A chat with John Sloan
If the name John Sloan doesn’t immediately ring a bell…well, to be honest, it probably wouldn’t surprise him. While John’s been acting for more than a decade (much more when you include his theatrical work) and has done time on both the East and West coasts, he’s hasn’t necessarily had a lot of what you’d call “matinee roles.” That’s not to say he hasn’t been keeping busy – he’s made appearances on “Gilmore Girls,” “Commander in Chief,” “American Dreams,” “Tru Calling,” and “Boston Public,” among others – but it wasn’t until 2005 that he got the job that really gave him a ton of screen time: the Sci-Fi Channel mini-series, “The Triangle.” Now, he’s one of the leads in “Happy Hour,” a new series debuting this fall on Fox…and, even cooler, I went to college with his brother, Matt, which means I can now say that I kinda sorta know someone who has their own TV show. Thanks partly to his brother wanting to “make sure he’s not acting like a big-shot, now that he’s all famous,” but mostly because he’s a nice guy, John sat down with Bullz-Eye to chat about his new gig, some of his past TV experiences, what the life of a struggling actor is like, and how his mom got to meet Parker Posey.
John Sloan: Hi, Will, how are ya?
Bullz-Eye: Pretty good. How are you?
JS: Not bad. Just having my second cup of coffee.
BE: Just finished my third.
JS: Oh, wow, you’re way ahead of me!
BE: Well, you’ve got some time to catch up. So…congratulations on your show getting picked up! That’s awesome!
JS: Thank you! Yeah, it is awesome! It hasn’t quite settled in. I think when I get to New York on Wednesday and see all the hoopla that it’ll settle in a bit more.
BE: So I don’t know a whole lot about the show, except that it’s going to be on Fox. Is it a sitcom, a drama…?
JS: It’s a half-hour comedy called “Happy Hour.” It was created by Jackie and Jeff Filgo, who were producers on “That ‘70s Show,” writers and producers on that show. And this is their first…well, actually, they became the show runners, I believe, after the Turners (Bonnie and Terry) left, so they ran that show for the last three years, I think. And this is their first one after that. And, yeah, “Happy Hour,” it’s a cast of six. It takes place in Chicago, and, at least in the pilot, it’s the story of my character – Henry Beckman – who’s a bit of a country mouse. You know, a small-town guy who moves to the big city and promptly loses his girlfriend, apartment, and job, all within the first eight minutes of this pilot! (Laughs) And, y’know, hilarity ensues!
BE: Wacky hijinks, etcetera?
JS: Exactly, exactly! In order to stay close to his girlfriend, he finds an apartment in the same building and becomes the roommate of Larry, who is sort of a loveable rogue. He’s sort of the Oscar to my Felix, in the “Odd Couple” situation. And there are crazy neighbors as well!
BE: How did you come upon the project? Or was it something that was pitched to you?
JS: It was an audition this pilot season that I was sent on. I think I auditioned for the first time in January, and then went back and met Jackie and Jeff and the director, Andy Ackerman, for a second audition…and then didn’t hear anything for about a month! And then I heard from them again, and I guess they decided to change their thinking on the character, and so I went back in again. In total, I think I auditioned…seven times? The final one being an actual screen test. We actually shot a couple of scenes from the pilot with the people who were already cast on…on the set of “Joey,” actually, which was very surreal, as you can imagine!
BE: I’m surprised Matt LeBlanc didn’t make himself available to audition, given the fate of the show.
JS: Exactly. Like, he sort of pops his head around the corner and says, “Hey, guys, uh…any part for me?” (Laughs) So it wasn’t really pitched to me, per se. It was more like…me pitching myself. So that’s how that went down.
BE: Had you done other pilots in the past?
JS: No, this was my first actual pilot, and only my second test. I don’t know how much you know about the audition process for TV shows, but there’s usually an initial, then a callback, then a quote-unquote “work session,” which is, in a way, to prepare you for testing for the studio and the network. It’s two separate tests. For “Happy Hour,” it’s a Warner Brothers pilot for Fox, so you have to do a test for Warner Brothers, and then a test for the network. All those situations can be very overwhelming and intimidating, and it’s very bizarre because sometimes you’re in a very small office, and there are fifteen executives piled onto the window ledge and the couches and on the armrests of chairs, all staring at you and waiting for you to be hilarious, waiting for you to be their next hit.
BE: So, no pressure.
JS: Yeah, no pressure at all! And then all the actors are out in the waiting room, trying to pretend that they’re cool and all experienced, but, inside, everyone’s terrified.
BE: So, in fact, your life really is like an episode of “Joey.”
JS: (Laughs) Yes. Yes, but hopefully I’m slightly more aware.
BE: So you’ve been doing spots on various shows for the past couple of years, but it looks like things really kicked into gear in 2005. It seemed like you were everywhere: “Judging Amy,” “Commander in Chief,” “The Unit,” “Gilmore Girls”…
JS: Yeah, I think it’s sort of…that’s sort of what you do in L.A. when you’re getting started. I moved here in…gosh, I guess it’s been almost four years ago now! And that’s where the bulk of the everyday work is. That’s the way you build your résumé and pay the rent. So, y’know, I’ve done well out here. I probably would’ve run screaming back to New York if I hadn’t been getting work. Yeah, L.A. has been very good to me, so I think I’ll stick around! (Laughs) Doing guest spots on television is great work, although it’s hard because you come onto a set where everyone knows each other and have probably been working together for at least a little while, and they’re in a flow and a routine. It’s kind of like the first day of school, over and over and over again, with each new job. So you kind of have to develop a tough skin for that and not be shy. You have to be the outgoing guy and make friends quickly.
BE: You know, speaking of New York, I still remember getting the email from Matt, saying, “You need to vote for my brother for this movie, ‘Returning Mickey Stern,’ that he’s trying to win a part in.”
JS: Yeah, that would be CastOurMovie.com.
BE: Well, obviously, I know the story about it, since I voted for you, but do you want to talk about it a little bit for the interview?
JS: (Hesitates) Did you say for the interview, or not for the interview?
BE: For the interview.
JS: (Hesitates again) Well, you know, you find yourself…in the search for work, you find yourself in some strange situations, and I think that’s the best thing I can say. All of a sudden, you look up and you think, “Man, I must really want to work. What am I doing here?” However you get it, though, whatever works, that’s fine; getting the job is the most important thing…and if just so happens that a thousand people had to vote for me on the internet, so be it. It turned out to be a fun movie and a good experience. I don’t think I’d want to do it again… (Laughs)
BE: I’ve never actually seen the film, but since I know he was in it, do you actually have any scenes with Tom Bosley (a.k.a. Mr. C from “Happy Days”)?
JS: I don’t. I have one with Joe Bologna. But Tom Bosley was fun to be around; I spent a lot of time around him, and he’s just an old pro. It was sort of a novice crew of filmmakers…well, the director was a first-time director, so things get a little casual and can sort of get kind of loosey-goosey, and he was always right there after a few minutes of people sort of goofing around to say, “Okay, let’s do this!” And everyone would snap to attention and get to work. So that was sort of fun to watch.
BE: Was the film what led you to move to Los Angeles, that you felt like you’d gotten a foot in the door?
JS: Um…no, to be honest, I was doing a lot of work in regional theaters around the country, in Denver and Seattle, so I was out of town…I was living in New York but spending a lot of time on the road. One thing led to another, and I lost my apartment in the city, and I decided that I would just give L.A. a try for six months. I also had some friends who were also going to be out here for six months, so we all got an apartment together…but they had an apartment in New York to return to, whereas I did not, and I didn’t have the energy to apartment-hunt in New York again, so I decided to stay out here. And I think it was a good decision!
BE: And did you continue doing theater around L.A. between parts?
JS: Absolutely! Out here, it very quickly becomes the kind of thing you do between parts, but I don’t really see it as in-between work. I see it just as work. The theater’s where I started, and it’s always going to be my first love; I will always do it, no matter what, and will be looking for a way to fit it into my schedule. There are a lot of great regional theaters in the L.A. area and in California. I’ve been lucky enough to work at South Coast Repertory, and I work with a theater company called the Antaeus Company here in L.A. that does mostly classical work and has been very successful. So that’s the way you kind of keep fresh and keep alive…and keep working!
BE: Are there any particular plays that are your favorites, that you like to revisit when you can.?
JS: Well, I did one at the Denver Center Theater Company called “A Skull in Connemara,” which was written by Martin McDonagh, and he did…it’s part of a trilogy called “The Lenane Trilogy.” There’s “The Beauty Queen of Lenane,” then “A Skull in Connemara” and “The Lonesome West.” He’s sort of…people liken him to Sam Shepard. The Irish Sam Shepard. There’s a lot of blood!
JS: (Laughs) They’re a lot of fun, but it’s a very dark world that he investigates…small, small villages in the Irish countryside. But that is absolutely one of my favorite plays.
BE: Of the…
JS: I’m sorry, Will, hang on one minute, my cell phone’s ringing.
BE: Sure, no problem.
BE: No problem. What was the ringtone, by the way? I couldn’t quite hear it.
JS: I’d have to look it up. I forget what it is. Something in G minor.
BE: Oh, what I was going to ask you was, of the shows you’ve done guest spots on, what have been your favorites?
JS: Um…I guess I’d have to say the role I played on “American Dreams” was one of my favorites, because it wasn’t typical casting for me. I played…what was his name? Corporal Stewart. And I was a new platoon leader for Will Estes’ platoon in Vietnam, and my character was sort of a West Point legacy who coasted into his commission because of his family connections, and he’s completely inexperienced, he hasn’t been in the country at all, and he comes in and he’s a real hard-ass. A strict, by-the-book jerk, basically…and such a jerk that, by the end of the episode, someone shoots him in the back! He gets fragged. And I generally play the affable, easy-going, winning young man. This was a great opportunity for me to, uh, be an asshole!
JS: So I really enjoyed that. And, y’know, you get to wear all the gear, there’s explosions going off all around you, you get to fire the gun, and there’s all that fun stuff as well. So I really enjoyed that.
BE: Wasn’t that right around the time that Matt was telling me about a nationally-aired cell phone commercial you were in?
JS: Right. That was a little after that, actually.
BE: “The Triangle” was a pretty significant part for you. Maybe not top-billing, but you got to work with pretty much every major star who was in the film: Sam Neill, Eric Stoltz, Catherine Bell from “JAG”…how was that?
JS: That was fantastic. That was really fantastic. Because, like you said, I got to spend time with the whole cast, which was a great cast…especially being Sam Neill’s right-hand man. He’s been doing it for awhile, you know, so it was really, really fun to watch him work. I would stand behind the monitor every time he had to do a take, especially his close-ups, because he’s just kind of a master at it. And, besides that, he’s a great, great guy and he was a lot of fun to hang out with. And it’s always nice when an actor you admire, who’s had a lot of success, turns out to be a nice guy, and not a jerk. And, of course, Eric Stoltz and this guy, Michael Rogers, who played Bruce Geller, is also a fantastic actor. We all had a lot of fun. We got to go to Capetown, South Africa, to shoot for the summer…well, our summer. It was their winter. But it was still gorgeous, and a stunning place to be living and working.
BE: Where else have you gotten to travel for roles?
JS: That, obviously, is the farthest I’ve traveled…but I did an episode of “Tru Calling” up in Vancouver, which is kinda like a little L.A. now, there’s so much production up there. Let’s see…I got to go home back to Ohio to do a part in a movie called “The OH in Ohio.”
BE: Yep, I was going to ask you about that. What was it like, getting to go home for a part?
JS: It was fun. It wasn’t a huge part, so I didn’t get to spend a lot of time, but we shot in a club in downtown Cleveland, and my mom got to come down to the set and sit behind the monitor with headphones. And I think that was the first time she got to do that, so that was a big thrill for her. It gave her a real good look into what it is that I do for a living…and I think she was a little surprised at all the ins and outs of the process. She also was sitting next to the producers, who were making comments on each take, so I think she was a bit scandalized by these worldly, hardened show business producers and what they might say during a take, y’know? (Pauses) Dude, you gotta edit out all the “y’knows.” I realize I say “y’know” about five hundred times…
BE: Ah, you’re not the only one, believe me.
JS: God, it’s awful! But I’m so glad to be doing this interview now, because I have to go to New York and apparently do a bunch, so I can get my technique down.
BE: Have you ever reached the point where you were working paycheck to paycheck between gigs? Were you ever the textbook definition of the struggling actor at any point?
JS: Oh, I have been, yeah! (Laughs) I have been the textbook struggling actor for awhile! I have done any number of different jobs. Of course, I worked in restaurants, I catered...in New York, I worked for an apartment-cleaning service, so I cleaned apartments for awhile. It’s actually a very cool company; it was owned and operated by actors and mainly populated by actors. (Pauses) Actually, I kinda liked cleaning apartments, oddly enough; you can sort of zone out and kind of get a peek into the way other people live. I was someone’s personal assistant for awhile. I did all that stuff, random jobs, all the while when I was living in New York, doing theater for free…or also getting paid. I did some shows off-Broadway. It’s only really since I moved to Los Angeles that I’ve made my living solely as an actor. I’ve been doing that for awhile, which I’m proud to say. But even when I first moved to L.A., I worked in a restaurant for a little while as well. But I always take exception when people say, “Oh, so you’re trying to be an actor,” just because you happen to be working in a restaurant as well. I would always respond, “No, I am an actor; I’m doing this, this, and this…but, also, at night, I go to this restaurant.”
BE: I can totally sympathize with that…because as a writer who only recently got a full-time gig, I spent years writing on the side and having to pick my phrases carefully, like, “Well, I do some freelance writing on the side, but to pay the bills…”
JS: Yeah, there’s “to pay the bills,” or “when I need to,” or “to pay the rent,” that kind of thing. But for actors… (Stops abruptly when both of us hear a sound in the background on his end) What the hell…?
JS: Okay, anyway…what do I want to say about this? I have a lot of thoughts on it. Some work you do is more visible than other work, but it’s work nonetheless…and not necessarily of any lesser value, I feel. Sure, I may get paid a lot more and a lot more people may see this television series, but I consider the work that I’ve done in a small theater for no money certainly as valuable to me as an actor but also as valuable an experience for the audience. I mean, it’s only natural that people are more in awe or wowed by the flashy TV series, and of course you reach more people, but I don’t know. I guess I have a lot of respect for all kinds of work; I don’t in any way look down on a job just because I’m only getting paid $200 a week.
BE: Did you feel like you’d made it when you had your own page on the Internet Movie Database?
JS: (Laughs) No…but when my star meter went up, though, I thought, “Wow, this is it! I’m blowin’ UP!” When my star meter went up to 2,000-something after “The Triangle,” I thought, “This is it for me!” But, no, I don’t think anyone ever feels like they’ve made it. I’m sure Tom Hanks has his frustrations and is dissatisfied and is still searching for better and better stuff…and, hopefully, he finds it.
BE: Is there any part that you haven’t gotten in the past that you hadn’t gotten but you really wished you had?
JS: (Makes a sound which can only be translated as a “are you kidding me?” noise) Uh, yeah!
BE: (Laughs) Apparently a ton of them?
JS: How much time do we have?!? I’d be hard pressed to give you a concise list…or to really remember them specifically. I’d have to think pretty hard, because you develop…I guess it’s a coping mechanism. Generally, if you don’t get a part, they don’t call. Just…nothing happens. So, after awhile, you realize that it’s not going to happen or that you’re not going to get it. So, very often, I’d just say, “Next!” And it was almost like the whole thing didn’t exist. You just move on, because you can’t really dwell on it too much. A certain amount of thinking on the ones you didn’t get can inspire you and motivate you a little bit, but, ultimately, there are so many you don’t get…I mean, the percentages are so absurd. You might get one out of a hundred, and that’s great. (Hesitates) Actually, maybe that’s a little high! (Laughs) But, you know, I can’t tell you how many auditions I went out on, on this pilot season, and this one just happened to be the one for me this time around, and I did very well to get it. I was incredibly lucky. I often say auditioning is my job, and when I get to job, it’s kind of like a vacation…because, really, what I do is audition! Hopefully, that will change…
BE: And they’ve ordered 13 episodes of “Happy Hour”…?
JS: Yeah, I haven’t heard that officially. Maybe you know more than I do!
BE: Well, I got that off TheFutonCritic.com.
JS: Right! Right, that’s where my father got it. His new favorite website, he calls it. The Futon Critic. Yeah, I guess it’s 13, which is fantastic. It’s funny, though: do you remember that movie, “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton”?
BE: Yeah, with Topher Grace.
JS: You know how her father, when he comes over to the house, he’s all reading the trades and talking about domestic box office and international box office…? My parents are starting to get to be a little like that. Ever since I got the pilot, they’ve been reading the trades for info about pick-up, or any buzz around town for “Happy Hour,” the pilot.
BE: When Matt called yesterday, he said, “I just wanted to make sure my brother’s not getting to be a big shot, and that he’s gotten back in touch with you!” Oh, and that reminds me: did you want to throw in a little hype for your girlfriend, Michelle (Featherstone)…? I just added her as my friend on MySpace, I’ll have you know…
JS: Oh, good! Yeah! Yeah, she’s actually the Discovery Download this week on iTunes, so you can go and download her song, “Sweet, Sweet Baby,” for free. (Writer’s note: Sadly, this offer has since expired…but the song’s definitely worth the 99-cent pricetag.) It’s on her album, Fallen Down…which, three days after it was released in May, went to #1 on the Folk charts on iTunes. I think it topped out at #48 overall. It was pretty exciting to see it outselling Madonna on there for a minute…! (Laughs) It’s a gorgeous album. She’s had songs all over the television…shows like “Las Vegas,” “One Tree Hill”… (Off-phone to Michelle) Where else? (Waits for answer) “Alias.” And, so, yeah, it’s a fantastic album and worth checking out.
BE: And I have just downloaded “Sweet, Sweet Baby,” so there you go.
JS: Cool! That’s a great one. One of my favorites is “Bitch,” and there’s a good one called “I Will Be Fine.” Anyway, you’ll check them out; it’s just great.
BE: Matt said he hadn’t asked you yet if you were sure any of the songs were about you or not…or if she’s willing to concede that yet!
JS: Um…well, seeing as she’s sitting right next to me…
BE: Hey, it’s the perfect time to ask!
JS: Well, most of these songs were written before I was around, so I can’t claim being the inspiration to any of them. Maybe the second album. Maybe I can make it into the second album.
BE: One can only hope. Well, I think we’ve got everything here. I really appreciate you talking with me.
JS: Absolutely. You got stuff you can use?
BE: Oh, yeah, definitely. Well, the format we use for our interview is a chat, so it’ll basically be a transcript…but I swear, if there are too many “y’knows”…
JS: You’ll freshen it up for me?