THR Emmy Roundtable: Kevin Bacon, 'Mad Men's' John Slattery and More on Aging, Worst Auditions and 'Jerk' Pasts

This story first appeared in the June 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The gathering of six actors on an early April afternoon in Hollywood felt less like professional duty and more like group therapy.

The performers -- Kevin Bacon, 54 (Fox's The Following); Jeff Daniels, 58 (HBO's The Newsroom); Mandy Patinkin, 60 (Showtime's Homeland); Dennis Quaid, 59 (CBS' Vegas); John Slattery, 50 (AMC's Mad Men); and Corey Stoll, 37 (Netflix's House of Cards) -- shared and commiserated like old friends (and with equal parts happiness and horror) as they dissected the terrible auditions, egotistical outbursts, bizarre fan interactions and ongoing fire in their bellies for the craft that's landed them in the Emmy race.

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The Hollywood Reporter: Looking back on your career, what was your most difficult period?

Jeff Daniels: Not working. Then working and not getting paid, yeah. Pick any indie! Those times when you know you're good, you've worked with really good people and then you can't get arrested.

Dennis Quaid: Actor jail, they call that.

Kevin Bacon: I was once in a tailspin I'll never forget. I was standing on 87th and Broadway in New York with my wife [Kyra Sedgwick], and we were talking about my career. I was running out of money, had a baby on the way, and I had a total anxiety attack. And I told her, "I can't believe I'm doing a f--ing movie about underground worms [1990's Tremors]!" (Laughter.) I think that was probably a low point.

Mandy Patinkin: I love that film!

Quaid: I think we've all had that insecurity of, "Will I ever work again?" For me, it was during the '90s, when I made the transition from being in my 30s and then moving on to other roles. In a long career, you have to remake yourself, and that was a really rough transition for me.

John Slattery: The beginning of my career was difficult. I would take jobs because they were there, and there was a period in which I had done several jobs I probably shouldn't have done because they were offered to me before I realized, "Wait a minute, I don't have to do this." I wasn't getting very good advice -- I had to realize it the hard way. I hit a wall and thought, "I got to step back here and make better choices."

Patinkin: I certainly made some choices along the way that were not what I believed in but also defined my life after the fact. I remember, after I'd just done Evita [on Broadway] in the late '70s, they flew me out to Zoetrope to meet Gene Kelly, who was going to do That's Entertainment II or something. I walked into the studio to meet Kelly, and there's this sort of chubby, bald guy sitting behind this massive desk, but I couldn't see Kelly. Then I realized that I was looking at Gene Kelly. And he said: "Let me tell you something, kid. Our successes never teach us anything. They pat you on the back and send you on your way. But our failures we turn upside down and inside out and give us everything we ever had." So as anxiety-ridden as I was from some of my negative choices -- or choices that I didn't believe in -- I don't know who I would have been without them.

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THR: What lessons did you learn from the low points?

Bacon: Don't leave your wallet in the dressing room!

Corey Stoll: Without getting into any names, it's good in general to not assume other people's craziness. We all have our own craziness, and we have to maintain that. I have a constant need whenever I'm in a cast to be friends with everybody, be a family, and I think I've gotten in trouble sort of trying to, you know, let's be honest, everybody be honest. And sometimes …

Daniels: It doesn't work.

Stoll: Or sometimes it works too well! But in terms of choices, I'm at that place in my career where it's really the first time I have choices. And it's really interesting because I feel I actually have something to lose -- that every success I've had has surprised people. They've always been like, "Who is that guy?" I'm at a new place now, and it's scary. Obviously, I'm not going to complain about it. It's the easiest problem in the world.

THR: Corey, after such a breakout role in House of Cards, how are you deciding what to do next?

Stoll: Just trying to follow my bliss, do what I want to do, play the scenes I want to play and work with those people I want to work with. Try not to be too strategic. It's hard because you have a million people around you telling you to be strategic. "This job will lead to that." But I think there's a danger that you can spend your entire career being strategic and just, you know, trying to get the job that will get you the next job and sort of miss the job you're in. Am I right? I don't know. I just started this!

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Quaid: Yeah, I envy you.

Daniels: Whatever is in your heart. I mean, I look around the room, and there's a reason why we're all still f--ing here, you know? We have enough talent to kind of beat the system. It can't kill us, we're like cockroaches. And this is a business that doesn't care whether any of us are here on Tuesday. There's nobility in longevity. You look at Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Peter Sellers -- they lasted decades, and I think that's a goal. And what gets us there is that we're all good at what we do. Talent wins out. We may not be good every time, but that's the ride.

Quaid: When you start out, you're doing it for free, basically, in acting class because you want to be an actor. You really want to find out what it is to be into character and that human condition. I'm not even talking about the job part, I'm just talking about being an actor and having a fire in your belly for it. Then, if you're lucky enough to have the success happen, all these other things come into play: having money, raising a family and these career choices like you were talking about that are coming at you from all different kinds of places. It's tough to keep that original fire. We rekindle every once in a while, and I'm not sure how it happens, but I feel fortunate that it's still there.

Daniels: I think it's all about risk, whether it's a little indie, or a TV series, or a play, music. The idea that you might fail gets you clicked in again.

Quaid: Fear is a great motivator.

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