John Slattery on Roger Sterling's Long, Strange Trip

Interviews with a point.
April 23 2012 2:44 PM

A Conversation With John Slattery

The Mad Men actor talks about Roger Sterling's long, strange trip.

Actor John Slattery arrives at the Premiere of AMC's 'Mad Men'.
John Slattery

Photograph by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

Last night’s episode of Mad Men was called “Far Away Places,” and perhaps no one traveled as far as Roger Sterling, the veteran ad man who, along with wife Jane, took his first LSD trip. Slate spoke with John Slattery, who portrays Sterling, this morning.

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David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog. Follow him on Twitter.

Slate: When you first read the script, did the acid trip surprise you?

Slattery: I guess it did a little—although, you know, the scripts are always surprising. I think it’s interesting that of all the people that could have taken LSD or had that experience, that it was Roger.

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Slate: Part of the genius of the show is that things happen to the least expected characters, and yet those things feel plausible and believable.

Slattery: It’s also not like they pick a name out of a hat. I think it has to do with where his wife was in their relationship. Maybe he was the character that needed it the most.

Slate: That was one of the other striking things about it. Roger Sterling often seems like a man from another era, and, in the first few episodes this season, it seemed the world was changing and he wasn’t changing with it. And then suddenly this episode comes along, and maybe the changing times won’t be as hard on him as we thought.

Slattery: I think you see the shift in all these characters starting. Peggy’s life is changing. I thought it was interesting when she had that unsuccessful pitch to Heinz, and she comes in and does what Don did in the pilot and stares at the ceiling on Don’s couch. You can see these characters overlapping and changing and almost becoming one another.

Slate: During that LSD trip, Roger sees Don in the mirror and later he sees Bert on a dollar bill. Did you have direction from the script as to how to respond in those moments, or did you need to come up with on your own sense of why he was seeing those things and how he would react?

Slattery: That was all in the script that Scott Hornbacher directed. That was a very difficult sequence to put together. And there were things that were cut—some jokes. I think they were smartly cut, because there were a lot of gags, and I think the whole trip was less jokey in its final form, less joke-filled than it was on the page. Which is smarter, I think, because it would have been just a series of gags.

Obviously we have a very short time to put all this stuff together. There were a lot of special effects they have to lay over—a gag where Roger’s cigarette shrinks, and then the mirror stuff. Looking down at the bill and then looking at her in the cab—you know, it’s all on a stage in the car with a green screen, and them talking us through the beats—“Now look at the bill, now look at her.” And it was all really specifically laid out—the music coming out of the vodka bottle was there in the background. I took the cap off, and they played the music. I put it back on, and it would shut off. So they do everything they can to help you out.