John Slattery on His Directorial Debut and Saying Goodbye to Mad Men

God's Pocket Out on DVD/Blu-ray This Week

Sep 11, 2014 Issue #50 - June/July 2014 - Future Islands
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To listen to him speak, actor John Slattery is humble, gracious, and thoughtfully-spoken. He's a far cry from Roger Sterling, the brash, arrogant advertising executive he's played on Mad Men since 2007. As that acclaimed television drama comes to a close, Slattery is entering a new phase of his careerthis time, behind the camera. His directorial debut feature, God's Pocket, is an enthralling blend of tragedy and dark humor, and a bold announcement of Slattery's immense potential as a filmmaker.

The film is centered in a grimy, working-class Philadelphia neighborhoodthe titular God's Pocketin the late 1970s. Two-bit criminal Mickey Scarpato's mentally disturbed stepson is killed in a jobsite dispute, and it's covered up as an accident. Not believing that story, Mickey's wife tasks her husband and an alcoholic newspaper columnist with uncovering the truth about her son's death.

"Each character was fully drawn and defined: who they are, what they want, how they speak," Slattery says of the Pete Dexter novel from which God's Pocket was adapted. "By the virtue of the way he drew those characters, the world seemed very clear to me, very visual. It was a piece of material that didn't take a lot of effort to envision."

God's Pocket features a brilliant, world-weary lead performance from the late Philip Seymour Hoffmanas the beleaguered, dispirited Mickeyin one of his final roles. Slattery had known Hoffman socially, having lived in the same neighborhood, and offered him a part in the film, expecting Hoffman to politely decline. As the movie moved closer to production, Slattery was surprised when Hoffman circled back to him about appearing in his debut feature.

"He never stopped asking the basic questions; for an actor as gifted as Philip, it's interesting that it comes down to basic questions like 'Why?'" Slattery says, recounting a few of the things that made Hoffman such a special talent. "You could watch Phil have moments of revelation while the camera was on him. He was an amazing amalgam of talent, know-how, craft, and willingness. You still can't believe it."

A fantastic cast surrounded Hoffman in supporting roles, including Richard Jenkins, John Turturro, and Christina Hendricks. (Slattery resisted the urge to cast himself in the project, preferring to devote his energy to the filmmaking process.)

Slattery is still hunting for ideas for his next feature. In the meantime, he'll wrap shooting on the second half of Mad Men's final season this summer. The actor admits that he's put off the emotional side of leaving the gig he's held for nearly a decade.

"It's been a fairytale of a job; it's going to be tough to say goodbye to it," he says. "My son was six years old when we started, and my wife was playing my wife on the show. It was an extension of my life, and of my family. By the time we finish airing, my son will be 16 years old." The hardest part, he says, will be saying goodbye to the cast and crew. "People have married, have divorced, had children. We've all been together for that. It will be very emotional."

All good things eventually come to an end, but Slattery doesn't rule out working with his Mad Men colleagues again in the futureperhaps cast in one of his future films.

"If I could be so lucky," he says, with a laugh.

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's June/July print issue (Issue 50). God's Pocket is out on DVD and Blu-ray this week. Check out our extended Q&A with John Slattery here.]

 



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