HAMM IS A GUY WHO USES THE WORD fortunate a lot. He uses it when describing everything from scoring his Mad Men gig to living close to Griffith Park, where his shepherd mix, Cora, can run around, chasing hawks and snakes. He seems genuinely dumbfounded by his recent string of good luck. When asked how he manages to stay humble, he recalls the first time he hit a home run.
“I was probably in 10th grade,” he says. “I hit it over the fence, out of the park — and it was off one of the senior pitchers. And I freaked out. I did everything but, like, do cartwheels around the bases. I was like, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe I hit a home run!’ I was running and screaming and, like, high-fiving myself — like, just freaking out. And I got back to the bench and my coach was like, ‘Don’t you ever, ever do that again. What is wrong with you?’ And I was like, ‘Did you see that?!’ It came from such a pure place. But he was like, ‘Don’t do that. Inside. [Points to his chest] You can do that here.’ So I guess that’s where I learned the first time that when things like this happen to you, you can certainly be happy and excited about it, but that’s not the right way to do it.”
One gets the impression from talking to Hamm that despite his astronomical rise over the last few years, he’s exactly the same guy he was when he was taking lunch orders at Ciudad 10 years ago. He plays baseball on an adult rec-league team (albeit one captained by Casey Affleck). He still roots for his home teams, his beloved St. Louis Blues and Cardinals — although now he gets invited to play in all-star celebrity contests, like he did last year at his hometown ballpark, Busch Stadium, and again this year in Anaheim. In what little downtime he’s got, he and Westfeldt stay in and watch The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and American Idol. Or he’ll play tennis, a game he picked up out of sheer competitiveness.
“I have an athlete’s will to get better at something,” he says. “I took up tennis not too long ago because a friend of mine just kept beating me, and it was infuriating when I would lose.” (Though Hamm insists he’s not a perfectionist, he has trouble coming up with anything he’s bad at quickly enough to persuade me that he is actually bad at anything.)
He’s sweetly self-deprecating, even deigning to make fun of the hair that single-handedly launched a look and brought Brylcreem back into the follicular vernacular. “Some guys just have hair that just, like, works, you know? Bam! And then there’s me,” he laments. “I don’t know. It just always looks kind of goofy.”
And though he and Westfeldt splurged earlier this year on a lavish trip to Italy, his vacations are often punctuated with decidedly everyman pursuits; during his recent trips to Northern California and France, Hamm admits, he sneaked away to partake in long-distance fantasy-football drafts.
“In France,” he says, shaking his head in embarrassment. “It was on the phone. It probably cost me $4,000. I was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ ”
It’s admissions like these that make Hamm irresistibly likable and instantly relatable, despite the fact that, as his 30 Rock co-star Tina Fey once joked, he’s so good-looking, you have to “poke a hole in a paper plate to look at him, like an eclipse.” He still cops to having nerves over the success of Mad Men, even though the buzz and chatter swirling about the show continue to grow with each season.
“It always feels like no one’s going to tune in,” he says. “I don’t think that ever goes away, especially for a show like ours. It’s one thing to be in a franchise or procedural show where … something bad happens in the first act, they try to find it out in the second act, and they figure it out in the third act. Our show is a little different, so there’s very much a sense of: Are people going to get this? Are they going to like it? A lot of people are tuning in because the show is sexy — if we dial that element down, is that going to turn people off? And what’s happening with Don and [his wife] Betty — will [their breakup] turn people off? We don’t know.”
He remains cautious, if for no other reason than he knows things happen quickly in Hollywood and this could all be taken away in an instant. In five years’ or three years’ or even one year’s time, he could be back on the casting couch, fighting through audition after audition for a guest-starring role on Two and a Half Men.
Assuming — safe as it seems to do in his case — that his story will have a happier Hollywood ending, where does he aspire to be in five years? Hopefully still doing on-screen work he can be proud of. Probably producing (he and Westfeldt launched a production company last year). Maybe directing, something he says he’d like to try his hand at. But he’s really not sure. He shrugs off questions about marriage and children too. These things, he coolly reasons, have a way of working themselves out.
“I remember when friends of mine were going through rough patches, and I would say, as a way of counseling them, ‘Think of where you were five years ago, and how different it was. And now think of where you can be five years from now.’ It’s not a huge amount of time, but a lot can happen,” he says. “I don’t know, honestly, where I’ll be in five years. I hope it’ll be a progression, not a regression. I hope to be happy and fulfilled and all that stuff. But otherwise, I have no significant goals. I just want it to be a nice five years.”
JESSICA JONES is an associate editor at American Way. Like Tina Fey she found it hard to look directly at Jon Hamm during their interview