Jon Hamm: the Mad Men star now play­ing the bad boy

Two years ago Jon Hamm’s life seemed to fall apart – his ca­reer-defin­ing role as Don Draper ended, he split with his long-time part­ner and he en­tered re­hab. Now, with a new­found drive, he’s back on our screens. The Mad Men star talks about why he couldn’t

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Not so long ago, Jon Hamm was won­der­ing whether there was any room left for him in Hol­ly­wood. His 10-year stint as Mad Men’s bro­ken, bruised and bril­liant Don Draper had just come to an end and the ac­tor feared fans would call time on him too. Once his char­ac­ter walked off into the sun­set, would any­one care what hap­pened to the man be­hind one of TV’s most loved, yet most loathed men?

“It’s kind of scary. ‘Oh no, what’s next? Are peo­ple go­ing to like me in any other ca­pac­ity?’ I gen­uinely, af­ter Mad Men fin­ished, be­lieved I’d had my mo­ment,” says the 46-year-old. “I was lucky to have that and re­signed my­self to the idea of never work­ing again, or at least not on that level. I still carry that with me

for the most part.

“But it’s also the fun part of the job: what’s next? I had a friend who al­ways used to say that the most ex­cit­ing word in the English lan­guage is ‘next’. Use the good part of the fear of the un­known and en­joy it.”

That he has done. Since the end of Mad Men in late 2015, Jon has shown a gung-ho open­ness in his choice of projects, ex­celling in comedic roles such as the crack­pot cult leader in Net­flix’s Un­break­able Kimmy Sch­midt, the “su­per as­sas­sin” in the TV hit Wet Hot Amer­i­can Sum­mer, and last year’s Keep­ing Up with the Jone­ses. He has taken on more than a dozen TV and film projects in the past two years – end­ing any con­cern his ca­reer would flail post-Mad Men – and this month takes a vil­lain­ous turn as Buddy in the hotly an­tic­i­pated Baby Driver, a heist-cum-ro­mance film.

It was a wel­come chance for one of Hol­ly­wood’s nicest men to fi­nally play the bad guy.

“The bad guy is the best. It’s a lot of fun.

And you don’t get it un­til you’re do­ing it,” says Jon. “I’ve never played an out and out bad guy; there’s been plenty of con­flicted guys, plenty of anti-hero sen­ti­ment, I’ve done the comedic bad guy, but Buddy, he’s bad to the bone. But not

in a one-note sense, he’s bad in a nice way; a fleshed out and re­alised char­ac­ter.”

Jon’s role as Buddy, a Wall

Street type whose midlife cri­sis has led him to join a gang of rob­bers led by Kevin Spacey, called for plenty of sim­mer­ing men­ace – as well as some red-hot driv­ing skills.

For an ac­tor who has spent most of the past decade of­fice­bound, wear­ing suave suits, how did he man­age sud­denly hav­ing to do dan­ger­ous driv­ing stunts?

“I felt very alive,” he says. “You’d get out of the car af­ter do­ing a 50mph [80kph] side­ways stunt and your heart was go­ing dududududud, so fast. It was thrilling, it was real, there were no spe­cial ef­fects, you were in it, and I ap­pre­ci­ate that not only as an ac­tor but as an au­di­ence mem­ber. We all check out a lit­tle with the CGI [com­puter-gen­er­ated im­agery] – the dan­ger isn’t there. But when you know it’s real, it locks you and you feel your­self get­ting in­cred­i­bly wound up. Your chest tight­ens.”

He ad­mits the chance to loosen up and play an ac­tion role for the first time was hugely re­ward­ing.

“Get­ting to do ac­tion at my age – there aren’t many years left [to do that] un­less I’m on the Tom Cruise diet – so I’m count­ing my bless­ings. I’m say­ing, ‘Hell yes!’ to these movies.

“These are the kinds of movies I watched as a kid, very high­a­drenalin es­capism and get­ting to do that and be a part of that is pretty grat­i­fy­ing.”

It’s true that Jon’s ca­reer is back in high gear again, but he’s well aware that suc­cess has come at a ter­ri­ble per­sonal cost once be­fore.

Back in 2015, just as his ca­reer had peaked with the wrap of the suc­cess­ful sev­enth sea­son of Mad Men, he split from his part­ner of 18 years, writer-di­rec­tor Jen­nifer West­feldt, and went into re­hab for al­co­hol ad­dic­tion.

He ad­mits he is still on his own and has been open about his dif­fi­culty ad­just­ing to sin­gle life. “It’s hard. It’s hard to be sin­gle af­ter be­ing to­gether for a long time. It’s re­ally hard. It sucks.”

He has never gone into de­tails about his re­hab, but he is out­spo­ken about the ben­e­fits of ther­apy.

“Med­i­cal at­ten­tion is med­i­cal at­ten­tion, whether it’s for your el­bow or for your teeth or for your brain,” he says. “And it’s im­por­tant. We live in a world where to ad­mit any­thing neg­a­tive about your­self is seen as a weak­ness, when it’s ac­tu­ally a strength. It’s not a weak move to say, ‘I need help.’ In the long run it’s way bet­ter, be­cause you have to fix it.

Ther­apy, he says, is “like go­ing to the den­tist. If you can af­ford it, why wouldn’t you?”

If only his al­ter ego Don Draper had had the same open­mind­ed­ness. Does he miss him?

“I miss the peo­ple who I don’t get to see nearly enough be­cause they’re all scat­tered across the globe. Do I miss Don? We had an amaz­ing, sig­nif­i­cant, very im­por­tant time to­gether, he gave me this ca­reer that I have, it’s all down to him.

“I don’t miss the heavy load that came with play­ing an of­ten quite de­spon­dent char­ac­ter that came with a lot of emo­tional

I don’t miss the heavy load that came with play­ing an of­ten quite de­spon­dent char­ac­ter.

Get­ting to do ac­tion at my age… I’m say­ing, ‘Hell yes!’ to these movies.

bag­gage. But it’s 10 years of my life, where I wouldn’t change one thing.”

The last time we saw Don, in the fi­nal episode of Mad Men, he was find­ing in­ner peace at an ashram. Does Jon think he main­tained this new path to in­ner so­lace?

“Nope!” he says, and laughs. “He went back to ex­actly who he was, be­cause that’s who he is. I know he had his Zen mo­ment, but c’mon, there’s no way. I think he’s far too dam­aged, far too long in the tooth. It was a great, very poetic, sym­bolic end­ing. I was a big fan, but if we’re speak­ing in the long term, Don is Don, he’s who he is.”

It has been im­por­tant for Jon to play be­yond Don, and not re­peat him­self.

“I’ve de­voted enough time to one char­ac­ter. Eight months of the year for a decade. I haz­ard to say that’s enough. Even if I was of­fered on a sil­ver plat­ter an ex­cep­tional vari­a­tion, amaz­ing writ­ing, bril­liantly formed, I still might have to move on. There would al­ways be that com­par­i­son with what went be­fore, which was – and I’m not afraid to say so – the role of a life­time.”

He ad­mits he was of­fered a few of those roles straight af­ter Mad Men ended.

“Oh yeah. A lot. They want you again and again for the same type of part – smok­ing cig­a­rettes, look­ing suave, wear­ing a hat, he’s great with the ladies – un­til you’ve been used up and spat out and you never work again.

“Some peo­ple have fol­lowed that path, and are happy with the out­come – good for them. But it’s not for me; Don Draper is a char­ac­ter I played, he’s not who I am.”

If the act­ing gig doesn’t work out, though, there are plenty of other op­tions.

Jon has been a teacher, a waiter, and worked on a porn film as a set dresser.

“It was soft porn. Very, very soft porn,” he de­fends, laugh­ing. “And that I will never be do­ing again! But I’d go back to wait­ing. I al­ways liked work­ing in restau­rants, I liked be­ing sur­rounded by that hu­man­ity.”

Teach­ing, he says, is his fall-back ca­reer. “I loved it, and I’ve of­ten thought about go­ing back. I prob­a­bly will; I’d like to.”

His chis­elled good looks could eas­ily have seen him type­cast, so Jon has wel­comed the chance to break out of the Mad Men mould.

CLOCK­WISE FROM ABOVE: Jon as Don Draper, the Mad Men role that made him fa­mous. With former part­ner Jen­nifer West­feldt – the cou­ple split in 2015 af­ter 18 years to­gether. Jon with his Mad Men co-stars. In the 2016 ac­tion­com­edy Keep­ing Up with the Jone­ses with Gal Gadot. Ansel El­gort and Jon in Baby Driver (see Kate Rodgers’ re­view of the movie on page 161).

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