In the upcoming movie In Our Nature (out Dec. 7), John Slattery (Mad Men‘s Roger Sterling) and Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights’ Matt Saracen) take on the roles of an estranged father-son duo who accidentally bring their girlfriends, played by Gabrielle Union and Jena Malone, to the family’s remote cabin on the same weekend. As the women try to make nice and the men try to avoid doing so, the future of the family—and the cabin—is decided. Slattery and Gilford sat down with TIME to discuss the movie, their television careers—and why the old saw about never working with animals is good advice.
TIME: What attracted you to this project?
John Slattery: I was sent the script by [first-time director] Brian [Salvelson]. I don’t know how he got my email. If it doesn’t go through the usual channels, you think, “This can’t be any good.” And then I read it. I was like, this is real.
Zach Gilford: I really liked the script; I liked the simplicity of it. There was a lot I could relate to. And I actually like working with first-time directors. It can also be an extremely terrible experience but I liked his vibe and his energy.
What’s it like to work on a project that takes place in such a contained space?
ZG: I think in a movie like this it kind of helps a little. It’s supposed to be this house you grew up in and you know every nook and cranny. To actually be in that space and know it so well, it gives it more of that feel. It’s not just some set that you’re on for a day and then you’re onto the next thing.
JS: Every inch of that house was covered with cable or lights or something. You really did have to inch your way around, which gets old. Long days, every day, you have to shimmy around the house, but it does give you all that stuff. You get bonded to each other. It helps create that history that’s made up anyway. All that close contact does show up on the screen.
Did either of you grow up with a house like that in your family? A place with that kind of meaning?
JS: We had various places when I was a kid where we’d go for a few years and then we’d rent other places. It wasn’t really one place that had this kind of emotional attachment for everyone.
ZG: One of my best friends had one, so I was up there several times a year. His family had had it forever. I remember reading the script I thought it was going to be a much fancier house. I walked in and I was like, ‘this is not what I imagined.’ But now that I think about my friend’s house, it was just this house that had been around forever and they all loved it so much. So I kind of get it.
And this isn’t the first time you’ve played someone who has taken a girl to a cabin, since Matt Saracen pulled that move on Friday Night Lights.
ZG: I’ve taken a few girls to cabins.
ZG: It’s a good move. You should use it.
Have you ever used it in real life?
ZG: I mean, yeah. My parents recently built a house in Wisconsin and my fiancée and I went up there. But not as a ‘let me impress this girl and take her up to a cabin’ sort of thing.
There’s a lot of kayaking going on at the cabin in this movie. How were your kayaking skills before the shoot?
JS: I’m not much of a kayaker. My sister has a couple of sea kayaks and for someone who spends as much time in the ocean as I do, which is a lot, I don’t like kayaking. It doesn’t interest me. And then I had these lessons, in the Hudson River, so I swallowed a lot of sh***y water trying to figure out how to do a roll. It’s hard to do. I can’t imagine those guys doing that in the Olympics. That’s serious and I have all that much more respect for those guys.
Could you draw on your surfing skills for the roll?
JS: I thought so. I’m comfortable in the water and I’m comfortable upside-down in the water. It was freaking out the instructor that I’d be down there underwater trying to figure it out, holding my breath. I think the guy thought that I was drowning but I was just down there trying to figure it out.
I have to say, personally, it’s nice to hear that you don’t like kayaking.
JS: You don’t like kayaking?
I hate kayaking. But I feel like there’s a lot of social pressure to like kayaking. It’s one of those things everyone is supposed to like.
JS: I think you’re right. And yet, I don’t even know why I don’t like it. You can go places, you can cruise over to those rocks, you can check out a starfish…
A canoe is more social.
ZG: You can get a tandem kayak.
JS: You can. Even then.
There’s also a bear in this movie.
JS: I want to talk about kayaks some more.
ZG: Is this for Time Out Kayaks magazine?
It’s a real bear, though?
JS: No, it wasn’t. It was a small woman in a bear suit. Zach thought it was a real bear. We didn’t want to tell him.
ZG: It was definitely a real bear. I don’t think it was quite the circus bear you imagine being in the movies. I thought we were going to be able to hug it and do handshakes with it. But it was like, ‘Stay away from the bear.’ They would put honey on stuff to get it to do things.
So bears really do like honey.
JS: Bears like sugar, it turns out. And tic-tacs. Bears have bad breath, maybe.
Did he respond to commands?
JS: No. Basically the guy would go in and wrestle him and take the bottle out of his hand… [laughs]
ZG: The guy would wrestle the bear to get it to not go to sleep.
JS: Every time you see a wrangler on a set it’s never that pleasant. Even a horse, the guy is trying to get the horse to lie down but it doesn’t want to lie down. And everyone is waiting around like, “Dude, you said you could do this.”
ZG: I’ve worked with several dogs and you imagine they’d be like that dog from The Artist, but…
JS: There’s so much distraction. There’s 40 people behind the camera and they’re all doing something different and the dog or the bear is trying to do something that it really doesn’t want to? It’s kind of a bummer.
What were your favorite scenes to shoot?
JS: The bear scene. And the kayak scene.
ZG: And he doesn’t even like kayaking! The bear scene was fun.
JS: I liked the pot-smoking scene. Don’t ask me why.
ZG: The dinner scenes were fun. Any scenes where we had all four of us together.
JS: The make-out scene with Gabrielle was not so bad.
Was the house somewhere really isolated?
ZG: It was in a place called Phoenicia, a couple hours out of the city, like a half-hour from Woodstock.
JS: It’s the tubing capital of the east coast, FYI. I don’t like tubing any better than I like kayaking.
So you were stuck spending time with each other.
JS: It happens all the time. You go to a location, you work all day and then you’ve gotta eat, so you eat together and then you go back to work.
ZG: There wasn’t room service so you couldn’t even eat dinner alone if you wanted, because there was only one place to go.
JS: You know what you’re signing up for and you hope that there’s somebody you can go have a drink with. In this case, it was everybody.
What’s up next for you both? John, are you back to working on Mad Men?
JS: I am, presently. We’re right in the thick of it. Everything is great. We just started about a month ago, right back in the groove again. It’ll be about the same time as last year [for the Season 6 premiere]. I always end up working the first day [of filming], it seems like, when it sounds like your voice is coming out of your ear and you’re like, “How do I do this? How do I drink and smoke at the same time?” This year, for some reason, I didn’t have that feeling. It was somehow easier. The scripts are great, that I’ve read. He’s still got it. Matt Weiner still has it.
And Zach, did the news about your show Mob Doctor come as a surprise?
JS: Did it get whacked?
ZG: It didn’t get whacked. We’re filming all 13 that they ordered but they said, the last four episodes, they’re going to air them but like, in a row. The finale is the Monday of the BCS title game, like anything else would be a waste. It was a great group of people, Chicago’s awesome, the crew is amazing, we really do have a nice cast—so it’s sad in that respect, but people didn’t watch. I don’t think it really quite turned out the way everybody hoped. You learn, you move on, and now I’ll just join John on Mad Men. He’ll put in a word for me.
JS: Note to self.
ZG: And you’re going to direct an episode.
JS: That’s right. I’ll cast you as the incorrigible drunk.
ZG: But it happens. [Cancellations are] just part of the business. And I have a movie coming out in January with Schwarzenegger [The Last Stand]. It’s cool to work with him and just see him shoot guns.
JS: Is that the one where he’s the sheriff? Are you the deputy?
Did you get to wear a star?
ZG: I did. I took it home to give to my kid someday.