Jon Hamm Reflects on ‘Mad Men’ and Don Draper at New Yorker Festival
The actor reflected on the landmark 2007-2015 series and his performance as Don Draper in a wide-ranging Q&A Saturday night held as part of the New Yorker Festival.
Hamm told New Yorker articles editor Susan Morrison that the AMC drama was a transformational experience, personally and professionally.
“To have that kind of omnibus experience is once in a lifetime, if you’re lucky,” he said during the session held at SIR Stage37. “Navigating the success, what the show became. that was the trickiest part,” Hamm added.
Now that the series has ended, Hamm told Morrison, he’s looking to branch out.
“The fun of being an actor is getting to different things” after playing Don Draper for seven seasons. “It wasn’t that I wanted to react against and play the opposite, but I definitely wanted to do different things,” he said.
Morrison asked Hamm about his comedy chops, showing clips from “Bridesmaids,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “30 Rock.” A self-described comedy geek, Hamm credited his creative journey from losing his mother at the age of 10 and eventually finding a nurturing environment in his “wildly progressive” St. Louis high school, John Burroughs School.
“We didn’t have cable TV,” he said. “You had to like, read books and listen to albums and cassette tapes.” Hamm cited Spy magazine, Monty Python, and comedians including Bob Newhart, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor as inspirations. He even liked Cheech and Chong, adding ruefully, “My grandmother did not like that one. It literally had a car-sized joint on it.”
Hamm was a jocular, appreciative interviewee, thanking each audience member for their questions and peppering his answers with little jokes. At some point, a weird emanated from somewhere in the audience. Hamm laughed. “I’ve never not laughed at a fart sound. Never have, never will.” When the audience laughed with some embarrassment, he added, “oh, I know it was the chair.”
About “Mad Men,” Hamm said, “There was nothing like our show.” He credits “the advent of the iPhone, and blog culture, and recap culture” with aiding its success. “Nobody watched it” — at least at first — “but people loved to talk about it!”
“The real appeal of the show is that people saw some version of themselves — their mom, their dad, their kids, their job, their journey, their family — in the story of this man who is not what he says he is, but has made this life,” he said. Hamm added that he happened to be uniquely suited for the role.
“My dad had a similarity to Don Draper,” he said. “Some quality that I took and used.”
Hamm added, “I was a fan of advertising. I was a fan of commercials as a kid. I watched a lot of TV. I could do jingles and i could do slogans,” he said. He realized how much he knew when he started meeting actual advertising executives while working on the show.
Morrison asked him how he played the difference between Don and his alter-ego on the show, Dick Whitman. “Don had a different way of carrying himself,” Hamm said. “There was this performative aspect to Don, when he was in the office especially… that was very much a conscious decision.”
In contrast, “when (Dick) goes out to California and you see him with Anna — he’s not performative, he’s purely himself, and there’s a different physicality to it. That was on purpose.”
Hamm connected that artifice, obliquely, to the current commander-in-chief. “There are a few examples of people in current political culture who might have manufactured confidence… Oh, remember George W. Bush! Simpler days,” he said.
At the end, Morrison asked him if he wanted to join the trend of superhero films because Hamm is a known to be comic-book fan. “Never say never,” he said, adding that he’s glad the genre is finding its way away from darker narratives towards ones with a “sense of humor.” Plus, he joked, “they’re running out of dudes.” An audience member asked him what his favorite comic book series was, and his answer is a four-part series called “Elektra: Assassin.”
“And the reason I like it is because there’s a really good part in it for me,” he said, smiling.