John Slattery Reflects on Directing 'God's Pocket': 'The Unexpected Is Welcome'
The "Mad Men" actor tells THR of his newly learned acting at an NYC screening of his directorial debut, starring Christina Hendricks and Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last roles.
John Slattery took the night off from plugging Mad Men to celebrate God's Pocket, released by AMC's sister company IFC Films and first debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January. "I'm proud of it. I'm very happy to get it out into the actual world," he told The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday at a special New York City screening of the film, which hits theaters Friday.
While the feature's release date prevented him from directing any Mad Men season-seven episodes so far, he noted that his turns behind the camera of the AMC drama taught him everything he knows about filmmaking. "I learned how to budget the day and deal with the pressure of trying to make good creative decisions with a short schedule," he explained. "But things that you worry about in the beginning, you don't so much worry about after getting a little -- a little -- bit of experience. I've talked to directors with way more experience, and you start to see the big picture a little better. It's less of a blur as you go on."
Based on the novel of the same name by Pete Dexter, God's Pocket plays out in a gritty blue-collar neighborhood, where the construction "accident" of a young boy leads to the burial of a body and the truth. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christina Hendricks star as the parents of the fallen son, while Richard Jenkins plays a reporter looking into the story's validity.
Slattery said the most difficult thing about directing a feature compared to a single television episode was getting everything shot properly within the 24-day schedule. "In Mad Men, when you shoot something, if you don't get everything, chances are you come back and fix it -- the sets, the actors are there for six months at a time. But in the feature, it was a period movie on a very short schedule, so if you didn't get the thing shot, chances are you weren't gonna be able to come back."
Still, the experience was enlightening for Slattery as both a director and an actor. "You gotta be open -- that's where the magic is. The unexpected is welcome," he told THR of collaborating with cinematographers and fellow Mad Men star Christina Hendricks for ideas. "I think she knows that I'm open to anything that she brings, and that was the reason I hired these actors to begin with. They have interpretations, and I welcome all that. Not to have to tell them what to do specifically, but to get them close and let them do what they want."
Regarding acting, Slattery said he is still learning from working with the star of God's Pocket, the late Hoffman. "We had our discussions to figure out what the emotional ballpark and circumstances of the scenes were, and then I'd watch him wait until the camera's rolling to fully figure it out," he explained. "That's kind of a high-wire act. I learned from that, watching him. Figuring everything out down to a precise point isn't necessarily the way something unexpected and cinematic happens. I learned a lot from watching him. I probably haven't even processed fully everything I've learned from just watching him."
Slattery attended the screening with his wife (and Mad Men actress) Talia Balsam, his family and the film's actors Peter Gerety, Carmine Famiglietti and Joyce Van Patten. The event also drew Margo Martindale, Julia Stiles, Cara Buono, Jennifer Westfeldt, Andrew Rannells, The Blacklist's Megan Boone and Ryan Eggold, Debra Messing with Nashville's Will Chase, chef Mario Batali and designer Nanette Lepore. The crowd then headed to the West Village's Bar Nana for the screening's after-party.
God's Pocket hits theaters May 9.