can't cut this scene and it's terrific and I want to be in it. And I want to work with Mike Nichols. But, having done that now, if I got a call again in the same situation, I'd say, "You know what, I want more. I've done that." If I'm going to do that again, it has to be different reasons. So you look for creative opportunities and they're always out there and they're always changing. And, you know, there's also the obvious food chain that's out there.
What do you mean?
It's a food chain of material and I come somewhere down on the bottom end.
I don't know about that ...
I mean, listen, I'm not complaining. I'm just saying that there are a lot of actors out there.
I think you're being humble. People like you as an actor.
Well, I'm not saying that they don't. And I'm glad -- if they do. But, you know, it's still a hustle, as far as getting the material that everybody wants. Because there is the material that everybody wants.
The first time I remember taking note of you as an actor was when you were on "Ed" as Dennis Martino...
But you've been in everything from "China Beach" to "Becker." When did you first realize that people were noticing you? Or maybe recognizing you on the street.
I don't know, "Mad Men" has done a lot to change all that stuff. You know, you don't necessarily want to be recognized -- for some of the things you've done.
As far as being recognized, you've become a foil for Vulture, I've noticed.
Well, I mean, living in New York probably has something to do with that. But I think there was a point at which I looked up and I didn't have to do every job that came along. When I first started, I was kind of surprised that anyone would ever hire me at all. So I took everything that I was offered. And then I realized that's not a good idea. I mean, I would do plays. I would get my creative satisfaction out of doing theater. And whatever television and film that would come along, I would just grab it. And that's now not the case -- I don't want to do that anymore. So, you hope that you have some kind of choice of what to do and then make the best of it.
Do you like being on a secretive show like "Mad Men"? Because, if I were you, I think I would. At least it gets rid of saying a lot of the same things because you can't talk about anything.
Well, I think it makes sense. I didn't get it in the beginning when Matt Weiner was as secretive as he was -- and he got that from David Chase on "The Sopranos," which I was a huge fan of. But, I get it. It does relate directly to the commercial value of the show. I mean, if people know what's going to happen, they are probably less likely to want to turn it on.
I think people think they want to know, but I don't think they really want to know.
No, I don't think they want to know. I mean, the story is better if you don't know what's going to happen.
What's the most minute piece of information that you gave away, yet you still got in trouble for it? Rich Sommer said he was scolded for almost revealing that Harry stopped wearing a bow tie.
I'm trying to think if I ever got in trouble for something. Something, yeah, that was extrapolated out a couple of levels and then someone could figure what year the show was coming back. That was probably what happened with Rich: Someone probably figured if he wasn't wearing a bow tie, times must be changing, "so it's 1966!" Whatever. It really comes down to how much Matt Weiner cares about the show. And he doesn't want anybody to know anything about it. So, you can innocently stumble into something. I'm a big a fan of this show as anybody else. We get the scripts a couple of days before we shoot them and I'm as excited to read that script as I am to watch any of the shows that I watch on television.
And now you're going to do be a part of the fourth season of "Arrested Development." Another show that you can't really talk about.
Well, there isn't anything that I want to say. You know, I don't know how secretive Mitch Hurwitz is and all of those guys. But, I assume that he doesn't want anybody to know what happened or who I play before it's on the screen. I will say that it's a completely different atmosphere to what happens in "Mad Men." Which is fairly controlled, script wise. And, you know, Matt has a very clear vision of it. But, Mitch will kind of turn three cameras on without much rehearsal. And we'll run through it and he'll throw in alternate lines and people can kind of make stuff up. That said, they are all very good at what they do. So, it's not like people are flailing, trying to figure out how to make it work. It all really works. It's a pretty amazing high wire act that they pull off.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.