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Jon Hamm | Interview

Mad Men returns.
Photograph: Frank Ockenfels/AMC; Photo illustration: Jamie DiVecchio Ramsay Jon Hamm
By Novid Parsi |

Jon Hamm calls directly—without the standard protocol of a publicist listening in, objecting to undesirable questions. And rather than a blocked caller ID, my phone displays his name and number. Almost as rare: He apologizes for calling 15 minutes late. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” Hamm, 42, says. “We had Jennifer’s mom in town. We had to get her in a car.” In conversation, the St. Louis native and long-term partner of Jennifer Westfeldt continues to come across as the modest Midwesterner who happens to star in one of the most lauded TV shows of, well, all time. AMC’s Mad Men begins its sixth season on April 7.

Now that you’re shooting the second-to-last season, is there a sense on set of approaching the final story arcs? We all are very aware that it’s coming. And it’s bittersweet. I watched my friends over at 30 Rock go through it this year, and they were very emotional. You develop familial relations with these people.… Hold on one second. My girlfriend’s leaving. [To her: “Bye, baby. I love you.”] Sorry you had to hear that.

There are two threads in coverage of you: how your history resembles Don’s, given the early loss of your own parents, and how your personality differs from his, given your penchant for comedy. My personal situation is reminiscent of Don. I don’t think it perfectly echoes it. I don’t think there are many people that could be in the modern world and be like Don Draper. You would not get very far with human relations departments. I was talking to Bryan Cranston and I was like, “Do people ever ask you if you’re like Walter White?” He was like, “No.” “Yeah, why do I get that one? Why is that the narrative?”

So why do you think you get that? I don’t know. Why do you think it is? It’s kind of insulting to be like, “Hey, you remind me of that philandering, horrible person you play on television.”

Or it’s flattering: Don feels so real he must have some basis in your biography. I guess that’s a positive spin. Maybe I’ll think of it that way now.

Journalists swoon over you, your good looks and manners, your humility. Given Mad Men’s theme that we’re all salesmen, are you aware you’re selling them on you? I guess in a sense of you’re clearly there for a reason and the reason is to talk about yourself. I find talking about myself a little bit weird. Maybe that’s being from the Midwest and the natural deference to want to just say, “Oh, no no no, it’s not about me. Please don’t look at me.” But I am an actor. I couldn’t be a professional baseball player, so this’ll have to do.

Your SNL skit on Don Draper’s Guide to Picking Up Women joked about how Don does whatever he wants yet still succeeds. But is there some truth to that? He always wins in the end. I would beg to differ. His relationship with Betty did not end well, and he’s had some ups and downs in business. We want to root for redemption. Don is a very ambitious, adaptive, creative person, and he’s very good at reading a room and determining what path is the best path toward getting what he wants. He does that in relationships as well and can be manipulative and calculating and oftentimes shitty. He is very skilled at getting what he wants. So it’s true to character. I don’t think it’s a Hollywood situation. He’s not a superhero.

He loses Betty. Well, that wasn’t a great relationship anyway, and now he’s got this beautiful, young new bride to take her place. Well, one of the big themes this season is, be careful what you wish for. What happens when you get everything you want? Don actually said it in a pitch to Dow last year: “Success is defined as the moment before you want more success.” Something like that—I usually butcher my own quotes. But it’s true. What happens to these guys who are hard-charging and ambitious when they get their goals?

You’ve described the show’s era as a time when “the most powerful people in the world were rendered impotent in the face of the rising power of women and minorities”—which is how people spoke about the changing demographics in our last election. In [the show’s] situation, it’s the old, established white men losing their power to the younger generation. And in our current situation, it’s the old, established white men losing their power—or seeming to think that they’re losing their power to immigrants and the new racial demographics of the country. The funny thing about it is: Old, wealthy white men are never gonna lose power because [Laughs] they love power.

Why is that? Why do old white men love the power? I wish I knew. Someday I’ll be an old white man. Maybe I can tell you then.

Have you read a script and said, “I don’t think Don would do this”? I really haven’t. I have a deep-seated trust in [series creator] Matt [Weiner]’s ability to tell a story, and he’s earned that trust.

You sound content. Maybe that’s how you’re most unlike Don. [Laughs] I’m a pretty happy guy. Jen’s a lovely woman and our lives are pretty good together and we have a great dog and a great house. And yeah, I enjoy it.

Mad Men’s sixth season premiere airs April 7 at 8pm on AMC.

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