Offering a lifeline to actors otherwise ignored by film producers, a lead role in a TV show can bring previously unseen fame, fortune and valuable screentime. But when the show ends, you're back to the side of the industry that didn't want to know you before, albeit with a much larger profile.
As Mad Men draws to a close (the second half of the final season premieres next year), Jon Hamm is heading to Hollywood. After supporting roles in The Town and Bridesmaids, he's taking on his first lead in a big studio picture, in the shape of charming Disney sports drama Million Dollar Arm.
We sat down with the 43-year-old actor, who was sporting a very impressive un-Don Draper beard to talk about the film, reality TV, superheroes, British comedy and the Mad Men finale.
Baseball can be a bit of a tough sell in this country. Moneyball has probably been the only baseball film that’s really worked in the UK in recent years. How do you sell a baseball film to a Brit who doesn’t really care about the sport?
It’s interesting because first of all I don’t think it’s a baseball film. I think Moneyball was a baseball film and that is a tricky sell. This movie, however, for my money, is more about, if I can speak in broad terms, aspiration, opportunity, thinking big and finding a new way to solve problems. Baseball is a backdrop for it. The idea that this guy had was to find cricketers that could somehow be repurposed into baseball players, thinking that there are probably 700 million children in India and one or two could probably do this. The math seems to work. As is said in the film, what he sets out to do, while it’s not impossible, it’s highly improbable. There’s no cynicism to it, there’s no irony to it, it is a feel good story and it’s also about, from my character’s point of view, it’s about this guy who’s discovering what it means to care about a human being, to find a family. And having spoke to JB (the real life agent) as well, this actually happened, these boys are still in his life. In fact, I sponsored Rinku’s green card to be a resident of the US.
I know you’re a huge fan of baseball and you threw out the first pitch at a Cardinals game this week. After seeing 50 Cent and other celebrities struggle, were you nervous about doing the same?
[laughs] I wasn’t. I’ve been going to those games since I was five years old so to be on that pitcher’s mound, I was giddy, I was just goofily giddy. I felt like I was 14 years old. I’ve seen the 50 Cent one and I’ve seen the Miss Texas one that went sideways and I’m just like, they should really ask people if they’ve ever thrown a ball before they ask them to do it. Just a couple of throws, I mean we all get nervous but boy oh boy.
The film also has a reality show element to it and there's a scene when you're watching a clip of Susan Boyle and you get inspired. You’ve spoken before about reality shows not really being your cup of tea but what do you think about the positive side of reality TV?
I like the kinds of reality shows that celebrate people rather than denigrating them or making fun of them. I feel like there’s a certain element to certain reality shows that’s like “let’s highlight the bad” or “let’s turn the camera on and shake the box and see what happens” and I feel like that doesn’t help anyone. There are others that are inspirational and you see someone like Susan Boyle where she was sort of set up like “well this is going to be good” and then blew everyone’s mind. Those are the nice ones, those are the ones I can get behind. The ones that are just showcasing bad behaviour and celebrating it in some way, you can obviously figure out the kinds of shows that I’m talking about, I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why you would want to watch that. It’s the equivalent of watching a car crash. They are just terrible people behaving terribly.
Sadly there are more of those…
There are but the ones that I like, like Top Chef or Project Runway, are about people being celebrated for doing their jobs exceptionally well. Even American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent, I can appreciate the fact that people are doing something where they want to get to the next level and we all need a helping hand.
Has Susan Boyle seen the film?
[laughs] I don’t know. I hope she likes it. We should have her see it.
You’ve done your fair share of comedy cameos, including a role in The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret with Blake Harrison. Are you a fan of The Inbetweeners? What other British comedy sticks out to you?
Making Todd Margaret was awesome and that turned me onto The Inbetweeners so I got to see that. And then there’s The IT Crowd. I actually did Bridesmaids with [Chris] O’Dowd. I had known Richard [Ayoade]’s work from Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace which was so good. Then there’s Toast of London and Touch of Cloth. I actually met Charlie Brooker the other night and it was a highlight in my trip. I’m a massive fan of his. Massive fan of Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci, Edgar Wright, all those guys. British comedy for my money is the best in the world. I’m a massive massive fan and I have a lot of friends that are as well. Our little American British comedy nerds. Me and Bill Hader, [Paul] Rudd and all these guys will just get together and start watching YouTube videos like nerds. It’s the best. So I love working over here. I’ve had the opportunity a couple of times and I really do enjoy it.
Pretty much every other actor in Hollywdoo is being attached to a superhero project, including your good friend Paul Rudd in the upcoming Ant-Man. Is it something you’ve actively avoided or would you be interested if the opportunity came up?
It’s not something I’ve actively avoided. It’s more about the right project honestly. I would have loved to have been in Guardians of the Galaxy. I thought it was a phenomenal film and it was such an obscure corner of the Marvel universe. I don’t want to say that all the good ones are taken but kind of, all the good ones are taken. Ant-Man will be great, Paul’s going to be great. I read the script because Edgar Wright was attached to it and he wanted me to read it and I loved his treatment of it but I think Peyton is going to make a great movie too. It’s going to be good. I mean, look at their track record. They make really good superhero movies and they have really good superheroes. I’m a super super comic book nerd. I would ride my bike literally for an hour to the comic book store to like go deep. It’s certainly not something that I’ve actively avoided, it’s more about the right project. If there’s a cool version of it then I’d love to. The problem is that I’m old. It’s a young man’s game and I am not a young man but there are some cool old superheroes right? Someone was like, you could play Dart-Man and I was like what is that and they were like oh just somebody who likes to play darts.
Mad Men is coming to an end which is sad news for millions of us. While you must be sad too, is there also a part of you that’s ready for it to finish?
We finished shooting on July 3rd and I was happy to say goodbye and yet sad at the same time to say goodbye to the character, understanding that I will never play that guy again. It was a long time, it was eight years of my life, let’s call it 20% of my life and a significantly longer portion of my career and for better or worse, probably the thing that will most define my career unless I have a Matthew McConaughey-like renaissance. McConassaince as they call it these days.
It’s a great thing to be defined by though…
It’s not the worst thing. I’m not mad at it. But all good things must come to an end. Every great story has an ending. You don’t want to read a book that just keeps going, you want it to end. I was the last person to shoot. I was the last person when they said that’s a wrap and when they said “that’s a wrap”, that was a wrap. It felt right and it was nice to look up and see the whole crew and the whole cast and everybody there and then we all clapped and hugged and took pictures and drank our faces off that night and then we said goodbye. But we’ll see each other again. No one died. It’s the end of a TV show, it’s not the end of a life. We’ll see each other again hopefully. Well I know we’ll see each other again doing press next year so there’s that part of it.
What’s interesting about Don Draper is that he became a heartthrob even though he treats women really badly. Do you think that’s worrying that so many women find that character appealing?
I find it mystifying. I don’t understand that. I guess the only way I can rationalise it in my head is that he’s a compelling character, he’s exceedingly well-written. Matthew is a phenomenally talented writer and Don is a well-written fleshed out character, he’s compelling, he’s interesting. So maybe there’s something about that. And he dresses well.
Do you find that a lot of the time, people meet you expecting you to be kind of a douchebag?
Are you then eager to prove that you’re actually a nice guy?
I don’t think I’m necessarily eager to prove it because I don’t feel that I need to prove anything but I definitely find that there’s an expectation and then you fail to meet that expectation, people have to do a mental recalculation. I mean it could be worse, it could be the other way which would be a disaster…
Million Dollar Arm is in cinemas now