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John Slattery Gushes About His Role In Revived Broadway Classic 'Front Page'


One of the great American plays has been revived on Broadway with a great American cast. "The Front Page", the 1928 Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play set in the pressroom of Chicago's criminal courts building on the night before a hanging, is back in all of its profane and swaggering glory. It stars Nathan Lane as the crusty editor, John Goodman as the blustery sheriff, Holland Taylor as the fusty mother-in-law to-be and as Hildy Johnson, the ink-and-gin-stained wretch in his last days on the beat - or so he thinks - is John Slattery, the actor and director so familiar from "Mad Men" and "Spotlight." John Slattery joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOHN SLATTERY: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: I often ask people why did you want to take this role, but having seen the play...

SLATTERY: Who wouldn't?

SIMON: (Laughter) That's right.

SLATTERY: I mean, it's the fantastic part in a fantastic play.

SIMON: Yeah. So you've known the play for a number of years.

SLATTERY: Yeah, I was a movie nut when I was a kid, and I think I saw "His Girl Friday" when I was in high school probably, which remains kind of my favorite, well, film version of "The Front Page."

SIMON: This is the Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant...

SLATTERY: Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant - Rosalind - Hildy is played by Rosalind Russell. And she and Walter Burns are divorced and and she's coming back to tell him that she's getting married to someone else. So yeah, I was familiar with it.

SIMON: Any worry that some of the humor and other references might be offensive these days?

SLATTERY: Yeah, if it's offensive, it's meant to be offensive. I think there's - there are a lot of parallels to what's happening today. I mean, as you said, the - it takes place on the eve of an execution, and the man being executed was shot for killing a black police officer, a white man.

SIMON: And the mayor and the sheriff...

SLATTERY: And the mayor and everybody's in collusion in trying to hang this man on the eve of an election so that they get the black vote in Chicago. So, you know, there's a lot of relevant topics going on in the play.

SIMON: Does it help an audience understand what I have no problem in referring to as the absolutely appalling sense of humor in the news business?

SLATTERY: I think it does.

SIMON: Yeah.

SLATTERY: I think it does. I mean, there were seven daily newspapers in Chicago in 1928, and you had to scrap and fabricate and pull a lot of threads to put together a story, an original take on what was going on. And that's reflected in this play.

SIMON: Even if you had to make it up.

SLATTERY: Even if you had to make it up out of old (ph) cloth, yeah.

SIMON: Is it a reunion of some talents? You obviously - you've - you were with Robert Morse on "Mad Men." You and Nathan Lane were on stage together in - what was it? - "Laughter On The 24th Floor."

SLATTERY: Yeah, that was in '93 I think, and '89 in Terrence McNally's "The Lisbon Traviata" was my first job in New York. So yes, a reunion for Nathan and I. And I know he's worked with John Goodman, and I did a radio play with John. I've known a lot of these actors for a long time. Some of them, it's my first time, but, yeah, Nathan and I go back a ways. And it's great to - so it's just great to work with him.

SIMON: There's a moment in the performance I saw. Hildy Johnson, of course, is leaving the newspaper business to get married and go into his wife-to-be's - her father's advertising business. You deliver that line. Everybody laughs for the obvious reason, thinking of "Mad Men." An industry question, though - when you come off such a fabled project as "Mad Men," are there a lot of people trying to get you to do the same thing all over again, one way or the other?

SLATTERY: Yeah. I mean, one way or another, but show business is like that. If you have some success playing a certain part, the next five things you're offered are parts of a similar nature. I mean, I've done a lot of period things I guess. But this is, you know, I actually bumped into Nathan on New Year's Eve, last New Year's Eve, and asked him what he was doing. And he said he was doing this play, and I had just read it because someone had told me this would be a good idea. You should check this play out. And I, you know, it stuck with me. It's just such a great play, and I said I should play that other guy, not remembering Hildy's name. And surprisingly, I got a call about a month later asking me to do it.

SIMON: John Slattery - "The Front Page" opens on Broadway October 20. Thanks so much for being with us.

SLATTERY: My pleasure, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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