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Talking <i>Mad Men</i> With Mad Men John Slattery and Jared Harris

After a prolonged wait, Mad Men returns to the airwaves Sunday night and few people are happier about that than John Slattery and Jared Harris. The actors play Roger Sterling and Lane Pryce, respectively, two of the four named partners in the ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. We've seen the season premiere and while we wouldn't dream of giving anything away (because Matthew Weiner might hunt us down Hunger Games-style if we did), we can confirm that Roger, Lane and the rest of the characters you know and love are back in fine form. Slattery and Harris recently spoke with reporters by phone to discuss what viewers can expect from Season 5.

On Coming Back to Mad Men After the Lengthy Hiatus
Slattery: It's a little nerve-wracking in that it takes a couple scenes to get into it. For my first scenes, I was with Lizzie Moss and Jon Hamm was directing and we were thinking of punking him in some way or another, but it turns out we were a little too tight to do something like that. We were just trying to get the scene done the way it was supposed to be done. It takes a little while to figure out smoking, drinking and walking and talking at the same time. You just have to dive right in and it's a challenge to keep the larger considerations of where people are in the overall arc while playing a scene which you have to play moment-to-moment. You don't succeed at it all the time, which is why we have editors. You just have to stack one good scene on top of another and hope it all fits together as intended.
Harris: I was thrilled to be back. I didn't doubt for a second that we wouldn't be coming back, it was more a question of when, not if. I think the time away made me appreciate the experience more. One of the things I came back with a renewed sense of was how lucky I was to be working on material like this. Because you go off and read other scripts and things like that and there isn't that same attention to detail that Matt brings to it.

On What's in Store for Their Characters This Season
Slattery: I can't give it away, but this season has a lot to do with who decides to embrace the change culturally and who doesn't. And it isn't who you'd necessarily think it is. Some people do remain who they are or who they think they are right through cultural change and other people can't wait for that change to reinvent themselves. Change also isn't always by choice. A lot of people, Roger included, make a few impulsive decisions and have to live with the consequences. When we pick the show up, he's lost his account and his marriage isn't exactly paradise and he's in a competitive place and has to figure out how to remain successful. I keep wanting to say things and not give details away. I think he learns certain lessons and willfully doesn't learn others.
Harris: All I can say is I have a good season and I look forward to it unfolding. They really are very vigilant about us not saying who we have scenes with and given that Matt Weiner is sitting not too far away from me, if I said something and pissed him off, I don't know what he'd do to me next season! [Laughs] I will say this: after this season is over, if you go back and watch the season premiere, you'll see that everything that happens afterwards is set up in this first two hours. Matt doesn't go backwards, he doesn't repeat himself. He's not interested in regurgitating storylines. He sees that all of these characters are moving forward in their lives through time and that everything is a progression from what's occurred before. He'll go back and pick up on threads from Season 2 and Season 3 and refer back to them to pay them off this season. But I can't be specific about that. That's just the way he writes.

On the Infamous Mad Men Veil of Secrecy
Slattery: Matthew shares a little bit of information about what's coming up for our characters. Sometimes he'll bounce what he's considering off of people just to see how it lands. But generally speaking, we get the scripts a day or so before we shoot them and we sit down at a table -- cast, crew, executives from the studio and network -- and read it aloud. Those table reads are really exciting because it's a page turner. Everyone wants to know what's going to happen and it's always surprising. So we don't often know where the character is heading. It was surprising to us when Draper proposed to his secretary! There's more of that kind of thing this season, which takes everyone completely by surprise and I think will take the audience completely by surprise. I was saying to Matt: I wish we could put cameras in peoples' houses and watch their reactions to certain scenes, because I think it's going to be amazing.
Harris: [In] every single script there's something that surprise you, the stuff Matt does with different characters, because he makes sure that he gives all of the actors something to do throughout the season and adds in new revelations and twists and turns. You get surprised yourself by what he's written for you and where he's taking the character. That happens every time you read each script. One of the things actors do is write character bios for themselves where you can decide that this is your character's third marriage and he's got two kids from another marriage, etc. And then Matt hands you a script and you discover that this is your first marriage and you don't have any children. The point being: you can't get attached to anything because you don't know what he's going to do.

Slattery on Hamm's Directorial Debut
I directed the fifth episode of this season, which I think airs on April 15. I don't think every [actor] has an interest in directing; I've always been interested and I think Jon has, but he was reticent to do it because his workload is already so heavy that he didn't want to add to it or maybe take away from his performance by spending time directing. I don't have as heavy a workload as he does. But he was very good at it and unsurprisingly he knows it's all about the time. The amount of material that needs to be executed in a very short amount of time is always the challenge. But he's really good at it -- concise, specific, low key. It was like he'd been doing it forever.

Harris on How He's Nothing Like His Character
One of the models for Lane is my stepfather [actor] Rex Harrison. In terms of how I'm not like him, I haven't got his fastidiousness in dress sense and I'm enjoying that part of the character. You can't show up in a pair of dirty jeans and a T-shirt for Mad Men. In my personal life, I'm a little bit more of a snob. You know, we all have to do our taxes once a year and when I'm pouring over those boring pieces of fucking paper, I think of Lane and that pushes me through. I think of it as character research. [Laughs]

Slattery on Mad Men's Cultural Impact
It has surprised me because you don't find instances of this very often. We all started this because the material was good. And then it occurred to us that the material was getting better. I think the combination of people's TV-watching habits with DVRs and being able to download shows from places like iTunes and Netflix and the clothing and the performances, it all created this perfect storm of people being able to attach to this show and pay attention to it in ways you maybe couldn't a short time ago. Ultimately it just comes down to the writing; it's a really well-told story and if it wasn't this well-written, there wouldn't be all this attention around it.

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