The dashing star of the hit series “Mad Men” sat down with Metro for an intimate one-on-one.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m in a hotel room with Jon Hamm, who’s sitting there, his arm draped over the bottom of the bed. It’s a dream come true for both of us, I can tell. But calm down, ladies: Two guys on the wrong side of 35, we spent most of the interview examining what Hamm calls “the law of unintended consequences,” aka life, and the choices we make.
The introspection makes sense. During the second season of “Mad Men”—which runs in an all-day marathon, on April 8, on Sundance Channel—Don Draper begins his slow descent from confident, married ad exec to something darker: an alcoholic forced to come to terms with his secret identity (his real name: Dick Whitman, war deserter).
You once said if you didn’t make it as an actor by age 30, you’d quit. What was Plan B?
Um, I never had a Plan B. I rarely have a plan A, much less a plan B. [Laughs] I was 28 or 29 when I quit waiting tables. But I was pragmatic about it. I didn’t want to be that guy who was pushing 50 and handing out my headshot on the corner. At a certain point, if I wasn’t working, and the market had spoken, then it would have been time to move on. I would have seen where the winds took me.
You had small roles on TV for a while. What made you think you were unique?
Probably a combination of stupidity and stubbornness. I don’t think anybody goes to California—to face those odds—without having a healthy sense of, “I belong.” A why-not-me situation. I had studied acting and got a scholarship in college and had my share of auditions that either went well or badly. But I understood the process. And part of the process goes back to being on the playground in first grade, saying, “Pick me, pick me!” Sometimes you get picked, sometimes you don’t. So I had a relatively fundamental understanding of the capriciousness and the arbitrariness and the luck required—so I was able to accept the rejection that comes with a grain of salt. And getting kicked around does toughen you up.
On “Mad Men,” do you approach the character as if you’re Dick Whitman playing Don Draper?
Sometimes. It’s an important distinction to understand because this is a character who’s playing a character and that’s a fundamental aspect of why Don is the way Don is—because he’s not really Don. He’s somebody else playing that ideal. So in a certain way, unconsciously or subconsciously, he’s always Dick. But you get a much better sense of that when he’s out in California and he’s much more laid back and relaxed and doesn’t have to put on this façade, this front.
The California scenes almost feel like a different show.
It’s very much a different—it’s a physical choice. When I’m in the office as Don, there’s a posture and a formality and so much more seriousness that goes into it— this alpha, presentational, silent creation. Part of what we play against on the show—and it’s a credit to the writing—there’s so many high jinks and weirdness that happens in the office, by nature of it being a creative place and an advertising agency, where people blow off steam and Roger’s constantly making jokes or Peggy and Stan are going at one another, and in many ways, I’m the principal, the teacher, who’s like, “Come on everybody! Let’s get back to work.” So it’s a nice offset to have a stern center in a crazy world.
Like Don, you’re always acting. This is a press interview, then you go back to L.A. to film more. When do you have your Dick Whitman moments?
[Laughs] I’ve had plenty of couch time with the dog, when I’m in L.A.
Your dog is your therapy?
Oh yeah. Jen and I have had a dog for the last 10 or 11 years, who’s great, and runs the roost in LA. But I love talking about the show. I’m proud of it. And when I’m home and turn on “The Daily Show” or whatever, that’s the power-down moment.
Acting or not, you have this attitude of having everything under control. Meanwhile, I can’t even sync my iPod properly. What in life frustrates you?
Oh god! My version of that is, now, there’s no such thing as walking in and turning on the TV. You have the TV and the satellite box and it has to be the right input. Being of a certain age, you wonder, what happened when you could just turn the TV on? It was one button! Now it’s this and that—it’s made our lives so much better, but come with the price of simplicity.
It’s also made us sound like grumpy old men.
This is what’s starting to happen, in a guy’s life: The wave moves past you, and you are inevitably stuck on the other side of the wave, and you can’t be on the leading edge forever. It’s the nature of time. It’s inevitable you slow down and everything overtakes you. And that’s where Don is. The wave is starting to overtake him.
You’re how old?
If “Mad Men” hadn’t been a hit, would you be in full-on midlife crisis mode?
Uh. I’m probably already in midlife crisis mode. [Laughs] Yeah, you know, sure. Forty is the time that everyone starts taking stock. I’m pretty happy with where my life is and where my relationship is and where all the pieces are on the playing field. Would it have been different? Sure. Better or worse? Well, it could have been a whole lot worse, I guess. But that’s the law of unintended consequences: You think, if all this went away tomorrow, it may not seem to be the best thing, but maybe it’s what’s meant to happen.