For years you’ve seen the great John Slattery is just about everything, but the Mad Men alum is also building a successful career as a film director. His latest movie, Maggie Moore(s), is out now and stars Jon Hamm and Tina Fey, who are investigating the bizarre murders of two women with the same name. The longtime Hamptons resident fills us in on this latest project.
What was it about this script that appealed to you?
The fact that it has many different tonalities going on simultaneously and the challenge to me was can I fit all of this in the same film. It’s the kind of film that I like to watch. It’s not necessarily the kind of film that goes over as easily with critics. You can get in trouble because people say it’s disjointed or has too many things going on. But those are the kind of films that I recall liking when I was younger. I like that there was some humor and a little spark between [Jon] Hamm and [Tina] Fey. Anything with comedy and violence in it. Maybe it’s my upbringing. The comedy of retribution always got me.
Where did you shoot the film?
We shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was a 30 day shoot, which I had to fight for. Albuquerque is a tricky place [to film.] It has a lot of infrastructutre but if you don’t have a lot of money, it’s very tricky because there’s a lot of television filming there. Everyone there wants to be a part of that. It’s a story that takes place in the desert so I was really happy to be there.
What are you like as a director?
Having been on the other side of the camera for so long, communicating with actors is something I’m pretty good at. I know that every actor kind of speaks a different language. Susan Shopmaker cast my last film and finds people who are not only right for the part but original and sometimes not the most famous person. You kind of fall into their work as a character and that’s what you know. I’m a good planner. I’m very well prepared. I storyboard most everything. I enjoy all of that. I enjoy communicating with actors, but I really enjoy setting up shots and figuring out the frame and what it will look like. You have to make sure every figure in the frame contributes to telling the story. I really like communicating with all the department heads and trying to be specific for what I’m looking for and then let them all do their jobs.
The movie has some real life inspirations. Tell us about that.
In 2000 in Houston, Texas two women by the name of Mary Morris were found dead and they’ve never figured who did it. The writer Paul Bernbaum either heard about it or saw something on the news and thought that circumstance was an interesting one to build a story. He took that circumstance of two women at the same time with the same name and invented the rest of the story. None of our characters are real people. After we finished the film and we put the trailer out, the daughters of the two women murdered found out about the film and thought we made a comedy out of the death of their mother so I called them. It took us a minute to get them to agree to speak to us so I could assure them that I didn’t tell their story and I would never disrespect anyone like that or make fun of anyone like that. For anyone who sees this movie, it happened 23 years ago and it’s still an open case. They are hoping if anyone sees the movie and did know anything that they would call Crime Stoppers and let them know.
You and Jon [Hamm] have a long history of working together on Mad Men. What’s your dynamic like?
We have a shorthand that people who hit it off immediately often do. We get each others jokes and sense of humor. We’ve worked together a lot in various things. There isn’t a lot of explaining that has to go on. I sent him the script, he liked it. You can ask for favors from your friends but you can’t ask for this big a favor. It has to be something that they see themselves do well. He liked the script and said we should do it. He said we should call Tina. My rapport with Hamm is pretty simple. We’re friends and hang out socially. I just went to his wedding, which was a blast and so beautiful. This was a part for him that he could show a certain vulnerability that you don’t see him get to do very often. Same with Tina!
What’s this experience like you to put your baby into the world? Is it hard to let go of a project like this?
It’s nerve-racking in that you want people to get it and like it. You know that not everyone is going to but you hope that they do. The strange thing about this is that the movie business has changed so much. We had a small theatrical release and that was really fun and gratifying to watch it with an audience in a movie theatre. All the laughs were in the right places. Then you kind of shove it out there to the world and it goes to Demand and a streamer. It comes to Hulu pretty soon and that’s where it will live.
Brunello Cuicnelli sponsored your screening in The Hamptons recently. Are you a fashion guy?
I like to get dressed occasionally! Especially since the pandemic where I was in my pajamas for about two years like everybody else. Brunello makes such beautiful clothes and they outfitted my wife. I appreciate anything well made. My father was in the show business as a leather merchant. Well made shoes were something I recognized and now I have a pair of Brunnelo Cuicnelli shoes!
You have a place in the East End.
We’re in Springs, I think. I say when if my house catches fire, I’m not sure what fire department is going to show up. Hopefully both! We’ve been coming out here for 25 years. I love it. I can’t get enough of it.
What’s a typical weekend like you for in the summer?
See friends, beach, I surf, we have a little boat that I bought that we keep nearby. I’m a terrible fisherman but I’m determined to get better. I’m not a huge fan of the city in the summer. I love New York City. I’ve been there for 35+ years but summertime isn’t my favorite time. It’s nice to get out of there for awhile.