Mad Men star John Slattery’s feature film directorial debut, God’s Pocket, is released across the UK 8 August. Last week the director was in town at the BFI for a short discussion about putting his new blackly comic crime drama together. The film is set in the gritty, blue-collar Philadelphia neighbourhood of God's Pocket, where small time crook Mickey Scarpato is forced by his wife Jeanie to investigate the mysterious death of his violent stepson, Leon, who was killed in a construction “accident.” Mickey has to struggle not only to somehow piece together the cash for the funeral whilst investigating what happened, but also has to help his friend Bird avoid getting hit by the local mob too, all whilst a local columnist comes sniffing around for the truth…and for his wife Jeanie.
- The film’s plot is adapted from the original novel from Pete Dexter (Who Wrote The Paperboy, which has also been adapted into a film by director Lee Daniels). Slattery read the book some twelve years ago or so, but had to wait until the rights were available after trying several times. Whilst waiting for the rights to fall into his hands, Slattery wrote several drafts, and honed his directing skills directing several episodes of the hit AMC cable TV show Mad Men, in which he stars as Roger Sterling. Finally getting the rights after directing a few episodes of the show, God’s Pocket felt like the next logical step as opposed to it begin a calculated plan to be a film director.
- The cast is top notch: including Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, John Turturro, Christina Hendricks, and Britain’s own Eddie Marsan. Hendricks was cast when Slattery realised she’d be ideal for the role of Jeanie whilst actually directing her during an episode of Mad Men, and he gave her the script. Once Hendricks and Hoffman were on board, Slattery was able to get the rest of the film to fall into place quite easily.
- Slattery wanted Philip Seymour Hoffman for the role of Bird originally, but it was Hoffman who suggested he take the role of Mickey instead, something Slattery immediately realised made more sense. Slattery himself never really considered acting in the film himself, the only part he felt he would've been right for was that of columnist Richard Shellburn, which ended up being taken by Richard Jenkins.
- Smilin’ Jack Moran is played by British actor Eddie Marsan, who Slattery had seen in various Mike Leigh films. He was the first actor Slattery wanted to play the wolfish funeral home director. It took some doing, as Marsan didn't want to leave his family in the UK for extended periods.
- The distinctive faded, murky look of the film, which is set in the early 1980s (matching the book’s setting), was partly guided by Slattery and his DoP’s Lance Acord’s decision to remove the colour blue as much as possible from the mix as it simply didn't work very well, thus leaving the colour palette tipping towards green and ochre. They did try to shoot on colour reversal stock, but couldn't get the 35mm film, thus leaving the film shot on digital with post production.
- Slattery doesn’t immediately plan to direct again, though he would like to, as he doesn’t have a story he likes to hand. Right now he is enjoying some time off having spent so long on Mad Men (the final part of the final season has been hot, but has yet to air).