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Exclusive Interview With 'The Adjustment Bureau's' John Slattery

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Jun 21, 2011 | 9:45am EDT

John SlatteryThis week, the metaphysical thriller, The Adjustment Bureau, comes out Blu-ray and DVD and one of its stars (and everyone's favorite silver-haired Mad Man), John Slattery, took a little time to help us unpack the complicated film. The Mad Men star also shed a little light on what it's like to direct an episode of the beloved show as well as his hopes and potential plans to direct a feature of his own in the near future.

The Adjustment Bureau is a Philip K. Dick adaptation. It’s a very complicated film. What attracted you to something like this?

Initially, besides knowing George Nolfi socially, as a friend, I liked the way, as you said, it’s a complicated idea, or sort of a lofty idea, that he treated with a simple reality in the script, which I thought was an effective way to do that. It’s a difficult thing to pull off. Especially for Matt Damon’s character. Someone comes down from the heavens and says, “Here’s the deal. Here’s how the world really works. We’re kind of pulling the strings on everybody’s life.” In dealing in that kind of simple reality, it made it that much more believable, and kind of shocking. That attracted me.

A far as your approach as an actor in a film that’s sort of heady and philosophical, where do you even begin?

The tone of the film was sort of the question mark the whole time. If a scene was sort of played in a more sinister way, or a little lighter. So we would kind of bracket the films. We would do a couple of different variations of the scene in order to capture the tone and try to most effectively get the moments. It was always lighter. If you’re delivering this kind of information, a guy with a gun is dangerous enough. He doesn’t have to be yelling and screaming. So I’m not telling Matt, “If you ever see this woman again we’ll erase your brain.” It seemed most effective to do it in a simple way. Like, “I don’t want to be the guy to tell you this, but here’s the deal.” And that was evident in the script. It wasn’t something that we had to really grind to find.

Have you read the original story by Philip K. Dick?

I have.

How do you think the film compares, because it is an adaptation?

Yeah, but it’s really the idea that George took. It’s really only sort of the initial sequence: the guy goes to work and gets there ten minutes too early and the building starts to collapse around him. He’s told the deal by a talking dog, so it’s really a launching point, or a springboard to the story that George wrote. So it was entertaining, but it wasn’t that practically helpful.

Do you think it was risky to make a big Hollywood film that marries this classic romance with this metaphysical style of science fiction?

It’s less risky when you have Emily Blunt and Matt Damon.

That certainly helps!

I guess, you make a big studio film, you spend a lot of money on it and you hope people go see it. It’s really risky. Let’s face it, making movies is all risk. Most of the time, batting average-wise, the reward does not outweigh the risk. There are all kinds of formulas. You put a movie star or a bunch of movie stars in a movie, it doesn’t mean people are gonna go see it. It’s been proven time and time again. The best insurance policy is to make a good movie, and that’s what George did.

You and Matt are both from Boston. Did you guys bond over that at all when you were working on the movie?

Yeah, I think so. Bostonians living in New York. He’s a big Pats fan, a big Boston sports fan, and so am I. There was always something to talk about in that regard. He’s an easy guy to talk about anything with.

Fun to be around?

Yeah.

You directed some episodes of Mad Men last season. Two part question there. First, how did that come about? And second, is that sort of a segway into potentially directing features?

I wanted to do it for a while, I just never found the right situation. There was sort of an apprenticeship, or training ground. Then when I got to Mad Men, it seemed everyone was so well-versed in their job and so good at it and generous with their knowledge, that I asked if I could trail one of the directors who is a friend of mine, Phil Abraham. A great cinematographer as well as director. He was generous enough to say yes, so I followed him around for a few months, and eventually they gave me a shot. That’s something Matt Weiner does a lot. He gives people opportunities. Writers, directors, and that’s an important thing in this business. You have to get a leg up somewhere. And it’s those people that are willing to mentor you in those things that’ll change your life. That’s how that happened. And the answer is yes, I have a script that I wrote. I based it on a book. I hope to direct it in the spring. But I can’t tell you what it is yet, because the ink isn’t dry on the deal for the book.

That’s very exciting.

That’s my intention anyway.

Do you have any advice for John Hamm on his directing debut?

Wear comfortable shoes. No one tells you that, and it really all comes down to standing around a lot.

Sensible footwear.

And change your shoes at lunch! And/or your socks.

Also on the Mad Men side, I recently found that Sterling’s Gold actually exists. You can buy it.

It does exist. I have several.

How did that happen? Is that through the show?

Yeah. The story of this season was that Roger [Sterling] wrote a book. Somebody had an idea—Matt, I’m sure had the idea—to actually publish the book. And then he looked back and realized there were enough quotes. As the other producer, Scott Hornbacher was saying, we were amazed at how many quotes there were. A hundred and thirty pages. And it’s not a memoir as it is in the show. It’s just sort of a catalog of all the funny things that Roger says, organized by scene. And I was shocked when I saw that—there’s tons of them!—at how funny the writing is for this character.

Does it take an advice tone? How to be like Roger Sterling?

It’s more of, on romance, or on drinking. And then lines centering around a theme. It’s a funny read.

I’ll have to find it. I did want to ask you quickly about your appearance on 30 Rock because we’re used to seeing you in these very dapper suits all the time. I think your performance there doesn’t exactly go under that category. How was your experience working with the team there?

They’re pretty amazing. What a group. The great Tina Fey, the great Alec Baldwin. The first day, I did a scene between those two. If that doesn’t make you know you’re alive, I don’t know what does. They’re so good, so talented, so funny. You walk into their house and try to keep up, hold your own. After that, the nervousness of the first day wears off. The newness of it all. And then you’re standing in a park in a big diaper, thinking, “What the hell have I done?”

Whose idea was the diaper?

I don’t know. Whoever wrote the script I guess. I forget whose name is on that particular episode.

Thank you very much for your time!

Thank you!

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