AS DON DRAPER, HE INFORMED A DEFINITIVE TIME IN MODERN MASCULINITY. YET STYLE WALKS BEYOND THE SCREEN – IN A LIFE THAT’S BEEN ANYTHING BUT CHARMED, THE ACTOR RETAINS A SENSE OF THE EVERYMAN THAT LIBERATES HIM FROM THE SHADOWS OF HIS FAMOUS CREATION.
JON HAMM WILL HATE THIS. HE’LL CRINGE AND ROLL HIS EYES. BUT IT’S IMPORTANT.
It was the glory days of 1996 television – billowing chinos and frosted tips firmly in their reign of terror. A young woman named Mary was looking for “a sexy, hot man who is honest… and someone who knows how to give a good foot massage”. She was a contestant on The Big Date and her choice was down to three (let’s be kind and say) eligible suitors. There was Marc, the stuntman, who wanted to “take her home and show her [his] flexibility”. There was the lightly goateed Marcus, who wanted to “take her to Vegas, or bungee jumping… and at the same time, squeeze her like a little teddy bear”. The final contestant was 25-year-old Jon, who made his humble pitch from behind the curtain of a parted Jeremy London ’90s fringe. “Well, I’d start off with some fabulous food. A little fabulous conversation…” “What else fabulous, Jon?” taunted the host, who would go on to helm Temptation Island and Antiques Roadshow. “… Well, I’d end it with a fabulous foot massage, for an evening of total fabulosity.” Jon grinned big and awkward. Mary kind of cringed. She chose Marc. The next girl chose Marcus. Jon’s fabulosity would have to wait a while before being realised. On an overcast, drizzly day in West Hollywood, Hamm abjectly refuses to watch that two-minute clip. It was his first TV appearance. And it’s the only time he’ll be ashamed, or abashed, all day. But it’s a perfect checkpoint in a hero’s tale – a reminder that a grinny, awkward twentysomething Jon can, pretty much a decade later, become Don Draper; a core part of redefining and rejuvenating masculinity and style for a generation. More importantly, it’s a reminder that Jon can become Jon Hamm. Guacamole arrives on some typically overthought matte black LA crockery. Jon Hamm is dressed like a man ought to be – a no-fuss gingham shirt from Rag & Bone, punchy-but-not-too-preppy green chinos, boots and a scruffy cap from his amateur baseball team. We’re in a bizarre, luxe coworking-space-cum-members-club, if that makes any sense. Why’d he choose this joint? “I didn’t,” he says with a shrug, licking off a little rogue dip from his index finger. “It was chosen for me, like everything else in my life.” Before we talk filmography, about the movie he’s meant to be flogging, style or strand-perfect hair, we’re into an interesting, if sudden, deep dive. We wheel around geopolitics, around race relations, around the democratisation of information. Jon Hamm, you quickly learn, is thoughtful. He’s interesting. And interested. “This is probably the first time where the heterosexual white male has slipped,” he says. “It’s still the most dominant cultural thing on the planet, but it’s slipped. Like, marginally. And people are losing their minds: ‘What do you mean I have to pay attention to someone else’s viewpoint? I’ve never had to do that my whole life.’” Apparently, most are surprised by Hamm’s thoughtfulness: “For whatever reason – that I played a dummy, that I’m marginally good looking, that I’m an athlete? Some people think that those things can’t go together. “But I was a teacher. I was a very good student. I love learning. Teach me things, man. Let’s make everything a teachable moment.” The 45-year-old’s voice is straight from a soundstage, a deep baritone littered with kind Midwest inflections. It carries comfortably. That gentle country twang is out of St Louis, Missouri. Hamm grew up there, raised by a single mother – his parents divorcing when he was two years old. “I was a total latchkey kid – took the bus home, walked home, had to call my mom when I got home,” he says. Ever the athlete, Hamm was on both the swimming and football teams and glued to the TV on game day. “They would show the Rose Bowl, this Californian college football game, and the sun would be setting, and it’s in Pasadena, and there are girls in bikinis and they’re hitting beach balls up in the air and you’re like, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me – where is that? That is heaven.’” Hamm’s mother passed away when he was just 10. He moved in with his father. He went to college, first in Texas, then Missouri, and eventually graduated with an English degree. “With honours,” he’ll remind you. Then, at 20, he lost his father. Hamm tumbled into depression, though was never treated for it – he figured he was just being sad and lazy. With memories of the Rose Bowl, of Pasadena sunsets and girls in bikinis, Hamm, at 25, decided to head for California, pushing a 1986 Toyota Corolla, its odometer on the wrong side of 100,000 miles, from Missouri to Los Angeles. In his wallet was $150, a gift from his grandfather. The night before he left – in the middle of a freezing snap in St Louis, where he’d been sleeping on a friend’s couch – Hamm had a vivid, lucid dream. He could see his mother, father and maternal grandmother. One by one, they reassured him. They told him, ‘You’re going to be OK. You just need to get on the road. You’ll be OK. We’re watching out for you.’ “I woke up completely emotional. I was wrecked. It was so very real. It was cathartic.” Aside from an icy, nervy drive up the Rockies, the road trip went off without a hitch. Jon Hamm made it to California. Then, of course, the struggle really began. He took some waitering work on Venice Beach, alongside a carefree actor and actress on the make who were “probably models”. They wasted away half a dozen afternoons boozing and playing volleyball. Hamm distanced himself. “I wanted to get an [acting] job and I made a deal with myself. I said, ‘If I’m not doing what I want to do by the time I turn 30, then I’m going to do something else.’ I felt like five years was plenty of time to get something done.” He figured a presidential term is four years – and they got stuff done. But this was the era of Dawson’s Creek. Of 90210. The 25-year-olds on the rise were
being cast as high-schoolers and Jon Hamm barely looked like a high-schooler when he was in high school. “There was something about my energy, the way I carried myself. Something sort of… older, more weathered, more… seen more of life. I’d lost that youthful exuberance. Whether that’s losing your parents, or feeling detached from any kind of group. Whatever it was, that came across.” Life fell into an unsteady rhythm of side work and auditions. Hamm did a stint at well-known Café Med on Sunset Boulevard – taking the bus to work just a few kilometres down the same road we now sit on. Things were slow. And then they teetered to life, just like people had predicted. It was a small part on a big show. A one-off episode cast as ‘That Guy’ on Ally Mcbeal. A recurring role here. A pilot there. And right around his deadline age of 30, there was We Were Soldiers – his first meaty role. He quit the restaurant gigs. At 35, with a few more credits secured, Hamm went back to the drawing board – back to testing for pilots. The last one he auditioned for was a new AMC piece called Mad Men. Matt Weiner, the show’s creator, was on the lookout for his Don Draper – the show’s orphaned, weathered, reserved protagonist. When Hamm walked out of his Mad Men audition, Weiner turned to the rest of the room, and without hesitation, said: “That man had no parents.”
Mad Men would become a singular television entity for the noughties. Broadcast on a then struggling network, helmed by a relatively inexperienced writer and with an anonymous cast, it took less than a season for it to stand on its own two handsomely brogued feet. It was a pre-noon cocktail of hedonism, archive-perfect costumes, slow, deliberate character development and pedantic scripting. Mad Men was a story from another era, tailored perfectly to modern times. It appealed to mass audiences with its day-drinking and day-fucking and throwback New York masculinity. It appealed to critical audiences with its carefully woven gender and cultural commentary. It made stars of Hamm and his colleagues. It made pomade-parted hair, rich tailoring and brooding stares an ubiquitous look from London to Sydney to New York and beyond. Banana Republic designed a collection around the show. Michael Kors had a Mad Men- inspired runway show. It was a style moment. And, naturally, Hamm transformed that moment into a teachable one. “It made me conscious of presenting in a certain way. Before that, my style was sort of frozen in my early twenties. But the biggest thing – I just started buying clothes that fit. I started paying attention to it. Having them put on me and tailored, I was like, ‘Oh shit!’ You recognise that there’s a big difference in quality and fit.” A week earlier, Hamm was at Tom Ford’s show in New York. It was his first runway. “The aesthetic is more like the ’70s – it’s sexy, it’s cool. He’s a connoisseur. I feel amazing in a Tom Ford suit. I wore one this weekend. I got a ton of compliments on it. I feel good. When you look good, when your clothes fit you, you feel confident – it’s not a mistake.” For Hamm, getting Mad Men marked the beginning of a long journey. It also signalled an end to a tenuous time in life. “Getting a role like that, all of a sudden, the rest of your life looks really different,” he says. “The game changes, and you’re like, I’m the same person I was a year ago – five minutes ago.’” On a practical level, Hamm could now buy, do, or be anything he wanted. Suddenly, he was at the Golden Globes. The SAGS. The Emmys. “… And winning?!” he says with maintained wonderment. Perks came – numerous and instant. “As soon as you make a lot of money in this country, you don’t have to pay for anything,” he notes. “I try to give it away to people. I give it to shelters. But it accumulates.” With his baritone shifting from pleasant to iconic, Mercedes tapped him for voiceovers. A new car each year was part of the deal. “I have the most beautiful car in the world now. Even the valet guy today was like, ‘Holy shit!’ It’s the nicest car I’ve ever been in.” With the spotlight comes the ridiculous. And so it was, a few years ago, the rumour du jour that ‘Jon Hamm Has A Huge Cock’. Dubbed the ‘Hamm-aconda’, it was made complete with a (possibly?) Photoshopped image. For a while, half a dozen Hollywood blogs rode Jon Hamm’s dick. So to speak. “It was a topic of fascination for other people – certainly not me. By the way, as rumours go – not the worst.” To set things straight – he didn’t go through a phase of wearing no underwear. “I’ve always worn underwear – 100 per cent of the time. In fact, I love underwear. What’s better than a comfortable pair? Who wants an old pair of underwear? It’s a six-month, eight-month rule – you have to refresh the collection. “That makes sense. In fact, there’s a certain sweet spot where they’ve been washed enough and they’re super soft, but they haven’t lost the elastic yet. It’s a slippery slope. I feel that slippery slope is me, right now. I’m worn in a little bit, and almost just old – about to be tossed in the bin.” That Hamm is hilarious and sharp of wit might also come as a surprise. He also has these wonderful ‘get-off-my-lawn moments’, too. (On social media: “If you’re going to be a dick, put your name on it. Own it. It’s only fair”.) He talks further about age. About catching rockers Wilco the other night. “They’re also a little bit older – the crowd is a little bit older. There were so few phones up. Everyone there was like, ‘I’m not gonna put it online, I just want to listen.’ They were great.” Hamm’s currently starring in Keeping Up With The Joneses – a sort of Mr & Mrs Smith meets Bad Neighbours. His co-stars are Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher. He heaps praise on both. Next year, another comedy, a new Edgar Wright film alongside Kevin Spacey. He also says he’d be open to a feature adaptation of Archer – though feels it’d work best if Jon Benjamin’s voice was dubbed over his acting.
“AS SOON AS YOU MAKE A LOT OF MONEY IN THIS COUNTRY, YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY FOR ANYTHING. I TRY TO GIVE IT AWAY TO PEOPLE. I GIVE IT TO SHELTERS. BUT IT ACCUMULATES.”