In last Sunday’s sixth season premiere, John Slattery faced one of his biggest challenges so far while playing Mad Men’s Roger Sterling. Roger had to break down over the death of his shoe-shine guy.
“I’ve been in more scenes where it says, ‘He sobs’…and sobs is a scary word, right?” he said in an interview with Vulture. “Weeps is okay. He gets emotional, fine. Sobs, and you go, Oh shit, man, I’ve gotta sob? How am I going to sob? Who sobs? You see that word in a script, and when you go to bed, you’re just thinking, Why do I have to sob? Do I have to sob this week? No, I don’t sob until a week from Monday. Then somebody tells you have to shoot it earlier. ‘No we don’t.’ ‘Yeah we do.’ ‘No. We don’t shoot that scene until next Monday because I’m emotionally inching my way up on the sobbing and I’m telling you it’s next fucking Monday!’ I don’t even know what the question was.”
But despite the difficulty, Slattery felt the scene was an important character development for Roger. “I thought it was great storytelling,” he said. “It’s great to see this guy who supposedly doesn’t feel anything in these therapy sessions, claiming that it’s all bullshit, that life is just meaningless, that experiences mean nothing. And then all of a sudden he falls apart because he’s been holding it all in.”
“So he obviously does feel loss. It’s just he doesn’t want to admit it, and he doesn’t want to feel it. At some point I remember doing some emotional scene, and it was something where it was not easily coming to me. And someone said, ‘Well, what healthy psyche would want to go down that rat hole anyway?’”
Slattery has spent his own time in a therapist’s office admitting, “The experience I’ve had in therapy is it’s the days you don’t think you have anything to talk about that something comes spilling out.” He also confessed that he relates to some of Roger’s behaviors.
“Well, you know [as an actor]you’re tricking yourself into experiencing all this horrible shit in order to get to this emotional state,” he said. “What healthy mind, body, or soul would want to go there? It’s the same thing [as what Roger does.] You don’t want to open yourself up to it.”
Mad Men airs on AMC on Sundays at 9 p.m.