John Slattery, Talia Balsam, And Son Harry Open Bay Street Season

John Slattery is an American actor and director, best known for his work on the AMC series “Mad Men,” where his portrayal of Roger Sterling garnered him four Emmy nods. 

Talia Balsam portrayed Slattery’s wife, Mona, on “Mad Men.” They are married in real life and parents to Harry Slattery, a budding actor. Balsam is also an actor/director (“Homeland,” “Divorce,” and many others) and is the daughter of Oscar winner Martin Balsam and Joyce Van Patten. 

The three are preparing to appear together in Bay Street’s first mainstage production of the season: a reboot of a Broadway classic, “The Subject Was Roses,” which heaped awards onto the playwright, Frank D. Gilroy, including the Tony Award for Best Play, and the Pulitzer Prize.

A subtle family drama in the vein of Eugene O’Neill or Arthur Miller, “The Subject Was Roses” is set in the Bronx at the end of WWII, and chronicles the emotional struggles and hidden tensions within a family as their son returns from service, exploring enduring themes of reconciliation and the fragility of love.

The Bay Street version is being directed by Tony Award winner Scott Wittman.

We spoke to the Slattery/Balsam family about the upcoming opportunity to work together, and their love of the East End.

Have you all worked together before? I mean, I know obviously that you guys have done “Mad Men,” but have you all worked together as a family before?

Talia Balsam: No. Am I right about that? No, we haven’t.

Harry Slattery: No, not really.

John Slattery: Technically, we did. We did Tina Fey’s show.

TB: Oh, that’s right.

HS: “Girls5eva.”

TB: That was during COVID, and we came on as a family.

How did this fall into your lap, “The Subject was Roses”? 

JS: We did a reading of a friend’s play at the Bay Street Theater, and a couple of friends of ours came to that reading. And the big discovery was Harry, I think — to them anyway. They’d seen us work before, and so that was no big deal. But they were like, “Wow, Harry is great, he can act,” and they’d never seen that before. So then Scott Wittman said he’s always wanted to do this play and can we do a reading of it? So we did a couple readings for people with discerning eyes, and they all agreed that Harry was terrific. And it’s a terrific play, so it seemed like a good idea.

Talia Balsam. Courtesy photo

Yeah, it is. Talia, for you in particular as having grown up in the business, what kind of pitfalls have you worked on helping Harry avoid, or have you changed the way that you mother based on your background? You guys have an honest Hollywood dynasty thing going on now. 

TB: Well, I think Harry had other interests elsewhere earlier on, so it didn’t really come into play. Like when I was growing up, my mother had been a child actress; they were very, very clear that you would study, and that I was not going to be a child actor and that you took that job seriously. I think Harry has understood that we also work very hard and are more sort of attuned to material and things like that. I’m protective of him, but he’s grown up. And I think the business has changed enough that he probably could teach me a few things, you know?

That’s great. Harry, what about you in terms of your process of working not just as an actor, but as an actor with both of your parents on stage? Does it change your process at all?

HS: Well, I’m sort of figuring out, I think, what my process is. I haven’t really done this that much, so I am trying to come up with something that seems appropriate.

And, yeah, they’re very helpful, but they let me do my own thing enough, so I feel like I’m not being babied. I feel very included as one of three people in this play, and I’m given a chance to learn the material and stuff the way I see fit, and even if it maybe isn’t the most efficient or… I don’t really know what my process is. I don’t really have one yet.

Harry Slattery. Courtesy photo

Have you ever seen “The Subject Was Roses,” either the revivals of it or the movie?

JS: I’ve seen the movie, little bits of the movie, but I chose not to. Once we were going to do this, I opted out of that idea, being prone to imitation, I suppose.

So, what do you want audiences to take away? I mean, this work, it’s really intense. 

TB: Well, I think it’s a universal theme. Even though it’s a period piece, I think that there’s something — whether you call it dysfunction, family dynamics, or whatever — that many people can relate to. I don’t think those change that much. And Scott was very, very much wanting to do this also. I think everyone has a point of view about it. And it’s a challenge, and I think that’s good. And I think it’s a great opportunity to do this together in that way and meet the challenges.

John and Talia, you’ve portrayed TV characters with an arc, with Roger and Mona, and other roles that you’ve played. How does your process as an actor change when you kind of have to get the whole point across in two hours, and the audience is only going to see you once? Does that change the way you approach a role?

JS: Well, we’ve both done movies where you have to figure out, because they don’t shoot it in order. I’m doing one now where I’ve been here for a month, I’ve shot a fraction of my stuff. And you have to kind of plot it out, not so much technically, I think, but just know this is a scale of where the emotional territory is. This is a high moment, this is a low moment, whatever you call it, temperature-wise. So I think we’ve all done that. And Scott Whitman is somebody who’s very attuned to the rhythms and musicality of the play. And because there are long scenes, and it’s very densely packed, this play, there’s a lot there. There’s a lot that goes unsaid. So it’s very pointed and it’s very deliberate.

And I’ve read a bunch of Frank Gilroy lately, his books and his journals, and nothing is sort of thrown in there by mistake or casually considered, casually rendered. So, I kind of echo what Harry said. I don’t know… My process changes every time I do something different. I sort of approach it in the beginning by reading it a lot. And I haven’t done a play in a while. Learning lines doesn’t get any easier. So I’m just looking forward to fitting into this story the way the group want to work.

John Slattery. Courtesy photo

You may have not done a lot of theater, but I saw you in “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” Your roles have certainly been, as they say, “cherce.”

JS: (laughs) Cherce, right. Yeah, I’ve been lucky. It’s important to pick a play so that you’re not banging your head against the wall in some play that is just a tempest in a teacup, you know? This play, I think we all agree, is just amazingly well-written. And we all have really great parts, and this was an opportunity. We thought, “Well, it’s a good sort of opportunity for Harry to get his feet wet, and it isn’t in New York City.” It’s a little bit away from the bright lights in the big city. And we get to work with each other, which the circumstances were pretty hard to say no to.

That’s so great. Harry, as far as getting your feet wet, do you see yourself doing more stage after this? I mean, this is pretty new for you, the stage. What direction are you looking at heading, since Talia said that this wasn’t always your first love?

HS: I don’t want to try to telegraph too much. I’m really, really excited about doing this. I think my parents showed me more movies as a kid than plays, or maybe they just resonated with me more. So it was kind of a surprise to be like, “Oh, yeah, we’re doing a play,” but I’m really psyched about it. 

You have a home in East Hampton. What do you guys like to do when you’re out there? 

TB: John surfs, big surfer. I’m speaking for you, John.

So John’s in the water, and what are you doing, Talia, Harry?

TB: We have a lot of great friends there. It’s just beautiful. I think just the sort of spot itself is just restful, peaceful. We can sort of stay out of the fray. We really just love it.

Tickets to “The Subject Was Roses” are available at

Bridget LeRoy

Bridget LeRoy co-founded The East Hampton Independent and the Children’s Museum of the East End, and has been honored with over fifty awards for editing and journalism from various press associations. Follow LeRoy on instagram @bridget_leroy.

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