John Slattery, the four-time Best Supporting Actor Emmy nominee, and five-time director on AMC’s “Mad Men” is making his feature film directorial debut with an adaptation of “God’s Pocket,” a 1983 novel from National Book Award winner Pete Dexter. Slattery developed an affinity for Dexter’s novel of the same name when he first read it about ten years ago.
“It just has everything you want in a story,” he told Indiewire late last week, just three days before the New York shoot wrapped. “It has humor, it has great characters, and hope. And a little bit of violence and a little bit of sex.”
The film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as Mickey, a blue collar worker whose crazy stepson Leon, played by Caleb Landry Jones, is killed in a construction “accident.” Mickey quickly tries to bury the bad news with the body and placate his wife Jeanie, played by Christina Hendricks. Richard Jenkins plays Richard Shellburn, a journalist who comes searching for the truth, while John Turturro plays Mickey’s closest friend and business partner Arthur “Bird” Capezio.
After outlining the story directly from the novel, Slattery finalized the script with screenwriter Alex Metcalf. Though he had written an unproduced screenplay in the past, Slattery said that he didn’t feel like wholly penning his feature debut. “If I had thought more about it I would have been daunted by it,” Slattery said of the screenwriting process. “But again the source material was so good that I just had to keep going there.”
Slattery had always had an interest in directing, but had never taken the initiative to learn how until “Mad Men” became a hit drama. “On ‘Mad Men’ when it became evident that it was going to stick around, I thought that it would be a really good learning ground,” he said. “Everybody [there] is so good at their job.”
He asked if he could observe the directors on set, then followed them around learning the ropes before he asked to direct. “[That] was a leap of faith,” Slattery said of getting his first episode. “And it turned out well enough so that I’m still there.” Despite an on set education, Slattery admitted that there have been times on the set of “God’s Pocket” when he still felt like a novice. “There were days I found myself doing things I had no idea how to do,” he said.
Though unlike on his episodes of “Mad Men,” Slattery has one less thing to worry about on the set of “God’s Pocket”: his own acting. While he doesn’t mind directing himself, he finds the task distracting, and would rather only worry about one job. “It makes me I feel like I’m giving myself a better chance to succeed if I wasn’t busy doing something else at the same time,” he said.
Though he did turn to some familiar faces to help out on his first feature. Slattery specifically asked Christina Hendricks to act in the film. “It is comforting to have someone that you know and that you’ve worked with in the same capacity before. She’s just very talented and very right for the part as well,” Slattery said of Hendricks. “I’m just glad she said yes.”
The film is being produced by Park Pictures Features, in collaboration with Hoffman’s Cooper’s Town Productions and Slattery’s new Shoestring Pictures. The film marks the debut of Shoestring, as well as Slattery’s first producing gig.
After “Mad Men” finishes up its final season, will Slattery have more free time to direct other projects?
“I can’t even imagine doing another one,” Slattery joked. “I mean I can but I can’t imagine what it would be. I gotta finish shooting this one”
“God’s Pocket” wrapped a five-week, New York shoot on Monday. The production team will examine festival and distribution opportunities in the coming weeks.
Director: John Slattery
Writers: John Slattery and Alex Metcalf
Cinematographer: Lance Acord
Costume Designer: Donna Zakowska
Production Designer: Roshelle Berliner
Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro, and Caleb Landry Jones