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'I didn’t think Mad Men ending would hit me so hard'

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John Slattery on his directorial debut and bidding goodbye to Roger Sterling....

Your directorial debut, God’s Pocket, has quite a niche sense of humour to it, and you’ve had reviews that love it, but others that hate it. Does that worry you?

[Laughs] Well, yes, there’s always a danger that people won’t get it, no matter what you do. I think any time you do something that doesn’t toe the party line, or isn’t necessarily a feel-good movie, some people won’t think it’s funny, others just plain won’t like it. That’s OK with me. I sent my script to the people I thought would get it, Phil [Seymour Hoffman] being first.

Were you close to him?

Phil is a friend… was a friend. We lived near each other, we’d worked together in the past and we’d see each other around town. But I didn’t take advantage of the friendship to get him for this movie. I went through the proper channels.

What is your favourite memory of working with him?

Just watching him. His intuition. His ability to operate on a deep emotional level and a technical level at the same time. He would do take after take of spontaneous eruptions that, as a director, just leaves you loaded with options. He was intimidating, but he knew that, so he would try hard to put other actors at ease. He was very interested in the people he was working with, and because of that he was enjoyable to be around.

Your Mad Men co-star Christina Hendricks is also in the film. Is it easier or harder to direct someone you’re so close to?

I would say easier. I had 40 or so actors, most of them I had not worked with before, certainly not directed. So when Christina stepped into frame, it was instantly comforting to have someone with whom there’s an emotional connection. It was like when I directed my wife [Talia Balsam] in an episode of Mad Men – it’s easier because of the chemistry and understanding between you.

What was the most stressful moment during the shoot?

Probably the last day. We were shooting a fight scene at night, but the sun was coming up and we were running out of time. Tempers were flaring, it was very tense. I knew that if we couldn’t get it done, I would never be able to get back to the location because everybody had other jobs they were going to start the next day – our contracts were up. It was extremely uncomfortable, but you have to try to find a way to sit on that stress so you don’t share it with the team. You don’t want to kill the spontaneity of the moment, so you just have to pretend everything’s fine.

Which current directors do you admire?

I thought Jean-Marc Vallée directed the hell out of Dallas Buyers Club. I think Edgar Wright is great, and the guy who directed Animal Kingdom [David Michôd] – I loved that movie.

So what’s the plan for you after God’s Pocket?

Get busy doing nothing. I’m driving out to Long Island. I have a house out there that we’re in the process of renovating.

You’re doing all the renovating yourself?

Oh my, no. Somebody else is going to get dirty. It’s the buying-stuff-and-hiring-people-to-do-things kind of renovations we’re talking about. The thing is, I live in New York and commute to Los Angeles for work. That’s been non-stop for eight years now, and I like Los Angeles very much, but I’d like to stay at home for a while. I don’t even have any ideas for the next film. I kind of feel like I should, but I’m going to wait until I fall in love with an idea.

We have to ask about Mad Men. How emotional was it shooting the final scenes?

I remember coming off the set and seeing everybody standing there looking at me. And I mean everyone. People who hadn’t worked on the show, since… whenever, they’d come in to work. We had this thing where we’d all show up for one another. It was really sweet, and then it all started getting emotional. By the end we could barely say goodbye. We’d shot all night, and it was so so sad. I knew it would be, but I didn’t think it would hit me as hard as it did.

Did you take any souvenirs from the set?

They gave me the desk lamp from my office, which I’d had my eye on for some time.

How would you say the show changed your life?

It changed it completely. I’m renovating a house that I wouldn’t have been able to buy without that show, I’ve just directed a film I wouldn’t have been able to direct without that show. I would say it has changed all of our lives – everyone involved in it.

Finally, you famously auditioned for the Don Draper role. Now that shooting’s over, do you think you would have made a better Don?

Er, you’re kidding, right? Me not getting that part was a blessing. There’s only one Don Draper.

God’s Pocket is at cinemas from 8 August

[Image: Rainer Hosch]

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