Jon Hamm | Interview
Jon Hamm sells AMC's ad-men show.
After years of small-to-medium-size roles, Jon Hamm, at 37, has found himself the star of the most acclaimed new show on television. In its first season, AMC’s Mad Men followed the chain-smoking, bourbon-swilling, unapologetically misogynistic ad men of 1960s Manhattan, as well as their wives, secretaries and mistresses. The magnetic center of it all, Hamm plays Don Draper, an equal parts good guy and asshole with a guarded past.
Time Out Chicago: Is it true you once worked as a set dresser for soft-core porn?
Jon Hamm: [Laughs] Yeah. It was set dressing, like, the skinemax version of your favorite late-night cable porn-horny kind of stuff. It was not a great job.
TOC: How’d you get that gig?
Jon Hamm: This friend was the set dresser, and she was like, “I can’t do it anymore. I wanna kill myself.” And I said, “Let me give it a shot.” Turns out it’s really not that hard, but it’s sort of degrading and awful.
TOC: Describe a job duty.
Jon Hamm: If the camera needed to get a particularly sexy angle, I had to move the furniture around and then move it back.
TOC: How long was it between moving to L.A. and getting your first role?
Jon Hamm: About three years. Part of being an actor is being beholden to somebody else’s opinion of you, and that kind of stinks after a while.
TOC: So what kept you in it?
Jon Hamm: Well, working on soft-core skinemax movies really makes you feel good about everything. If it wasn’t happening in five years, I’d told myself I would move on. I made it in under the wire.
TOC: You’ve said your dad was a lot like your Mad Men character. Do you draw on memories of him here?
Jon Hamm: Probably unconsciously I do. He was a businessman in the ’60s and had a lot of these characteristics and flaws.
TOC: What do you mean, “flaws”?
Jon Hamm: Look at Don Draper. He was a smoker and drinker and wasn’t the best dad or husband. And my dad had a lot of that. He passed away before I could ever have an adult conversation with him, but there are other people that tell stories.
TOC: Relatives have said your dad drank and was a philanderer and all that?
Jon Hamm: Oh, I knew my dad drank. That was never hidden. [Laughs] I don’t know about the philandering, but there was just a lot of behavior that people of the ’60s—especially wealthy privileged white guys in the ’60s—would’ve done. I don’t think my dad was any exception.
TOC: You also share with Don an early loss of parents.
Jon Hamm: Well, unlike Don I had a very close relationship with both of my parents. I lost my mother at 10 and my father at 20. I loved them both very dearly and miss them daily. I don’t think Don has the same feelings [Laughs] toward his parents. Don is trying to escape his past, not reminisce about it.
TOC: Mad Men is so specific to postwar prosperity, before the changes of the ’60s. Why does it resonate so much with viewers today?
Jon Hamm: If you look at the 1960 election between Kennedy and Nixon, the revisionist history has everybody happy with Kennedy winning, the return to Camelot. In reality, half the country was pissed off that Kennedy won. We have a very similar landscape with a divided electorate and a crazily close and some would say illegally won election in 2000.
TOC: The show’s take on the Nixon-Kennedy election also clearly resonates with McCain-Obama.
Jon Hamm: Sure. There’s a reason that change has been a pretty significant buzzword in the last…however long that retardedly long primary went on—because people are clamoring for it. And you started to see at the beginning of the 1960s the clamoring for change as well.
TOC: Mad Men also has this idea that once you achieve the American Dream—the good-paying job, the house in the ’burbs—there’s the realization that it isn’t the answer.
Jon Hamm: I mean, we talk about the American Dream. The American Dream is the pursuit of happiness. It was the ad guys who made it a Cadillac and a house and a wife that looks like June Cleaver with pearls. So what Don is realizing ironically, because he is one of those people who sell that dream, is that, oh shit—he got seduced by his own pitch.
TOC: These ad guys smoke, booze, cheat. What’s your vice?
Jon Hamm: I’m an excellent procrastinator, which is not the best way to be in the world.
TOC: And it shows in your career, right? Landing a hit show at 37?
Jon Hamm: [Laughs] Exactly. That’s the universe paying me back.
Mad Men’s season-one DVD is out now.