It’s silly, if understandable, to confuse an actor with a character they play. That’s particularly true if that character is Roger Sterling, the smooth, stubborn, wise-ass ad lord on “Mad Men.” But actors thrive on versatility. Still, it’s a touch discombobulating to see John Slattery as a taciturn construction worker in “Bluebird,” a heavy indie that screens Monday and Tuesday at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“I got into this to do a variety of different things,” Slattery admits. “I’m sure there are circumstances where people think they can’t use me because everyone thinks of me as that other guy. There’s nothing I can really do about it. It’s given me as much opportunity as it’s limited me. I’m sure I’m getting opportunities I wouldn’t have if I never had this show.”
Slattery co-stars in “Bluebird” with Amy Morton, star of the Chicago stage, best known for creating the role of Barbara in Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County.” Morton plays his wife, a bus driver who’s accidentally involved in the near-death of a boy. The incident endangers the family’s livelihood in a small town in Northern Maine.
“It was a town that got hit hard by the recession,” Morton says of her shooting location. “It lost half of its population. You didn’t have to work hard to get into character.” Likewise, director Lance Edmands didn’t have to try hard to make a point. “He’s just depicting life as it is. You don’t have to add a message. You just have to look at it.”
“It isn’t easy being in that emotional place,” Slattery confesses. “It’s not like they’re singing and dancing in the streets. It’s difficult. It was a good place to shoot the film.” Each actor was trained in their character’s profession: Morton to drive a school bus and Slattery on how to work the machines — “in a sort of perfunctory way,” he admits.
Despite the mounting tragedies and dread in “Bluebird,” it’s a very quiet film, with characters internalizing their emotions. That’s different for both Slattery and Morton. “I found it actually pretty fun to not have to talk so much,” Morton jokes.
“I don’t think they’re introspective,” says Slattery. “They’re just not demonstrative. They’re not emotionally expressive.”
"Bluebird" plays Monday at 8:30 at AMC Loews Village 7 and Tuesday at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 5