As Mad Men’s silver-haired Roger Sterling, John Slattery is debonair, drunken, sexy, competitive, and sentimental. He’s also, at times, a complete goof.
In writer/director Brian Savelson’s feature debut, In Our Nature, out in theaters Dec. 7, Slattery plays Gil, the estranged dad of Seth, a bearded hipster played by Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights). When Seth brings his girlfriend, Andie, played by Jena Malone (Pride & Prejudice), to his family’s upstate New York retreat for a romantic getaway weekend, Gil shows up to the house as well – with his new, younger girlfriend Vicky, played by Gabrielle Union. It’s a tight physical environment for drama to play out among four characters, just how Slattery likes it. There’s high tension between Gil and Seth, sharing a house they haven’t been in together since Seth was a boy, and Slattery – who has a teenage son with his wife Talia Balsam – works with Gilford to create the type of genuine awkwardness that can exist only between fathers and sons.
In an exclusive clip, below, Gil and Vicky attempt to leave early to head back to New York City, before getting roped into staying at the house by Andie. Slattery told EW about taking on the role, working with Union, just how annoying the term “silver fox” is, and how writing always always prevails.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How was it embodying the role of an estranged dad with a much younger girlfriend, steeped in a mid-life crisis?
The part was something I felt was well written. I read the script. It’s an interesting character study of these four people in one location, given the physical production was so small. The part and the relationship with his son was so interesting. Brian was interested in an investigation, playing with these characters. That made me want to sign onto this.
What was it like working with Gabrielle Union? She’s a male fantasy for many.
Working with Gabrielle is great. She’s a riot. Up for anything, playing scenes different ways and loose. She’s a willing participant, as well as being talented and beautiful.
In this, and on Mad Men, you’re always paired with younger women. Explain.
The younger women thing, hmmmm. I’m just lucky I guess. I think I look older than I am, anyway.
How is it being considered a “silver fox”? It’s such a funny term, and so many people call you that.
It’s one of those things that someone wrote once. It’s easy to go to, because of my hair. It’s something that’s a little embarrassing, to tell you the truth. As it would be if a person said a similar thing about you. It doesn’t have a hell of a lot to do with your personality and ability.
The writing in In Our Nature is so intimate. Mad Men, too, has such an emphasis on good character development and writing.
I like good writing. That’s all that actors have to rely on. There’s nothing harder than being in a scene with no context, and rely on being charming. You’re armed with the dialog, something that’s complicated, in any way, whether it’s a comedy or a drama. That’s all you want. Mad Men is as good as it gets, in my opinion. There’s a lot of good television out there, and movies too, and I think they’re only getting better.
What influences or acting role models inform your work, from this to Mad Men?
There are movies made in the ’70s and ’80s, modern urban domestic dramas, Kramer vs. Kramer – films with this simple contemporary realism to them. The writing is smart, but not too smart to be clever. I was a movie fanatic as a kid, also when it comes to old movies. Preston Sturges, William Powell. There was a precision to the writing that I admired, and also for Mad Men. He [Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner] has it all so well thought out, and it’s reflected in the writing.
In Our Nature successfully conveys family drama without going over the top.
It’s not easy. Even in a well-written scene, you can find yourself playing references, because you’ve seen it, because we’ve seen so many movies and TV. Sometimes you find yourself doing it by mistake. There are all kinds of traps to fall into. Writing like this, and in Mad Men, it’s so particular, it helps.
This and Mad Men are both finely honed, dramatic, but you have such a knack for comic timing as well.
I don’t know why I’m always drawn to drama. You can be pigeon holed into people thinking you’re either comedic or dramatic. I think Roger is hilarious in Mad Men. I’m not drawn to one or the other. I’d like to work with Judd Apatow. But I think you ruin your chances, just saying that. People I know who are in his movies have so much fun. A bad take is as good as a good take. I believe that. Sometimes on a set you feel conditioned to think it has to be a certain way.
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