He stars in a movie about a woman having a major existential crisis. She asks: “Who am I? What does it all mean? Am I of this planet?”
Has Jon Hamm ever been there in his own life?
“That usually hits me about the fifth day of a film festival, where I’m answering questions all day,” said the “Mad Men” star during an interview at the Toronto Film Festival. The 6-foot-1 actor ran his hand through his perfectly coiffed dark hair. (No cigarette. He doesn’t do that in real life.)
“At that point, I’m like, ‘Wow, I bet I could fly if I really thought about it hard enough. I bet I could levitate and fly.’ Then I’ll hear, Jon, you have to answer more questions?” he said with a laugh.
Hamm, 48, stars in the sci-fi drama “Lucy in the Sky,” opening next Friday. The film revolves around astronaut Lucy (Natalie Portman), who faces an existential crisis when she comes back to Earth after a transformative experience in space. She has a fling with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Hamm), but soon goes into a downward spiral, losing her connection to her family, while her lover begins another affair with an astronaut trainee.
Review-Journal: What is an ideal Sunday for you?
Jon Hamm: I’m a sports guy. I’m athletic. I’ve always loved moving because it’s good for your body and your mind. I play baseball in a league in L.A. with a bunch of over-40 guys whose goal is basically not to get hurt. A Sunday game is a great Sunday. Afterward, a good Sunday might be a baseball game on TV. I do appreciate a little couch time if I can get it.
How did you identify with the struggle in “Lucy in the Sky?”
The film is about how you’ve gone through this particular thing that very few people can relate to … like being in space. Space is bigger than anything these characters have ever seen in their lives. How do you process that? What becomes of it if you don’t have an outlet for it when you come home? Natalie Portman does an amazing job showing how this can be difficult and devastating. It reminded me of what people who make a TV show go through. You have this shared experience that becomes unique to just those who were involved. I was able to take some of that in my real life and use it for the story.
You were born in St. Louis, graduated from the University of Missouri, then taught high school.
I graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in English. I wanted to act, but I spent time teaching acting at my old high school in St. Louis before I decided to move to Hollywood. I still think teaching is one of the greatest and most important jobs on the planet. But I wanted to take a chance and felt that I could always come back and teach if acting went sideways.
Did you have $20 in your pocket when you crossed the Los Angeles city limits?
I had about $150 in my pocket when I got to California. It wasn’t easy because I lost my mom at age 9 and my dad at 20. I came to L.A. without a support system back home. After my dad died, I had no rudder and it was a tough time in general. So when I moved West, I had to figure it out on my own, along with some great friends and their families, who really helped. Meanwhile, I got a job as a waiter, lived on some friends’ couches and didn’t book any jobs for about three years. I gave myself until I was 30 to keep at it before going back to St. Louis. Luckily, it worked out.
How did your life change with “Mad Men?”
It was a quantum leap in my career and life. All of a sudden, I was hosting “SNL” and meeting Tina Fey. It was amazing, but that kind of thing also comes with some craziness. So many people are pulling at you. Everyone wants a piece of whatever the hot thing is at the time. You have to manage it. But it was really fulfilling on so many levels.
What was the appeal of Don Draper in “Mad Men”?
Don was the American dream. At the same time, he was an incredibly damaged human being. He was a self-made man who won with his ambition and creativity, but also failed miserably at life. He made bad decisions about his wives and children while remaining brilliant in business. He gets it wrong, but that’s okay. He’s not a superhero, which was the appeal. That’s what I loved about him. His struggles and wrong decisions made him human.
Do fans still ask about “Mad Men”?
People still want to talk about the show. They don’t just want to talk about Don. They want to get into long discussions about Peggy and Roger and Joan, too. The fact that the public still wants to talk about these characters is the most obvious expression of being invested in something. It’s the ultimate compliment for an actor.
What about the drinking and the smoking?
The cigarettes were not real. They were a blend of some kind of herbs and spices that burn and look real, but there is no nicotine, no tar and they were non-addictive. By the way, the booze was also fake. We’d never get through a day if it was real booze. I’d be like, “Excuse me, I’ll be taking a nap.”
You were nominated eight times for an Emmy for “Mad Men” and won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2015.
I didn’t expect to win — ever. It was lovely to be honored, but just as amazing to be on those lists of nominees with that kind of talent each year.
You’ve said that you don’t want to play another character like Don.
My main goal afterward was to make sure that I didn’t play some version of Don Draper again. I think a tiny part of you thinks, “I’ll never work again” or “I’ll never work at that level again.” But it’s up to you as an actor to find the great work.
Is acting a tough job?
I always say that acting is not the hardest job in the world. That doesn’t mean that anyone can do it. What my dad did for a living (managing a family trucking company) was work. I’m extremely lucky.