In the indie drama God’s Pocket, from first-time feature director John Slattery, Mickey Scarpato’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) crazy stepson, Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), is killed in a supposed construction accident. But when a local columnist (Richard Jenkins) comes sniffing around for the truth, Mickey finds himself stuck in a life-and-death struggle with a wife (Christina Hendricks) he just can’t please.
While at the film’s press day, writer/director John Slattery and actress Christina Hendricks, who are both co-stars on the AMC drama series Mad Men, spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about finally getting this film to audiences, what it was like to both watch Philip Seymour Hoffman work and work with him, the collaborating filmmaking process, and going through post-production to assemble the film. They also talked about what it’s like to be finishing up the last episodes of Mad Men and going through the experience together, and Christina Hendricks talked about working with another actor-turned-director, Ryan Gosling, on his directorial debut Lost River. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
JOHN SLATTERY: Yeah, that’s true.
Is it nice to have this film finally reaching audiences?
SLATTERY: It’s very gratifying. Obviously, given the circumstances, it isn’t necessarily the way I thought it was gonna go, but it almost doubles the gratification of having it actually arrive in to the world. I remember thinking, before we started shooting, that it was like standing in front of a building and someone telling you, “You have to climb up that thing, and then climb down the other side.” I thought, “What would it be like, if I had already done it?” I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have already shot it. It was the weirdest sensation. They say when you’re cold that you can’t imagine being hot. I’ve done a lot of this or that creatively, and you go, “I wonder what this would be like?” But, it just seemed so insurmountable. So, it turned out every bit as good as I thought it would, to me, and I hope people feel the same.
CHRISTINA HENDRICKS: I’ve really proud of it. My family and my best friends finally got to see it. They’re been hearing about it for a year now, and I’m super excitement and super proud that people are finally getting to see it.
And with as sad as it is that Philip Seymour Hoffman is gone, this is a great tribute to him.
HENDRICKS: Yeah. We’ve obviously been grieving, but it doesn’t take away from how special it was, at the time, and how special it is now. The fact that Phil was in it and we got to work with him was extraordinary, and now we have this beautiful finished product that we hope people will still want to see. It’s very special to us.
What was it like to both watch him work and work with him?
SLATTERY: That’s a good way to put it. There is a difference, when someone who’s done as much work as he has. We all are fans. We knew each other and we were friends, but then there is that moment where you’re like, “Oh, this is different. This is what this is like.” It’s an entirely other experience from watching someone in a movie to actually working with them and putting the pieces of the movie together. It’s magic. The pieces are all put together, and then you put on a show. But actually making the show, you’re in the trenches, and it’s about the nuts and bolts. Then, you get glimpses of what you see on the movie screen, on the set. You’re reminded, “Holy shit, it’s Philip Seymour Hoffman!” I’ve had that experience before, working with actors, as an actor, but I’ve never had it as a director. It’s an extraordinary experience.
HENDRICKS: You move in and out of the space of, “Oh, my god, that’s Philip Seymour Hoffman! Oh, my god, that’s Richard Jenkins!” You have these moments, and then you have to stop yourself. Or maybe you don’t even stop yourself, but it just happens. You start the scene and you both just fall into your roles. It becomes very natural. And then, there might be a moment, later in the afternoon, where you’re like, “Oh, my god, I just did that scene with Richard Jenkins! That’s crazy!” You’re slowly moving out of this space of being a fan and into one of being a collaborator. You’d be silly not to acknowledge it or feel it.
SLATTERY: Everybody feels it. Every actor came to me and said, “I can’t believe I got to work with that guy,” including Phil, talking about working with the other actors. The way the New York community of actors is, where most of the actors came from, from, there’s a chance that you’ve worked with someone. Especially in the theater, you work with someone, and then you bump into them again, four years later, on another thing. I know that one of Phil’s favorite things was working with all those other actors. They’re all fans and admirers of one another. When you get the good luck to go and actually work with someone, they’re memorable experiences, and it’s not always that way. Sometimes you do something and you can tell while doing it that it isn’t what you thought it was going to be. You want it to be special, but it isn’t, all the time.
John, when you have such a talented cast like this, as the director, do you just let them do their thing, unless you feel like something is going off track, or they specifically ask you to intervene?
SLATTERY: Yeah, pretty much. It’s a collaboration, and people say that, but what that means is having the willingness to accept what people have to offer, even if it’s a better idea. You have to fight for what you need to fight for. There are a lot of situations where you say, “No, this is the way it has to be. This is the way I see it. I’ve always seen it like this.” You are adamant sometimes, but other times, you can see that the actor has an idea of the person and a way of behaving as that person that is so personal and so specific that you just go, “That sounds good to me.” And then, it comes out the other end of the camera and you can’t believe it. You have to be willing to accept the personal specificity that people show up with.
HENDRICKS: I think so. There are so many different kinds of directors. Some are very technical. They don’t want to have to think about anything else, and if you ask them a question, it freaks them out and they don’t know how to answer it. John is technical, but he also is an actor. When you ask him a question, he knows exactly why you’re asking it. He knows what you need, in that moment. It’s a relief because you go and have the conversation, and then you both know. That’s it. There’s no frustration there.
SLATTERY: Which doesn’t necessarily mean that I have the answer. I’ve read the thing probably 100 times more than anybody else, between the book and the script, but I’ll say, “I don’t know. I don’t know whether it should be this.” And sometimes there is no answer because you can play it hotter or colder. When the writing is as good as this is – and I mean Pete Dexter’s writing – it accommodates both. The writing on Mad Men is the same way. You can shoot it about seven different ways and the writing will support you. It’s like, “Wow, how much time do we have ‘cause we could do this all day?” But we don’t have that kind of time, so you have to make choices. That’s both the exciting and the scary part because something is going to get left out, in favor of something else. But that’s what the whole process of art is anyway. A painting can’t be everything. You have to stop, at some point. It has to be finished, if you want anyone to see it. Some people just continue to work on things, forever. I don’t know which is better. If you work on something, and then, at the end of your life, you put this thing out that’s your life’s work and it’s what you wanted it to be, that sounds okay, too.
John, had you ever considered acting in one of the roles in the film, or did you not want to direct yourself?
SLATTERY: I’ve done it on Mad Men, and it’s exciting and fun and challenging. But in this situation, there were too many things that I didn’t know how to do, that I didn’t want to burden myself with handling that end of it. And Richard Jenkins was available. That was the real reason. If I could put me in it or put Richard Jenkins in it, I would go with Richard Jenkins, and I did. That’s my note to everyone. If you can get Richard Jenkins, you should get him.
Having been through it before on Mad Men, did you find the post-production process went smoothly on this film? Was it easier to make edits when you didn’t have to worry about your own acting?
SLATTERY: The good thing about directing yourself is that you get over yourself. You watch yourself in something the first time and it’s distracting. Whether it’s physical or vanity, or whatever it is, you’re remembering the experience of having done it. But in editing yourself, that goes out the window in favor of which take is best. It’s a good lesson, as an actor, because you realize that the burden is less than you thought it was. The scene can work, even if you’re not 100% on your game.
SLATTERY: Sometimes I’m like, “We’re not using that shot because I look like I’m a thousand years old. Scrap that!” I’ve done that, too. Shit, that’s part of the benefit. I’ve done that, and then Matt Weiner has put that shot back in because it’s a better way to tell the story. So, I’ve fudged a few things. Ben Stiller and Ben Affleck do a great job of it. Woody Allen has been doing it for a long, long time. In the beginning, I don’t know what it was like for him. You almost can’t even discuss Woody Allen because he’s remarkable. But, I’m very impressed with Ben Affleck and the performance he gave in Argo. That movie was complicated and tension-filled, and paced so well and edited so well. I was like, “How the hell do you do that?!” That’s very impressive to me.
What’s it like to be in the final season of Mad Men? Are you at the point where you feel like it’s the final season and you’ve come to terms with that, or are you still in denial?
HENDRICKS: I don’t know if we’ve come to terms with it, but we’re certainly feeling it. There’s a lot of emotion. We’re all quite sentimental. It’s changed our lives, and it changed all of our lives, at the same time. And it did the same thing to all of our lives. Maybe your friends and family can’t know exactly what you went through, but that family does, and that’s very unique.
SLATTERY: To a greater or lesser degree, we all had this thing come out into the world and change our lives. There is a commonality of experience there. You have a bonding experience that no one else knows. There’s other shows and movies, but we’ve all spent a lot of time with each other. There are these weird little benchmarks. We only have four episodes left to shoot. It’s winding down and you don’t realize it, but you do. Every time you sit in the room and do a table read, someone says, “We have three more left,” and you go, “Oh, my god, this is actually going to be gone in a minute.”
HENDRICKS: And you can’t prepare yourself for something you’ve never gone through. We’ve never been on a show for 10 years, and then finished. You can brace yourself and you can acknowledge it every second, so that it’s not like you just walked into a door, but you never know until you’re there.
Christina, how did Ryan Gosling compare, as another actor directing you for his first feature, with Lost River?
HENDRICKS: They were very different directors. Both really wonderful and really creative, but very different in their technique. Both very different movies, but I still haven’t seen Lost River. I’m still waiting to see exactly what it is.
God’s Pocket is now playing in theaters, and is available on VOD starting May 14th.