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Jon Hamm Talks Sports, ESPYs, ‘Million Dollar Arm’

Sports thick on 'Mad Men' star's agenda

Jon Hamm was on the phone today with reporters to chat about hosting the July 17 ESPYs, starring in the upcoming baseball film “Million Dollar Arm” and sports in general. (And even a little “Mad Men.”) Here are some conversational highlights.

“As has been patently clear, I am a diehard Cardinals fan, so hopefully I can get some shoutouts (during the show).

“It’s been my experience through various deals with ESPN through the years as well as ‘Saturday Night Live’ that athletes are desperate to crack each other up and make fools of themselves at any time … in a positive way.

“Unfortunately, my work schedule has prevented me from going to see the last few World Series that my Cardinals have been in. I was watching the pivotal Game 6 with Jay Ferguson (from ‘Mad Men’), who’s a pretty diehard Ranger fan, from his trailer, while running back and forth from the trailer to shooting.

“I am a huge sports fan, I love the fact that the ESPYs actually celebrate all sports, not just the big four.

“It’s been tricky scheduling wise. Part of is, I’m working with writers … people I’ve known for quite some time, either on ‘Saturday Night Live’ or ’30 Rock’ or my own sort of comic weirdness. There’s already a kind of shorthand there, an ability to work well (while) not in the room, so to speak. ‘Million Dollar Arm,’ we started in May in India, so it’s been a long road to finishing the film.

“It’s not something I’ve necessarily done before. Hosting an awards show is not like hosting ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It’s a whole different skill set. Hopefully, I’m up to the task. I’ve never had a problem standing up in front of a crowd and making a fool of myself.

“My competitive athletic days are pretty far behind me, though I play baseball still and tennis. I was a fairly good competitive high school athlete, (though) I was never in any danger of progressing into a professional career. I hate working out, and I still do, so (playing sports) provides a way of getting exercise without doing something dull and repetitive.

“Anyone’s fascination so deeply with anyone else’s personal life: It’s silly, I guess. I’ve met (George) Clooney several times, and he’s a lovely guy but my interest in his personal life ends there. Jen and I have been together for many years, and it’s constantly mindboggling to me that people care. If that’s how you want to spend your day, be my guest, but it doesn’t take up any of my day.

“‘SNL’ is obviously an institution that has been going 37, 38 years, and it is an impressive (show). The ESPYs are an award show, and first and foremost they’re to celebrate the achievements of the athletes in attendance. Ideally if it can be entertaining and funny and lighthearted, that can be a plus. … I think the ESPYs does a pretty good job, more so than most, of having a good time and celebrating.

“It’s certainly not going to be ‘The Jon Hamm Show,’ nor should it be. I know Seth (Meyers) and Rob (Riggle), who hosted the past couple of years, and what both of those guys have that I hope to bring to it is innate charisma. Those guys happen to be professional comedians and I am not, so that’s a little daunting.

“I’ve met (JB Bernstein, whom Hamm plays in ‘Million Dollar Arm’) many, many times, and he was in India and he’s been an incredible source of information. We’ve actually met 95% of the people involved in this. … The biggest hurdle (in playing a real-life character) is to try to get it as accurate as you can while still telling a story in 90 or 100 minutes.

“These kids went from never having picked up or touched a baseball to relief-quality baseball players in under a year. That’s insane.

“Maura (Mandt) is such an excellent producer (of the ESPYs) because she basically solves problems and makes it easy on the people she hires.

“When you’re shooting whether it’s television or film or podcasting, for God’s sake, it’s the culmination of a lot of people’s work and you don’t want to let anybody down. The writers tale a long time to write material and the crew puts in a lot of hours … but at the end of the day it comes down to you saying the words and being believable on the day, and you either are or you aren’t. I remember when I got the pilot for ‘Mad Men,’ I was thinking ‘This is amazing — this is going to be great’ and then 30 seconds later thinking , ‘Oh my God, I got this pilot.’  I remember my first scene on ‘Mad Men,’ was me walking into my office, me lighting a cigarette, taking a new shirt out, putting it on, lighting a cigarette … all while saying these lines, and I thought, ‘If I can do this, I can get through anything.’

“‘The Natural,’ ‘Bull Durham,’ ‘Miracle’, ‘North Dallas Forty’ — I can’t pick one. ‘Caddyshack.’ I love sports movies — when they’re done right, there’s nothing better. ‘The Bad News Bears.’

“I think the formula is the good thing about sports films, honestly. I think what makes a great sports film is the capacity to transcend the formula. As a moviegoer you’re going, ‘I know what’s coming, but you got me again.’

“I remember watching ‘Miracle,’ about the U.S. hockey team in Lake Placid, and I watched that live — I knew how that was going to end. … You knew how it was going to end, but it still gets you.

“The thing with ‘Bull Durham’ is it’s a love story that happens to take place in the world of minor league baseball. I love that movie.

“I do love professional hockey. It would kind of be cool to play someone like Gordie Howe. I mean, I can’t skate a lick, but old-time hockey is fascinating. … Or basically, just to play Paul Newman’s character in ‘Slap Shot.'”

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