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CONTENDER Q & A

John Slattery rides to Emmy approval on 'Mad Men'

After roles on 'Desperate Housewives' and 'Sex and the City,' the actor scores a supporting nom as ad exec Roger Sterling.

By Lisa Rosen, Special to The Times

July 30, 2008

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You probably remember that devilishly handsome face, and that great shock of white hair, from his role as Eva Longoria's suitor on " Desperate Housewives." Or his turn on "Sex and the City" as a kinky politician who wanted Carrie Bradshaw to, er, shower with him, sort of. But it's in his latest role as Roger Sterling, a partner at " Mad Men's" 1960s ad agency, that John Slattery really gets to shine. He and his advertising colleagues take full advantage of their place on top of the food chain, using the women under them, stabbing one another in the back, and consuming endless cocktails and cigarettes.

Much has been made of the fact that the AMC show, created by "Sopranos" veteran Matt Weiner, earned 16 Emmy nominations in its first season. Just as impressively, one of those nods went to Slattery, 45, who's been acting steadily since 1988.

So after 20 years of work, you received your first Emmy nomination for best supporting actor.

I know, overnight success.

What's that feel like?

It's fantastic. It comes because of something that I couldn't be prouder or happier to be a part of, and that's not always the case. I can find something to bitch about with just about every situation.

And you don't have anything to bitch about with this one?

I got nothin'. I got no beef.

Is the preparation different for a period character than a contemporary one?

The interior aspect of it is the same, you figure out what it is moment to moment, at least that's the way I do it. The external part of it -- the clothes, the furniture, the smoking and drinking and haircuts and all that stuff -- changes everything, changes the way a character sits and stands and what you're doing with your hands, and then it kind of takes on a life of its own. But I didn't really need to do any specific research because it's smoking and drinking, and basically I've been doing that my whole life.

After Roger's heart attack, I was worried you weren't going to be back this season.

I'm still there. They'd have to take me out in a box. Roger's not going to give up that place, are you kidding? It's like the kid that's been given the keys to the candy store.

Speaking of candy, were you surprised that the show received so many nominations?

I have to tell you the truth, I didn't know there were 16 categories. Sixteen seems like a huge amount. But I'm not surprised. I think the postproduction, all the below-the-line stuff, is so good that I'm always so impressed with the way it looks and sounds. . . . I was surprised that none of the female actors got nominated. From Lizzie Moss to January Jones to Christina, they do such a good job.

How did you hear about your nomination? Did you get an early morning call?

Yes, and I was about to go surfing, which is what I try to do in the morning if I have time before work. I was in the parking lot by the beach. You try to pretend you won't be disappointed if it doesn't happen and that you won't really care that much if it does happen. So it's a weird way to negotiate the day or two before, trying not to think about it. And then I was really happy. I was out on the water with a big smile on my face. It would have been a good place to be if I didn't get one either. I figured that's a good place to be, whatever way it goes.

Is that the same plan for when the actual Emmys happen, you'll try to pretend not to notice?

I kind of feel like a nomination was something that I could see the possibility of. Winning the thing? I don't know, maybe it'll seem more possible the closer it gets, but I don't even know what to think about that. William Shatner, Ted Danson, people that I've been watching on television for years. With guys like that, if I don't win, who cares? I mean I would care, but I would get it.

What can you tell me about the new season?

I can tell you nothing, beyond the fact that it's [14] months later, which you probably already know. That's a smart thing to do, because it's just long enough for your short-term problems to be somewhat resolved but your long-term "character issues," as my shrink used to call them, aren't going to go away. So that's the perfect amount of time.