As John Slattery chained his bike to a pole at the corner of Bank Street and Greenwich Avenue, a young woman stopped and did a double take.
He is best known as Roger Sterling, the suit-wearing cad about town he plays on the AMC series “Mad Men.” On this spring day, he was camouflaged in a blue-and-green checked shirt, his familiar white hair tucked under a cap from the Mollusk Surf Shop in the Venice section of Los Angeles.
Now that Slattery, 52, no longer spends six months a year filming the series in Los Angeles, he is happy to be home. “Hi, David,” he said to a man on the street, someone he regularly sees at the gym. “How are you, buddy?”
“What’s with the mustache?” the man said, referring to the porn-style whiskers Slattery’s character has been wearing on recent episodes of the show, which will have its series finale on May 17.
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Outside 1 Bank St., where Slattery and his wife, actress Talia Balsam, used to rent a top-floor apartment before moving to SoHo in 2006, Slattery saw someone else he knew.
“Hey, that’s the old super. Hey, Jose! How are you?”
The man smiled and waved.
“He’s the greatest,” the actor said.
Slattery landed in Greenwich Village in 1993 after brief stays in Coney Island and on the Upper East Side. In 1998, he married Balsam, who went on to play Roger Sterling’s first wife, Mona, on “Mad Men.” Together they have a teenage son, Harry.
A versatile actor with a gift for comedy and mischief, Slattery has made something of a career out of playing unhinged characters. On HBO’s “Sex and the City,” he played Bill Kelley, a kinky politician who (how does one put this delicately?) asks if Carrie Bradshaw will relieve herself on him during sex.
On NBC’s “30 Rock,” he played a congressional candidate who proposes bringing back slavery and building casinos on the moon.
In the old neighborhood
As he walked through his old neighborhood, he seemed puzzled by the changes. On Greenwich Avenue, he paused in front of Aesop, a high-end shop that sells only beauty products.
“I don’t even know what this is,” he said, glancing at the minimalist interior. The place used to be Chez Brigitte, an 11-seat cafe where Slattery spent his afternoons eating cheese omelets.
“There was a woman named Rosa, and there was a young Latin guy,” he said. “She was this large, beautiful blond woman, voluptuous, and this guy was a head shorter than she was. They would be mooning over each other the whole time. When the place closed, we figured they ran away together.”
He decided the Village was the neighborhood for him soon after an encounter with a woman outside Patisserie Lanciani, a tiny glass-fronted cafe on West Fourth Street. (It is closed now, and a clothing boutique has taken its place.)
“I’m sitting there on this bench,” he said, pointing out where the bench used to be, “and this woman says: ‘Do me a favor. Thread this needle for me,’ like she was my grandmother or something. She holds my coffee. I help her thread the needle.”
He completed the task, and the woman told him he was welcome to cut flowers from the rose of Sharon bush outside her apartment around the corner.
“I was thinking, ‘I have to live here,’” he said.
As he spoke, he spotted a fellow actor on a passing bicycle.
“There is Matthew Broderick,” he said, pointing and smiling.
Growing up in Boston
Slattery talked about growing up with four sisters and one brother in a rambling Victorian house in suburban Boston. It was a childhood fraught with mishaps. “I broke my arm once,” he said. “I think it was my sister’s fault.”
His mother was an accountant; his father, a leather merchant. Slattery was their fifth child and first son.
Things were different in the ‘70s, he said: “Kids don’t roam like they used to. You’d be gone until you’d either hear the dinner bell or someone from your family would find you.”
He recalled an episode from his teenage years involving a BB gun. A friend was running past along a dirt road when Slattery decided to fire a random shot.
“By the time I shot this thing,” Slattery said, “I couldn’t even see him because he was so far away. And I go pumph!” He pantomimed shooting the gun. “And I hear: ‘Ow!’ I go, ‘No way.’ I run down there, and I could see him. He was holding his hand, and the BB went halfway up his thumbnail.”
He pointed at his thumb, still dumbfounded. “What are the odds?”
Letting go of Roger
It was getting near 1 p.m., and Slattery wanted to go to one of his old haunts, Tartine, a French restaurant not far from his old apartment. He took off his jacket and draped it over the back of a chair at an outdoor table just as a woman approached.
“Ah, we beat you to it,” he said, smiling.
“I love you on the show,” she said. “I’m very sad to see it end.”
Slattery seemed touched. “Oh, thank you very much,” he said.
When she walked away, he started to laugh: “I thought she was going steal our table. ‘Get lost, Sister.’”
He ordered sautéed chicken with lemon, garlic, shallots and sage, with a side salad. Unlike his character on “Mad Men,” he did not order a Gibson, opting instead for a Diet Coke.
He said he enjoyed playing Roger Sterling, the blunt account man who, despite having fought at the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, in the freewheeling 1960s does not say no to a trip on LSD.
“I like the fact that he is particular about his opinions, his loyalties,” he said. “He has his own code, as does everybody.”
He said he has seen his former castmates from time to time since the series shot its final episode last July in Los Angeles. “We go to dinner; we see each other, but everyone has their own lives,” he said, adding, “I’m OK with wrapping this thing up and moving on.”
Next up, he has parts in the movies “Ted 2,” “Ant-Man” and “Spotlight,” as well as the Netflix series “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp.”
“I’ve got things to do,” he said. “My kid has games and school. You know, I like being home.”