Ready For His Departure: While the fate of Mad Men's Don Draper is uncertain as the series winds down to a close, Jon Hamm is already headed in new directions.
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

As the door closes on one of the most iconic, multilayered, and charismatic television characters ever to grace the small screen, actor Jon Hamm prepares for the next chapter.

His portrayal as the boozing, brooding, and dashing advertising executive Don Draper in AMC’s long-running series Mad Men has become something of a pop culture phenomenon, capturing both the eyes of women and the envy of men for the past seven years. As the series winds down (the two-part final season started this spring and concludes in 2015), Jon Hamm reflects, “It’s gonna be bittersweet; it’s been a long road — a decade… And 25 percent of my life. It’s been the thing I am the most known for, for better or worse. It’s hard to say goodbye to that.” Though moving on from his alter ego is hard, all signs indicate there is life after Don Draper.

What will perhaps be one of Hamm’s favorite movie roles has arrived, one that combines his love of acting with his passion for sports. Starring in the sports drama Million Dollar Arm, Hamm gets the golden opportunity to play real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein, who struggles to keep his business afloat, hatching a wild idea in the process: He stages an India-based reality show to discover Major League Baseball’s next great pitchers, where he finds two prospects among 40,000 cricket players.

As Don Draper, with Mad Men co-stars Ben Feldman, Elisabeth Moss, and Jay R. Ferguson
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Hamm no doubt tapped into his own love of the game to prepare for the role: He is a fervent follower of the St. Louis Cardinals, his favorite team since childhood. “Funny thing about the Cards, they have a lot of fans and a very big fan base,” he says. He admits to being one of their most vocal devotees until vocal-chord surgery sidelined him (vocally) from the 2013 World Series.

“I was so happy to get the chance to do a film like this, particularly a baseball movie. I absolutely love baseball and grew up going to the games with my dad,” Hamm says.

Sharing the screen with Hamm is veteran actor Alan Arkin, who plays a retired baseball scout, and Bill Paxton, cast as a pitching coach who trains the pair of 18-year-old finalists. “The movie is about a sports agent and there will no doubt be a comparison to Jerry Maguire, which I loved. It’s not a bad one to be compared to,” says Hamm; though, he notes, “I think in a larger perspective, the film is about defining and understanding family.”

Hamm’s own family story started in St. Louis, where he was born and raised. The door to acting opened slowly for him. Although he had no proverbial “aha moment” in regard to his future career, the acting bug apparently bit while he was a student at the John Burroughs School, where he was cast as Judas in the musical Godspell. After turning down offers to play football for Ivy League schools, Hamm left his hometown for the University of Texas. But the deaths of both his grandmother and his father cut his school time short (his mother died of cancer when he was just 10 years old), and he headed back home. He enrolled at the University of Missouri and became active in the university’s theater program, where he performed in the musicals Cabaret and Assassins and even returned to his old prep school to teach drama.