John Slattery hasn’t seen the new episodes of “Mad Men” either. In fact, he still hasn’t caught up with the last season. That’s no knock on the show, which enters the final seven episodes of its split-up seventh and final season, which find the actor giving one last go with Roger Sterling, the show’s most dapper and quip-flinging ad man. The show’s end is bittersweet: on one hand there’s no more Roger Sterling and company; on the other, Slattery has more chances to do other things (including roles in "Ted 2" and on the forthcoming "Wet Hot American Summer" Netflix show, plus reprising his role as Iron Man's dad in "Ant-Man"). He’s just hoping the roles will be more than Roger clones.
You’re a bit behind on the show. Do you go out of your way to watch them?
I generally don’t. I’ve watched most of them. The further it went the less I watched.
Why was that?
Probably vanity. The older I get the less I want to see myself. Then it would come on and I’d catch up.
Are you generally an actor who doesn’t like to see yourself onscreen?
The first reaction is kind of “ugh.” Then I get over that. It depends on the material too. Sometimes you see something and you think, “Oh, that’s funny,” so it doesn’t really matter [that it’s him onscreen]. It’s case-by-case.
You’ve directed a handful of episodes. How did you deal with handling yourself onscreen.
That’s pretty helpful, because your first impulse is to see your face and go, “Oh, s—, I don’t like that.” Then the more you watch the more you start to pay attention to the performance and the context and the story, which is hopefully what other people are watching. You get over the things you don’t like about yourself. I’ll always ask the editor if we can get a better angle. He’ll say, “Nah, that looks fine, don’t worry about it.” It’s just self-loathing.
Roger, on the other hand, is nothing but confidence. And yet there have been flashes of humanity, even decency. He helps Don come back from his “leave,” albeit in his distant/quippy Roger way.
I think he always had revelatory moments. Even early on, in the episode where he’s sitting in the train station bar near Don’s house, looking at younger women, saying, “After 30 it’s like a light goes out.” It’s not the most humanitarian moment, but it is a rueful moment that you see he has. That’s what ultimately makes you want to watch these characters. Matt [Weiner, creator and showrunner] would let you in; it doesn’t mean you necessarily have to like them.
Did you model Roger off anyone?
Not really. My father, probably. In the earlier years he reminded me of my father. He was a salesman, a business guy, sharply dress, confident. He was nothing morally or ethically [laughs] like Roger.
And no one is better at quips.
That’s superhuman. No one has that. Oscar Wilde maybe, or Mike Nichols — somebody who could just turn a phrase like that.