TORONTO — All “Mad Men” fans know that Don Draper has a double life. Jon Hamm, who plays him, has one too.
“I’ve been tremendously fortunate to have my day job be something like ‘Mad Men’ that I’m so proud of and is so rewarding and rich and exciting to work on,” said the actor in an interview last week at the Toronto International Film Festival. “And then I get to stop, and go do other things, work with other people who also are inspiring me, differently.”
Hamm came to TIFF with a role that’s far from Don’s 1960s Madison Avenue. He plays FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley, obsessed with tracking down a crew of Boston bank robbers in the crime drama “The Town.” Directed by Ben Affleck (a fine follow-up to Affleck’s first directorial effort, “Gone Baby Gone”), the film opened Friday and was the weekend’s top box-office attraction.
Relaxed, friendly and very non-Draper-ish in jeans and a plaid shirt with his shoes off, Hamm said that he filmed “The Town” in Boston for two and a half months, immediately after finishing Season 3 of AMC’s Mad Men.” The 13-episode seasons are shot without a hiatus, for “about 4 1/2 months” over the summer, freeing him and the rest of the cast to take on other projects in the fall and winter — and giving Hamm a chance to show that he can play something other than a “brooding moody guy.”
Agent Frawley, he said, is a man who lives for his work. “The Town” almost exclusively shows him on the job, and Hamm, in his vision of the character, said that’s all Frawley has — no double life for him.
“I think part of the character is that this is this guy’s other life. It’s both of his lives. He’s all about work — we see a very brief moment as he’s working on this case, where his home looks a lot like his office, there are files and pictures. It’s consuming for him. I think a lot of these guys have a hard time leaving work at work, because when you’re dealing with bad guys, you want to get them off the street as completely as you can and as immediately as you can, and it’s frustrating to relax. That was my decision, sort of subconsciously, to make this person like that.”
Switching gears to discuss his “day job,” Hamm said that “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner gave him some back story about Don early on (“family history — mostly the stuff we found out in Season 1”), but has held back other details — from Hamm, as well as the audience. For example, in a recent episode in which a flashback explained how Don originally got his first job in advertising from Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Hamm said he learned it from the script. “I was very, very pleased to find out about it. The beginning of the relationship between Don and Roger was a mystery to me as well. And I think it’s a perfect story point.”
Hamm heaped praise on Weiner and on his co-stars from the show, singling out Slattery (“One of the best in the biz. My God, that guy’s funny”) and Elisabeth Moss (“a devastatingly talented individual”), who plays young copywriter Peggy Olson and with whom Hamm shared most of this season’s Episode 7, “The Suitcase,” a turning point in Don and Peggy’s complex working relationship. It contains a rare scene in which Don Draper loses control, and breaks down in sobs for a friend he has lost and a life that’s in tatters.
“It’s always difficult to try to bring real emotion, real, deep emotion — it’s hard, and it’s vulnerable, and you have to be real in that moment,” Hamm said, recalling the scene. “Part of it was being as comfortable as I am with Lizzie, part of it was being as emotionally close to the character as I am, now four seasons in, and a big part of it was the relationship Don has with Anna (a character from Don’s past, played by Melinda Page Hamilton). Melinda is such a wonderful actress, we just have this history, and it becomes very real. Obviously that was a very difficult scene to get through, but on the day it was very immediate for me, very raw and visceral.”
Having recently finished shooting Season 4 of “Mad Men” (and I wasn’t foolish enough to ask how the season will end — Weiner is famously secretive, and applies that standard to his cast as well), Hamm’s got several projects simmering: a new movie, called “Friends with Kids,” written by his longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Westfeldt (with whom he shared a screen in 2001 in “Kissing Jessica Stein”), another “Saturday Night Live” hosting gig and another guest appearance on “30 Rock.” He’ll appear on the show’s live episode in October, reprising his role as Liz Lemon’s onetime boyfriend-in-the-bubble, Dr. Drew Baird. “I have no idea what they have planned for me, at all, but I’m sure it will be humiliating and hilarious,” he said.
Though he’s tired from nonstop work, the ever-smiling Hamm repeatedly expressed his gratitude at his good fortune — he’s one of those “overnight successes” who toiled in the acting trenches for many years before hitting the jackpot. “It’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s amazing how I still find myself pinching myself that I have these opportunities.”