As the final season of Mad Men comes to a close, John Slattery’s Roger Sterling has remained a firm viewers’ favorite. This season the inimitable Sterling has fielded several crises, sold the company and grown a stellar mustache. Last seen playing the organ while Elisabeth Moss roller-skated around the abandoned office in a scene Slattery calls “a favorite moment,” he says of the series finale: “I don’t think there’s anything that people are going to go, ‘wait a minute, what?’ and yet it’s unpredictable. I think it’s a great ending.”
We have to talk about the mustache. Did you grow it yourself or stick it on every day?
I grew it myself and they took a mould of it and made one. Then I shaved it off because Matt didn’t want me to walk around with a mustache and give away the secret. They filled it out a bit as (mine) wasn’t quite as complete as Roger’s but it was along the same lines. It was really all about the secrecy though, so I wasn’t walking around in my life six months before the episode was shot with a giant mustache.
The finale fast approaches. What’s your take on how Matt Weiner tied it all up?
I mean I can’t tell you anything about the way it ends, but I think it’s in keeping with the rest of it. It’s both unpredictable and I think totally organic to the story that’s come before. It’s remarkably well connected to the beginning of the series and the whole series as an arc. It just connects the dots of all of it. It’s pretty remarkably structured.
Do you feel like Roger sold his soul towards the end when he sold the firm?
I think the ongoing discussion of the world of advertising is, where is the soul in advertising? It’s been the discussion in many episodes. What are we doing? Does it have any soul? Is it art or commerce? It’s a cynical world. Roger’s skill is deal-making, it’s managing accounts and managing people and making them feel good and then making the best deal that he can. The best deal on the table is the deal that he puts forth at the beginning of these seven episodes. If they didn’t see what’s coming it’s probably naive of them, but maybe they didn’t want to see it.
Do you have a hands-down favorite memory of Mad Men? That acid trip sequence has to be up there?
The acid trip sequence wasn’t as fun to shoot as it was to watch. It was just a series of quick cuts so it was a little like sausage grinding. It looks great at the end but the making of it is less remarkable. The best times as an actor on that show were scenes with Don, those were always great. I got to work with Lizzie Moss less than I would have liked. That was one of my favorite moments, playing organ while she rollerskates around the office. It was a great visual example of how this thing has just fallen apart and been taken apart. But there were so many satisfying moments and so many funny, well-written lines I almost can’t remember them all.
If there was a Mad Men cast yearbook you’d be ‘most likely’ what?
There was one! For a christmas gift or a wrap gift they put together a yearbook for cast and crew. The line between characters and actors was blurred for that. I think I got ‘biggest flirt’. That was Roger. He gets ‘biggest flirt’, as he should.
What about Christina – how much will you miss the Roger/Joan relationship?
A lot. She’s the best. First of all, she can do anything as an actress. She’s got an emotional depth that’s enviable. She’s got a face that any camera loves and she can do anything any director asks her to do. There were some compromising situations over the years between Roger and Joan and Christina was always willing. That’s all you can ask for in a fellow actor.
The Mad Men wrap parties must be a blast. How did you guys celebrate the end?
It was sad. The end was sort of a slow death because some people would finish shooting the actual scene ten days or two weeks before (the end) so it was a series of last days. On the very last day we had a party and it went on into the wee hours. But we all enjoyed each other’s company from the beginning. We all got how much we enjoyed each other but also how fortunate we were to have this kind of situation.
As a parent yourself, where do you think Roger went wrong with his daughter?
I think he had other priorities. He wasn’t home, he was out, he was entertaining. He was working and his focus wasn’t on his daughter and she said as much. When the focus is taken off her son, I think he feels responsible for that too. It hits him hard that he’s raised someone who could be that kind of mother.
Did you want to direct more episodes toward the end?
I did want to direct more. I was going to do two episodes in the last season but I had a movie coming out that I was finishing and promoting so I wouldn’t have been able to devote my attention. It takes a lot of attention as you can imagine and Matt is very detail-oriented, which is one of the main reasons for the success of the show. As an actor you see a sliver of how the show is made, but to see the actual writing process and the re-writing process and the casting process and art direction and set design – all of this is happening in a very intense period. We have a lot of fun but everybody comes ready and you’re expected to come ready. Everybody’s working at such a high level that you don’t want to be the one to let down the side. But I couldn’t be more proud to have been involved in all elements of it.
You’ve said you’re not comfortable with your sex symbol status – any funny anecdotes about fans throwing themselves at you?
Yes! I was riding a bike with my wife on Long Island and I saw a for ‘for rent’ sign on a house. A friend of mine wanted a summer rental so I asked the woman in the driveway “is this house for rent?” and right away, she said, “are you on that show?” and I wasn’t sure which show she was talking about but I said, “yeah probably.” Then she said, “you boy! You got so fat on that show!” I said, “what? when?” She said, “I don’t know, but boy did you blow up!” I thought, well this is a relief, this is different. It was funny. I was trying to think – I don’t remember when I gained a huge amount of weight. Then she said, “that Jon Hamm! He was like a sausage!” So I told her maybe her television was screwed up and then she got mad! Imagine having her as a landlord. But I’d almost take that over the other.
What did your wife make of that?
She couldn’t stop laughing.
What did you take with you from the set? Any of those fantastic suits?
I took the desk lamp on Roger’s desk. It’s this modern wood and metal boxy kind of desk lamp I had my eye on. I had to have it rewired because it was rigged for TV and it had just a piece of colored plastic for a filter. But it’s really great.
To see Slattery’s Roger Sterling through the years, click play below: