×

Jon Hamm Reflects on ‘Mad Men’ and Don Draper at New Yorker Festival

Navigating success after years as a working actor was a difficult part of the “Mad Men” experience for star Jon Hamm.

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.

More TV

  • Dead To Me

    Streaming Shows Nearly Doubled in Last Year, Boosting Los Angeles TV Production

    Television production in Los Angeles has received a major boost from streaming shows, according to a new report from the permitting organization FilmLA. The number of new digital projects nearly doubled between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 development cycles, increasing approximately 85.3% in a year. The number of digitally distributed original series in production has increased by [...]

  • Jessica Biel Limetown Premiere

    Why 'Limetown' Star & Producer Jessica Biel Thought the Show Was Based on a True Story

    In a world of increasingly outlandish headlines, the story behind “Limetown” — in which an entire community in rural Tennessee disappears overnight — seems plausible. Even Jessica Biel, who executive produces and stars in the Facebook Watch television adaptation of the hit 2015 podcast, was initially convinced that it was real. “I just thought I [...]

  • Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Cory Booker,

    TV Ratings: Fourth Democratic Debate Draws 8.3 Million Viewers

    Last night’s Democratic debate, which saw frontrunner Elizabeth Warren come under attack from all sides, drew around 8.3 million total viewers on CNN. That viewership figure is down 46% on the first NBC debate which was watched by 15.3 million viewers, and also on the two previous CNN debates which garnered 10.7 million (down 22%) [...]

  • All That Nickelodeon logo

    'All That' Revival Scores 13 More Episodes at Nickelodeon

    The “All That” revival at Nickelodeon just got twice as big. Nickelodeon has issued an order for 13 more episodes of the new spin on the ’90s sketch comedy show, taking the total episode count for season 1 of the revival to 26. Variety reported exclusively back in February that an “All That” revival was in [...]

  • Brian Koppelman and David Levien Billions

    'Billions' Creators to Develop 'Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber' Series at Showtime

    Brian Koppelman and David Levien are developing a limited series about ridesharing company Uber for Showtime. The “Billions” creators and showrunners will serve as writers and executive producers on the series, which will be based on Mike Isaac’s book “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber.” Isaac will serve as co-executive producer on the project, which [...]

  • All Rise Prodigal Son Network TV

    Networks Tout Delayed Viewing Amid Dismal Early-Season Numbers

    The 2019-20 broadcast premiere season has begun, and the ratings are … underwhelming. More specifically, the Nielsen live-plus-same day ratings are underwhelming. Of the 13 new shows that debuted across the Big 4 during premiere week (Sept. 23-29), the highest-rated was Fox’s “Prodigal Son,” which notched a 0.96 rating in adults 18-49. In terms of [...]

  • RAVEN'S HOME - Disney Channel's "Raven's

    'Raven's Home' Renewed for Season 4 at Disney Channel (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Raven’s Home” has been renewed for a fourth season at Disney Channel, Variety has learned exclusively. In addition, Alison Taylor is joining the fourth season as an executive producer alongside series lead Raven-Symoné and showrunner Warren Hutcherson. Production on the new season will begin later this year. “Raven is a huge part of the Disney Channel [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content