Emmy Spotlight: 'Mad' Man Slattery Is One Happy First-Timer

John Slattery's up for an Emmy for his role as Roger Sterling in "Mad Men."

Sept. 12, 2008 — -- First-time Emmy nominee John Slattery plays ad agency partner Roger Sterling in the drama Mad Men. The supporting character is lead Don Draper's boss and bad-behavior cohort. Slattery shares insights with USA TODAY about his role, the nomination and the reactions.

Q: What does it mean to be nominated for an Emmy 20 years into your career?

A: I read somewhere that there are two kinds of people: those who have the best things happen to them in the first half of their lives, or the last half of their lives, and which would you rather be? I suppose I'd rather be the one who has this happening 20 years in than in the beginning and then have nothing going on 20 years later. I feel like I've been in a 20-year apprenticeship.

Q: Are you sick of the congratulating yet?

A: So sick of it, I wish you'd stop.

Q:How did you celebrate when you heard the news?

A: I went surfing.

Q: Sounds like you're turning into a true Californian.

A: Actually, I started surfing in Long Island in Montauk a long time ago.

Q: What was the reaction from your wife (actress Talia Balsam, who plays his wife, Mona, on "Mad Men?"

A: I called her (from the beach) and she was happy. She said, "I knew it was going to happen," and went back to sleep.

Q: Let's dip into the hypothetical. Is there a spot picked out for the statue?

A: Oh, my God. We just moved into an apartment in Soho, so nothing has a home. Everything is movable. Who knows? I'll give it to the doorman — he can put it in the lobby.

Q: Did you know when you initially got this script what it would become? (The series is up for 16 Emmys, the most of any show.)

A: No, you condition yourself not to think that way. In the beginning you think, "Oh, man, if I just get that one part it will change everything." And then you get that one part and it doesn't change anything. There are a lot of humbling moments in this business.

Q: Is there a feeling of camaraderie between you and Jon Hamm? (Hamm, who plays Draper, also is a nominee.)

A: He was in New York when this all happened, and I called him up and congratulated him. He is somebody who is an overnight success after kicking around for 15 years. I know his life has gotten strange, and he has just handled it so well. We hit it off immediately Day 1, two years ago, when we did the pilot. I'm sure we drive people crazy at work because we screw around so much.

Q: Is it true you originally wanted to play his role?

A: Yeah, but who wouldn't? James Bond would want the role of Don Draper.

Q:You've run the gamut in television, working on pay-cable, on network television and now basic cable. Is there a difference, as an actor?

A: There's definitely a difference. The fewer people who are allowed to make creative decisions, the better. In the network situation, there are so many decisions that seem so ridiculous. It's not that there aren't any smart people in network TV, but there's so many people paid to make decisions that have no business making them. (For Mad Men) they hired Matt (Weiner, of The Sopranos) to do a show he had a strong idea about, and they let him do it.

Q: You seem drawn to political roles.

A: I'm not drawn to political roles per se, but people see you in one way and that's the way they want to cast you. I'd like to do something different, actually. I'd like to take a break from wearing a suit and tie. It isn't who I am. I'd like to do dark comedy, someone a little more emotionally available and less pulled together.

Q: What's up next for you?

A: I don't really have anything happening. The (writers') strike took everything off the table. If all this attention is worth anything, it's the opportunities it presents to maybe get a jump on a better part.