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Jon Hamm talks about breaking down Don’s façade and explains what women really want from a man of mystery in AMCtv.com’s exclusive interview.
Q: Did you approach Don differently this season than you did last?
A: I didn’t really approach him that differently. He’s still the same character. His circumstances have changed a bit, but what’s really been cool about this show is we don’t see a lot of what transpired over the fourteen months that we skipped over. It’s cool that we maintain that little bit of a mystery.
Q: The season begins with Don being warned about his health. Did you try to carry that knowledge with the character throughout the season?
A: I think Don’s been less than healthy since we’ve met him. It’s mostly just been about how the quantification of that bad health has affected him. With somebody saying to him, “You’re going to have to confront your mortality, buddy,” I tried to figure out what that means for him. We’ve been watching it. Don has been trying to be the good guy and play the straight and narrow, but the circumstances of his life keep interrupting that desire and again, he’s stayed in place quite a bit. Who knows, maybe next season will be all about me trying to quit smoking. Good luck.
Q: How did you feel about the way the season ended?
A: There were a couple ways we talked about ending it. But I think that this deliberately ambiguous ending was the right one. There could have been any number of things Betty could have said to Don at the table there, and anything that he could have said in response. We don’t know what’s going to happen to these two people next — they’ve clearly got a pretty dysfunctional relationship and a pretty broken marriage. But I think we are able to maintain a tension when there are more things that are unseen, when we just get little drips and drops. The device of moving forward in time helps that greatly, especially in both seasons when you have a pregnancy moving to the forefront.
Q: Season 2 saw Don’s identity beginning to slip. Was it difficult for you as an actor to portray someone whose act is falling apart?
A: Anytime anybody lives a lie it takes a tremendous amount of energy — physical and psychic and mental and emotional energy too. At 37 years old, the cracks are starting to show in Don’s façade. But that’s fun to play because here’s this guy who is ostensibly a sort of ruler of all he surveys. And that gets interesting when it’s actually not the case and you see the other side. Any actor can relate to that, I think. It’s not that big of a stretch to say that actors are people who are constantly putting a face on and dealing with the question of what their character’s life means. But obviously living a lie is nothing I want to be personally involved with. Don is fundamentally flawed — some might say fatally flawed. And having to deal with that is a challenge very often.
Q: It was pretty jarring to see Don Draper smiling during the flashback where Dick tells Anna about Betty. Did you have to consciously make yourself smile more in that scene?
A: I think so. Don doesn’t smile very much, which is what happens as you get older. Things become a lot less hilarious to you. You’ve got a lot more on your mind, especially when you’ve walked down this path that Don has walked down. A lot of it gets more difficult. Fortunately we keep things pretty light on set. Everybody’s got a pretty healthy sense of humor, which is nice because the mood of the show is so often heavy. I mean, you get Vincent Kartheiser involved in anything and that automatically ups the crazy angle to the nth degree.
Q: Don Draper seems to have exposed some secret desire in women to have a man of mystery in their lives. How do you feel about that?
A: [Laughs] Yeah, I think the idea of that is way sexier than the reality of it. I really don’t think most women would want to come home to a guy who’s cheating on them or sleeping around or any of that stuff. That’s a lot sexier when it’s on the other side of the screen rather than sitting on the couch. Maybe what they respond to is the sort of sense of quiet or subtle masculinity that Don has, which is a very old-fashioned, male archetype. There are not a lot of guys like that in popular culture any more. It would be a tough sell to say they want to be with guys that cheat on them.
Q: Can you relate to that old-fashioned male archetype?
A: Yeah. John Wayne and Harrison Ford and Glenn Ford, it goes all the way back. The strong, silent type is a big deal and strikes a chord with a lot of people in our culture, not just me. That’s the way a lot of men were grown up to be in the world, and the way a lot of men want to be seen.
Q: Has playing Don influenced you in any way? Have you started putting Brylcreem in your hair?
A: [Laughs] No, no. I try to leave all that stuff at work. I do get a lot more suits sent my way, which is always nice. They’re not quite like Janie Bryant’s, which are pretty specific and obviously beautiful. But those suits have very much a vintage aspect, and I much prefer a modern tailoring to say the least.
Q: How far would you like to see Don’s story take him?
A: I don’t know. It’s a tough call, because there’s a pretty big sea change that happens at a certain point in society, and I think that the reason Mad Men has been so successful is that it lives in this transitory period of the ’60s. Once we move through that into a post-Watergate, post-counter culture world the symbolism of the time shifts into a totally different thing. I don’t think we need to follow Don into the late ’70s or ’80s. His story will have been told by then. I love playing the character and being a part of the show, so in that sense I hope it goes on forever. But shark-jumping can definitely happen if you start thinking like that.