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Why Mad Men's John Slattery was perfect for Fox's neXt - Exclusive

neXt's Paul LeBlanc has only been around for two episodes, and he's already making a case as one of the most compelling characters of the 2020 fall TV season. He's a tech-cautious Silicon Valley pioneer who helped create the most dangerous form of AI and now needs to stop it. The only things standing in his way? All the friends and family he alienated over the years... oh, and a terminal brain condition that makes all of his experiences unreliable. He's played perfectly by Mad Men alum John Slattery. neXt showrunner Manny Coto explained to Looper in an exclusive interview how and why Slattery is so good in the role.

As a writer and producer, Coto is attracted to "lead characters who are flawed and who very often are indistinguishable from the good guys or the bad guys." He cites shows he worked on as examples. "Dexter was that character. Jack Bauer became that character certainly." Jonathan Archer became this on occasion as well, especially in the Coto-penned Enterprise episode "Similitude." If Paul seems shaky now, don't expect it to get easier — "You'll see as the series goes on, it gets even worse."

The process of getting Slattery aboard, according to Coto, "wasn't any more complicated than just sending [the script] out." Slattery was one of a few candidates, and he liked the script enough to set up a call with Coto and his directing and producing partners. They all talked over the character and Slattery "was just onboard." The start of production made it clear that Slattery was the right choice. "When I saw him on set... I was like, 'Well, how did we consider anybody else?' because it's almost like you can look at the script and it's almost like I wrote it for him."

Not unlike Jack Bauer

Coto compares Slattery to another TV icon he's worked with before: Kiefer Sutherland. During Coto's time producing 24, Sutherland would often offer input about his character to creative teams. "Very often we would be like, 'Oh my God, not again.' But then you'd turn around and say, 'You know, dammit, he's right.'" As frustrating as it can be, "those actors make your show better — and John made this show better, as well as Kiefer made 24 better."

Slattery, "who knows his character really up and down," has had some input of his own on neXt — and Coto offers an example of this. The neXt writers room has a difficult task: keep the audience guessing whether any individual act is due to neXt's meddling, a product of Paul's deteriorating brain, or something that's genuinely happening. One such moment occurs in the second episode, in which Paul encounters something he determines to be a hallucination. Originally, this was written as neXt sending an entity to spy on Paul, but Slattery said, "It should be an illusion." Coto concedes that he was right, it made the scene more compelling.

Catch the newest episode of neXt on Fox, Tuesdays at 9PM EST. Stay tuned to Looper for more exclusive neXt coverage.