On the television series Mad Men, Jon Hamm plays mercurial advertising executive Don Draper, he of the dashing good looks, battle-weary wit, idyllic family, shadowy past, and slow-brewing maelstrom of inner existential tumult. Set in the post-Eisenhower, pre-Camelot netherworld of the early 1960s-when the coming revolutions of feminism, civil rights, and sexual liberation had yet to bloom-the show casts Draper as an embodiment of the midcentury American Dream. He looks the way movie stars used to look, smokes the way people used to smoke, contemplates life the way men used to contemplate it, and feels like nothing else on TV.
When Mad Men premiered last summer, Draper immediately registered as indelible-iconic even-which is good news for the 37-year-old, Missouri-born Hamm, a veteran of nearly a decade’s worth of still-born pilots, three-episode arcs, and nameless walk-on parts. Now, as the series kicks off its highly anticipated second season this month, questions abound regarding Draper’s future as well as the future of America itself. The only certainties are that some cigarettes will be smoked, some office sex will be had, some Scotch will be drunk, and some changing social mores will be unpeeled.
Mad Men, of course, is on its way to making Hamm a star-and to say he’s nothing like Don Draper is an exercise in gross understatement. Paul Rudd, who has known Hamm for more than two decades, recently met up with the actor. They went to the mall.
This interview takes place at the Grove shopping center in Los Angeles.
PAUL RUDD: You and I have known each other for about 20 years.
JON HAMM: That’s a lot of hairstyles.
PR: What would you say was your most treasured hairstyle during that time?
JH: I had a pretty serious mullet back in the day. We both had long hair for a while. You had the Michael Hutchence.
PR: I was greatly inspired by INXS. Now, you were a St. Louis Cardinals fan growing up, obviously, because you’re from St. Louis.
JH: You were living in Kansas City.
PR: That’s how we know each other, essentially, because I would come visit the Clarke family in St. Louis. And then later, when I left Kansas to go to acting school in California, you came out to visit.
JH: You’d done a Nintendo ad. I remember thinking that was the coolest thing.
PR: Now, what happened after that?
JH: I went to school, and you became a major international movie star.
PR: Almost overnight. Because after the Nintendo ad, I was able to book a Toyota ad . . .
JH: That’s how it happens.
PR: You and I had the same manager for a time.
JH: Briefly. I finished school, and then I stayed in St. Louis and tried to make some money and failed. So I came out to Los Angeles with whatever money I had, and it was right when you were leaving-you moved to New York, basically. And then you introduced me to our then manager, and I got an agent. Then I didn’t work for three years.
PR: And so you were out there working on what became the movie Kissing Jessica Stein .
JH: I think so.
PR: Which was based on a play called Lipschtick.
JH: Because it sounds like lipstick. But it’s supposed to be schtick-you know, funny, schticky. That’s how I met my girlfriend of 10 years, Jennifer Westfeldt [who co-wrote and starred in Kissing Jessica Stein]. This must have been around ’97 or ’98 because the night I actually got together with Jen for the first time . . . We started our relationship, essentially, at one of your premieres.
PR: For The Object of My Affection . Do you think she became the object of your affection because you guys kind of started your relationship at that premiere?
JH: I think she did. Either that or she responded to my lip-schtick.
PR: So for a while, you were on the series The Division. How was that? You were kind of the only guy on that show.
JH: I was. It should have been called Ten Tits and a Dick.
PR: What was the working title of the show?
JH: They went with the working title, The Division, which I didn’t really understand. I thought mine was a lot more descriptive.
PR: How did Mad Men come about?
JH: It was amazing. I read the script, and it was for AMC, and I thought, “They’ve never done anything that’s remotely like a TV show, so what’s that going to be like?” I read the script for Mad Men and I loved it. Then I realized that a guy who wrote for The Sopranos, Matt Weiner, created it, so I thought, “Okay, that’s pretty cool.” But I never thought they’d cast me-I mean, I thought they’d go with one of the five guys who look like me but are movie stars. Obviously, they didn’t. I literally had to go through six or seven auditions. They flew me to New York to meet all the people at AMC. My final audition was at that bar on the roof of the Hotel Gansevoort. When we were riding down on the elevator, the woman in charge of whatever the decision-making process was told me, “You got the job.”
PR: I would imagine you were fairly elated.
JH: Yeah. Hugely.
PR: So now you’re shooting the second season.
JH: We’re halfway through. It’s a pretty tough schedule. It’s like making a movie every week. But the good thing about it is that there are only 13 episodes a season, so it’s condensed into this five- or six-month period. And then you get time off. You’ve been working like a dog, too, recently-you’ve done back-to-back-to-back movies.
PR: I have. But I want to know about Jon Hamm.
JH: Fine. I am an open book.
PR: You are. You’re naked.
JH: I kind of thought that’s how we were supposed to do these interviews.
PR: When I said, “Jon, I hope you’re ready to get naked in this interview,” I didn’t anticipate that you would actually be physically naked.
JH: Well, it helps me to be emotionally naked if I’m physically naked.
PR: I see.
JH: Thank you, by the way, for also being naked.
PR: Well, look, it just didn’t seem right-
JH: It’s great to be naked. Just a couple naked dudes at the Grove.
PR: I’m really upset because of the looks that we keep getting from that couple over there at the Cheesecake Factory.
JH: Should have called it the Beefcake Factory with us around, right? Pound it! [raises fist]
PR: Oh, pounding!
PR: So you have this intense schedule doing Mad Men. What do you do when you’re not shooting? How does Jon Hamm spend his day? Don Draper is a tightly coiled man.
JH: Yes, he is. But I’m not. You know that. It’s kind of fun to be that guy, though, on the show because my character’s got a lot of secrets, and he’s got a lot of parts of his life that are very compartmentalized, whereas I am not so much that way. I have a dog and my girl, and it’s great. You’ve stayed at my house before.
PR: Many times. I’ve come over to your house to watch different programs on television.
JH: We watch our stories.
PR: Didn’t you just do a movie with Keanu Reeves?
JH: I did. Point Break II: The Search for Curly’s Gold. He was incredibly nice, incredibly kind.
PR: I like him. He strikes me as a cool dude. My wife has the biggest crush in the world on him.
JH: The movie we did together was actually a remake of a huge science-fiction movie. I play, like, a random science guy, and he plays the main character.
PR: What was the movie?
JH: The Day the Earth Stood Still. You’ve probably seen the original, which came out in the ’50s.
PR: I believe that’s Preston Clarke’s father Ernie Clarke’s favorite film of all time.
JH: It is. Preston said that when I told him I was doing the movie.
PR: It all goes back to the Clarke family.
JH: It begins and ends there. In the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, my character is a little more nefarious than he is in the remake. I’m just sort of the guy who heads up the team that investigates the day the Earth stood still. I’m the person who brings Jennifer Connelly onto the team. Dr. Helen Benson.
PR: That’s Jennifer Connelly’s character’s name, not yours.
JH: Yes, that’s her name.
PR: Got it. Where did you shoot The Day the Earth Stood Still?
JH: In Vancouver. Ever been up there?
PR: I’ve never been to Vancouver.
JH: It’s stunningly beautiful. It was during wintertime, so it was sort of snowy and rainy and cold. The director of photography on the movie was David Tattersall, who shot the Star Wars prequels. He had the coolest stories.
PR: Did he tell you a particularly cool Star Wars story?
JH: He just kept saying how cold it was on the ice planet of Hoth.
PR: It looks like it’s freezing on Hoth. I know it’s a fiction movie, but if you ever get stranded on Hoth, you have to cut open your tauntauns and sleep in its guts. I’m switching gears here and going Tiger Beat on you now. What’s your favorite color?
PR: What’s your favorite quality in a girl?
PR: What’s your dream date?
JH: I just like a girl who can make me laugh.
PR: You like to just have some fun.
JH: Just old-time fun. Catch a great movie like Sex and the City-a good, fun date movie. Get dinner, like a plate of spaghetti.
PR: Or a picnic on a beach.
PR: What’s your favorite animal?
JH: What’s the one with the neck?
PR: Um . . .
JH: The monkey. Love ‘em.
PR: I was going to say sloth. But, of course, it’s a monkey. If you had a monkey, what would you name it?
JH: Steve. Unless it was a girl, in which case I would name it Charlie.
PR: Charlie. I like that. That’s so fun.
JH: Why wouldn’t you name it that? Especially if you had a monkey.
PR: There are plenty of girls named Charlie. Who’s your favorite cartoon potato-chip mascot?
JH: The guy on the Pringles can. He looks like an old-time shopkeeper, but he’s made of potato chips. If he got in a fight with Mr. Peanut and Mr. Salty, who do you think would come out on top?
PR: Can Mr. Peanut use his cane as a weapon?
PR: I’m going with Mr. Peanut.
JH: Know what Mr. Peanut’s first name is?
PR: Is it really? Mr. Derick Peanut.
JH: Do you like commercials in general?
PR: I do like going on YouTube and looking at commercials from back in the day.
JH: Because my show is about advertising, and I have to say, when I was a little kid, I kind of liked the commercials more than a lot of the stuff on TV.
PR: What was your favorite commercial?
JH: My favorite ones were the Miller Lite ads with all the jocks in them. “Tastes great, less filling.”
PR: They had the campaign with actual pro athletes.
JH: Yeah. Bob Uecker and L.C. Greenwood. Fun stuff. They gave you an appreciation for beer at a very young age. Just delicious.
PR: And did you take what you learned from those commercials into your role?
JH: Into the world of 1960s advertising? Yes, I did. I find that my acting style is filling and it also tastes great.
PR: Here’s something for you since you’re a sports fan. Peter Marshall, the host of-
JH: The Hollywood Squares.
PR: Right. He has a son who played baseball in the major leagues. You know who it was?
PR: He played for the Kansas City Royals.
JH: Was it Steve Balboni?
PR: No, the Balboni is what you clean up a hockey rink with. I’ll give you a hint: His last name was not Marshall.
JH: Was it U.L. Washington?
PR: It was not U.L. Washington.
JH: Was it George Brett?
PR: Nope. It was Pete LaCock.
JH: Really? Is that L-A-C-O-Q-U-E?
PR: No, no.
JH: Just L-A-C-O-C-K . . .
PR: Just the standard spelling.
JH: It’s a shame, because I bet he never got made fun of for his name.
PR: No, never. So here’s the thing: When you do interviews, people are always like, “Is there anything you’d like to add?”
JH: Free Darfur.
PR: I mean, of course, we have the charitable things that are worthwhile, I suppose.
JH: I don’t have any of those.
PR: Nothing political?
JH: Listen, let’s not get into that. But I recently saw a list of the third-place candidates in the last several elections, and most of them were Ralph Nader.
PR: He needs to stop.
JH: I think he needs to start.
PR: I think he needs to start not being in elections. What about Ron Paul? Did you like his chances?
JH: I think a Nader-Paul ticket . . .
JH: That’s a great golf name.
PR: It’s also where I would like to spend my dream vacation.
JH: In Naderpaul?
PR: It’s incredible.
JH: Hard to get to.
PR: Very hard. You have to take a couple of planes.
JH: But once you’re there . . .
PR: You can feel the stress just drip off of you in the massive humidity. It’s one of the only places left where the American dollar is strong. I feel like we had a lot of laughs doing this interview.
JH: And I think we learned a little something.
PR: I think we did. What’s your middle name?
PR: Knew that.
JH: What’s yours?
JH: Knew that.
PR: Jon Daniel Hamm. Danny Hamm. J.D. Hamm . . .
JH: Or as my grandfather called me, P. Dinger.
PR: All right! We did the interview.
JH: How do we turn the recorder off without erasing it?