One day there was no Jon Hamm, and the next he was everywhere-or so it seemed.Television’s most handsome actor (even Conan felt compelled to tell Hamm “You’re very good looking” on his opening night show) seemed destined to rise to fame as suave adman Don Draper, a real life Ken doll who goes through women like a bartender through olives. But not until Hamm had paid his Hollywood dues-over and over again.
After a brief stint as a high school teacher in St. Louis (where Ellie Kemper, who plays the new receptionist Erin from “The Office,” was one of his students)(1), the Hollywood-bound Hamm drove west in an old Toyota Corolla (2). It took him more than 10 years to land his leading man role in “Mad Men,” a part that propelled Hamm to A-list celebrydom as fast as his Audi S4 can race down the freeway at midnight.
Hamm’s problem, ironically, was that he was too good looking and suave, a Cary Grant throwback trying to crack into movies and TV in the 90s-an era when boyish men like Leonardo Di Caprio and Johnny Depp snagged all the plum parts. For his first three years in Los Angeles, Hamm did not land a single acting job, despite being represented by the esteemed William Morris agency, which ultimately dropped him as a client (3). Their loss.
Had they weathered Hamm’s years as a-waiter-who-sometimes-acted-Hamm’s biggest breakthrough role was a 19-episode run on “Providence” from 2000-01 playing Joanie’s firefighting fiance (4)-the fabled talent agency would have eventually represented Hollywoods current It-guy. Hamm’s frequent appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and “Conan” have made him Hollywood’s hottest hipster, the show biz equivalent to the most popular guy in high school.
If “Mad Men” had been picked up by one of the big networks instead of basic cable channel AMC, Hamm might still be doing his one-line gig waiting tables, “Hi, I’m Jon, and I’ll be your waiter tonight,” and occasionally landing an acting job. Given his obscurity, even Hamm figured the part of suave Don Draper would be given to a bigger name star like Rob Lowe (5), but after auditioning him seven times, “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner knew Hamm was his man.
“He looked like an old-fashioned leading man, like William Holden or Gregory Peck,” Weiner told GQ (6) “But he wasn’t just a football player in a suit. You could see that he was intelligent. He was vulnerable. He was an adult.”
What also made Hamm such a perfect fit for playing Don Draper was his troubled midwestern childhood. Hamm’s mother, who divorced his father when Hamm was only two, died when he was 10; his melancholic father died ten years later. Growing up Hamm lacked a happy and stable family life, a deprivation that gave him keen insight into the roots of Don Draper’s angst. (7)
Now that he has won the Hollywood lottery, Hamm is being cast in big-time movie roles he only dreamed about those years he was waiting tables. He recently co-starred as an FBI agent in Ben Affleck’s “The Town” and will appear in “Friends with Kids,” “Bridesmaids,” and “Sucker Punch” in 2011 (8). His new movie career is a good thing for Hamm, who can’t play the cool Don Draper forever. The idea of Don Draper disco dancing into the 70’s wearing polyester or, worse, Birkenstocks, is just wrong.