Changing Directions: Hamming it up on Saturday Night Live

Following the traditional template of the struggling actor, Hamm headed to Hollywood post college with only his car and $150. He started waiting tables and attending auditions but faced one rejection after another. “I gave myself five years in Los Angeles. I thought that was enough time to test the waters and see what’s what. It took every bit of three years to actually get a job and it wasn’t for my lack of trying.” Despite the fact his agent at William Morris dropped him, the persistent actor never gave up.

When the cameo role of a firefighter resulted in a 19-episode gig for the television show Providence, along with his first feature-film debut of a one-liner in Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys in 2000, Hamm was able to hang up his apron. Soon he appeared in bit television parts on CSI: Miami, What About Brian, The Division, and The Unit, among others. In 2006, his old-fashioned, leading-man looks and talent helped him beat out 80 candidates for the role in Mad Men. The show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, defied both the network and the usual logic of hiring a “name” for the part of the cool creative director, casting Hamm after seven auditions. The part became his defining role, earning Hamm a Golden Globe for Best Actor a year later, followed by six Emmy nominations.

Changing Directions: With Adam Scott in Friends With Kids
JoJo Whilden/Everett Collection
Successful comedic turns ensured the actor would not be forever typecast as that “Sixties ad guy”: He had stints as a guest host of Saturday Night Live and roles in the 2011 chick flick Bridesmaids and the NBC primetime hit 30 Rock, where he played opposite Tina Fey as the boyfriend who gets treated differently by others because of his good looks.

His own love life has, for the most part, been kept out of the tabloids. Hamm divides his time between New York and Los Angeles with his partner of 16 years, actress and filmmaker Jennifer Westfeldt, and their mixed-breed rescue dog, Cora. The pair are also partners in a production company, Points West Pictures, producing and starring in the indie film Friends with Kids in 2011. (Westfeldt also wrote and directed the ensemble comedy.)

And when they are both not working, travel is a favorite pastime. While principal filming for Million Dollar Arm took place in India — where temperatures reached 120 degrees — Hamm admits, “I was not able to do much sightseeing, which was too bad. I did get to see the Taj Mahal and Elephanta Island in Mumbai, where I saw lots of caves and carvings. It is definitely a place I wanted to visit. India is so different and beautiful and the food is amazing. The cuisine is very different and I turned into a vegetarian as a result. Rice, lentils, tofu — not very adventurous food-wise, but I ate wisely and did enjoy it.”

“We also love Italy,” Hamm adds. “We stay in a phenomenal place outside Positano, Villa Tre Ville (director Franco Zeffirelli’s former estate on the picturesque Amalfi Coast). The place is like magic. We have also stayed at J.K.Place in Capri; it’s wonderful.”

This summer finds the couple in Manhattan as “Jen is doing a play right now and in rehearsals.” As for Hamm, next up is the film adaptation of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury with director/actor James Franco, a tale of siblings in the early 20th-century Deep South. Certainly a departure for Hamm, but it’s also clear he won’t have to worry about being typecast as a philandering Sixties ad man any longer, since his career proves the old adage: When one door closes, another opens.