Jon Hamm

The mad man’s back as God’s smarmy right-hand man in Good Omens

SFX - - Close Encounters - Words by Tara Ben­nett with Paul Terry /// Pho­tog­ra­phy by Michael Buck­ner

There aren’t a lot of ac­tors who can tran­si­tion im­pec­ca­bly from enig­mat­i­cally so­phis­ti­cated to un­abashedly goofy quite like Jon Hamm. While he was a rel­a­tively late bloomer, only gain­ing trac­tion in his act­ing ca­reer when he turned 30, he’s gained de­voted fans for roles as dis­parate as con man dooms­day preacher Richard Wayne Gary Wayne in Un­break­able Kimmy Sch­midt to his Emmy-win­ning turn as ad man Don Draper in Mad Men.

Now he’s hav­ing a go at play­ing both com­edy and drama as the Ar­changel Gabriel in the up­com­ing tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion of Good Omens, the apoc­a­lyp­tic 1990 novel co-writ­ten by Terry Pratch­ett and Neil Gaiman. Over­see­ing Michael Sheen’s an­gelic Azi­raphale, Hamm gets to em­body the per­fect “ass­hole” boss as he goads his un­der­ling to bring about Ar­maged­don as God has in­structed. As Hamm ad­mits to SFX, the role has turned out to be quite, dare we say, heav­enly.

How was it work­ing with Neil Gaiman as your showrun­ner?

As you know his sto­ry­telling and world-build­ing are so spe­cific and de­tailed yet so imag­i­na­tive and orig­i­nal that you feel very well taken care of. The map is laid out very specif­i­cally for you and it’s fun. And the good news is when you are cre­at­ing some­thing out of whole cloth and you have the cre­ator there, you can ask him any­thing. Your char­ac­ter is re­ally only men­tioned in the book so how is he fleshed out in the se­ries?

Yes, Gabriel is not in this book, even though he’s in an­other book. The book. But he’s men­tioned in this book, so Neil de­cided to flesh him out and give him an arc. He’s God’s right-hand man, ba­si­cally, and Azi­raphale’s boss. He’s tasked with mak­ing sure Azi­raphale does his job bring­ing about Ar­maged­don. I pop in and pop out and keep pok­ing Michael’s char­ac­ter on the back about this thing we’re meant to do. Is he a mi­cro-man­ager then?

Well, he’s the boss we’ve all had in some ca­pac­ity who you just hate be­cause he is so con­fi­dent and as­sured and cer­tain that his way is the right way, and he’s com­pletely wrong. He’s poorly in­formed. You have to do what they say but they’re so dumb and you wish you didn’t have to. I get a lot of joy out of play­ing hand­some, mis­in­formed id­iots. But it’s all to the point of telling this in­cred­i­bly de­tailed story that has been ren­dered with such great care by the team be­hind Good Omens.

He’s the an­gel we’re meant to hate?

Yes, and I think it works nicely off Michael’s sweet­ness and light. The idea that even in Heaven, which is sup­posed to be all good, that there’s not all good, was ap­peal­ing. Were you fa­mil­iar with the book be­fore you were cast?

Yes, and I couldn’t be­lieve they were mak­ing it. I read it back in the ’90s when I was a kid, and I thought – the same way I thought about Amer­i­can Gods – that it would be such a cool movie that they will never make be­cause it’s im­pos­si­ble to do. But now we live in a world where you can make a six-hour movie and call it a lim­ited se­ries. You can do that. How we have grown as sto­ry­tellers, and the tools at our dis­posal, and the tools to get it to peo­ple means it can be some­thing else. I’m pleased as all hell to get to do it. Was it at all in­tim­i­dat­ing join­ing a very Bri­tish cast?

There’s al­ways the chal­lenge of com­ing to any­thing, and the ter­ror of the first day of school. But I’ve worked in the UK ex­ten­sively and I re­ally en­joy it. And to get to play against Mi­randa Richard­son, Michael Sheen and Michael McKean wasn’t in­tim­i­dat­ing but it sure was ex­cit­ing. You’ve worked on stream­ing TV projects be­fore. Does Good Omens feel like a unique project in that space?

I’ve worked in pretty much ev­ery tele­vi­sion ca­pac­ity from net­work TV to ba­sic cable and pre­mium cable. When we started Mad Men ev­ery­one asked about work­ing for AMC be­cause we were so free to be able to do all this cre­ative stuff and I was like, ‘Is it that dif­fer­ent? I don’t think so.’ I think the ne­ces­sity to ap­peal to an in­cred­i­bly wide swathe of the mar­ket­place is less­ened at Ama­zon be­cause only they know their met­rics and it’s a hit if they say it’s a hit. And that’s a great place to be be­cause we know if we like it, and if we want to do more. You’re not de­pen­dent on some neb­u­lous third party who deems if you can go fur­ther. Does the lim­ited se­ries an­gle for this adap­ta­tion feel too close-ended? Au­di­ences love se­quels.

No, I’ve al­ways been a fan of the Bri­tish way of do­ing things, tele­vi­sion wise, be­cause all of their shows, with the ex­cep­tion on East En­ders and Coro­na­tion Street, come to an end. They only made 12 Fawlty Tow­ers and four sea­sons of Black­ad­der and they’re great and they stop. And for the ac­tor do­ing the same thing over and over again seems par­tic­u­larly weird. Go get into mak­ing thim­bles if you want to make things over and over again.

Good Omens starts stream­ing on Ama­zon Prime Video in the first half of 2019.

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