In another time, another place, the term matinee idol would have been coined for Jon Hamm. But in today’s diverse entertainment world he’s turned out to be so much more than that. Beyond his star-making dramatic turn as Mad Men’s fabulously flawed ladies man Don Draper, and supporting roles in films like The Town, he has already shown us his comedy chops too, whether fearlessly playing the fool on 30 Rock, a misogynistic cad in Bridesmaids, or hosting Saturday Night Live. So where does he see his versatility taking him? And, after three Emmy nominations, is this the year his Golden Globe gets a TV companion in his trophy case?
TVLINE | Much of the Emmy discussion about you has focused on “The Suitcase” episode from Mad Men’s fourth season. When you saw the script was almost entirely Don and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), what was your reaction?
I had a couple of reactions. It was already a hard season for me emotionally with all the stuff my character had gone through to that point, so it was a little bit like, “Jesus, when is this going to end?” But it was also mixed with a kind of delight that this was where this spiral was ending, because I’ve loved the way that my character has interacted with Peggy basically since the pilot. I’ve loved that kind of unknowable kinship and friendship that we’ve established and grown, and in many ways, it felt a little bit like a companion piece to the pilot, only the roles were reversed. [Now Peggy] was the person saying, “What are you doing? What do you think you’re doing to yourself?” She’s kind of the only person in Don’s life who can call him on that without fear of reprisal, and it just comes from such an honest place. I think Elisabeth’s work is so phenomenal. She’s a truly gifted actress, and it was wonderful to get an opportunity to really work one-on-one with her on some really interesting, deep, dark multi-layered scenes.
TVLINE | The episode required a lot of you as an actor. Were you at all intimidated?
Yeah. Honestly, it’s all intimidating. There’s a lot riding on whether or not the audience buys this guy as a real person and the fact that he’s going through these kinds of extraordinary things in his life. If it comes off as not believable in any way, then a huge portion of the impact of what we’re trying to do is lost.
TVLINE | The strength of that episode alone has perhaps made you a frontrunner for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Emmy. Does that make you nervous?
I long ago stopped being nervous about that kind of stuff… It’s such a crapshoot and it’s so not up to me and anything that I can really control. If [another nomination] was to happen, that would be phenomenal. I’m incredibly lucky to even be mentioned [with] the Hugh Lauries and the Bryan Cranstons and the Michael Halls, people whose work I’ve looked up to my whole career in some cases, especially in the case of Hugh, whom I’ve been watching since Black Adder. If I’m [even] mentioned in the same breath as those cats, that’s great. That’s what I take out of that.
TVLINE | Not a single performer on Mad Men has won an Emmy despite all the accolades that have been heaped on the series. Some theorize that’s because the work being done on the show is very restrained and quiet. There’s not much scenery-chewing.
I think that might be part of it. We’re not out there killing people and blowing s–t up. There aren’t many moments that you can point to and be like, “That’s the one that’s going to win you an award” or something. But if you look at it as a whole, it’s a pretty substantial thing to point to as an actor. I think there are plenty of examples of that in the history of television. You can look at the actors on The Wire and be like, “Are you kidding me? Not a single person was nominated for any of these performances? This is crazy. It’s some of the best work on television!” But that’s the way it goes. I think that in the brave, new world of television we find ourselves in, there are almost too many good performances now, and that’s a pretty great place to be if you’re a fan of television, which I am.
TVLINE | You seem to cram a lot of work in between your Mad Men seasons, most of it comedy. Is that because you just want to have a good time before you have to turn back into Don Draper?
[Laughs] I think there’s a portion of truth to that. But also, that’s kind of my world. When I first came to L.A., most of the people I hung out with were in the comedy world. And part of it was just being broke. It was a cheap way to go out and have fun. You could go to Largo or M Bar or Comedy Death-Ray or whatever, and see hilarious stuff and spend five bucks. One of my oldest friends in L.A. is Paul Rudd. We were comedy nerds together when he was living in a crappy apartment in North Hollywood. We would go see Patton Oswalt and Sarah Silverman and Paul Tompkins and Zach Galifianakis and these guys that were doing the alternative comedy circuit. So to get the opportunity to work with those guys on my off hours, it’s nice. Honestly, it’s not like you look at Don Draper and go, “Oh, I bet that guy’s really funny. Let’s get him in our goofy ‘Funny or Die’ thing.” That somehow I’ve been able to resonate in that world is certainly nice.
TVLINE | It’s kind of miraculous that you didn’t get typecast as Don Draper. So much of that happens in this business. Was that ever a concern?
Oh, certainly. Once the first season of Mad Men was out there and people were appreciating it and enjoying it, I got a lot of scripts that were Don Draper 2.0 or a dude in a suit in the ’50s and ’60s or a guy in a hat or whatever. I tried to make a conscious decision of, “Well, I do that eight months out of the year. Let’s try to find something that might be a little bit different or might enable me to exercise a little bit of a different muscle or show a different side.” [To get] something like The Town… I was thrilled because it was contemporary. It was a little bit different [for me] and had a little of an edge and was an exciting opportunity to get a chance to work with somebody like Ben [Affleck] or Jeremy [Renner] or Rebecca Hall, the amazing group that we got to assemble for that thing. And the same thing with Bridesmaids. I shot that for two days during Season 4 of Mad Men, so it was a nice break. You don’t want to keep banging on the same piano key because after a while that just gets to be boring.
TVLINE | Do you foresee what your career might look like beyond Mad Men? Could you see yourself becoming a comedy movie star?
Well, I hope I get a chance to do both sides. I think that Paul’s career has been really fun for me to watch because he’s been able to do stuff on Broadway and he’s been able to do big movies and big comedies and produce stuff, and really kind of be the architect of his own future, and it’s been really successful for him. So, yeah, one of my acting heroes, which is such a lame term, but one of the people whose careers I look at as an inspiration is a guy like Jeff Bridges, who has been around since he was 18 years old, has done work in drama and crazy Big Lebowski comedy and now is finally getting recognized as a genius. He’s been an amazing actor for 40 years… Hopefully, life is long and a career is long, and you get an opportunity to do many things. And as you change not only as a human being, but as an actor, different roles come to you. You know, I’m not going to play the young guy really anymore — that ship has sailed. But I do get to work with cool younger people and play different roles, and that’s the exciting thing about having an opportunity like Mad Men. It opens so many other doors.