John Slattery keeps reminding himself not to take the success of Mad Men for granted. He says he and his colleagues must push themselves to keep from getting complacent. "The response to this show has been so overwhelmingly positive for so long, you start to expect it," Slattery says. "And that can be dangerous." But seriously, what's the worst that could happen if the show (8 p.m. Sunday on AMC) rested on its laurels? The four-time Emmy winner for best drama might risk going out with a whimper, but that wouldn't negate the fine work already done. And it's not like Slattery -- aka Roger Sterling, the "Good Time Charlie" of Mad Men's advertising team -- is going to struggle to snag a new job. Once you play a character as funny, as tragic and as scene-stealingly real as Roger, more offers are sure to follow.
1 Are you like your character in many ways?
Despite copping to some not-so-good qualities, the answer is yes. Starting with sense of humor, probably. I can tell a decent joke. But I think television is such that the writers write to your strengths, they write to your rhythms, to things that they know you can do. I think the show is very well cast in that way. Which is not to say that we are our characters. But I think we understand the way they operate.
2 Does it surprise you that, at age 50, you're thriving in a youth-obsessed industry?
I'm shocked. It's a difficult environment to stay active in. But I haven't had to worry yet about doing anything to my white hair. I'm gratified that I have a job -- and particularly this job.
3 A few years ago, you became a TV commercial pitchman for Lincoln automobiles. Did it seem somehow fitting to you, after so many years on a TV show about crafting ad campaigns?
It actually gave me pause: 'Do I want to sell cars on TV?' But then I thought, 'You turn on the TV and everybody's selling something.' So I went for it. It was very little heavy lifting and it was fun to do. Plus, I got a free car out of it.
4 You've directed three Mad Men episodes in past seasons. Are you doing more this year?
I've directed the seventh and the 10th episode. Doing it has given me deeper insight into the show: into how well-constructed it is, into how good everybody is at their jobs, into how all these different cast members perform in completely different ways. It's been really insightful.
5 Is directing something you plan to do more of after Mad Men?
Yeah. I have a movie that I'm going to make, which we're going to announce later. And I sold a Web series idea with a guy I write with. I'm going to produce and direct. I like acting very much. I don't intend to give it up. But I have always wanted to direct, and [series creator] Matt Weiner was generous enough to give me the opportunity. This show is a pretty good learning ground, a pretty good film school.
-- David Martindale, Special to the Star-Telegram