This week, Jon Hamm is back on UK TV screens — not as the dashing ad executive in Mad Men, but starring opposite Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, in A Young Doctor’s Notebook. It is an inspired adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s tales of his apprenticeship as a doctor in rural Russia in 1916.
Whilst this adaptation is Hamm’s idea, what we all are more interested in is the character he is best known for — Don Draper.
In an interview with The Observer newspaper, Hamm describes Don as “dismal and despicable.” Draper has been one of the most fascinating characters ever to have graced the small screen. Every time we think we get to know him, it is merely one layer of an onion that has been peeled back. Matthew Weiner, the creator and writer of the hit show, envisioned Draper as a Gatsby-esque character — someone who had intellect but was an emotional vacuum. When he auditioned Hamm, Weiner famously turned to his casting director and said with certainty, “That man was not raised by his parents.”
He was partially correct, as Hamm’s mother died when he was 10, and his father moved in with his own mother. Both went on to die when Hamm was 20. Acting is always seen as the profession that becomes the missing family for those who take it up, and Hamm agrees. “We used to joke that the theater department at college was where all the orphans ended up,” he says. “They had been kicked out of every other place, but they found a role, a place there, whether it was front of house, or on the stage. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t bitchy and catty and competitive at times – like any family. But it took all comers.”
Back to Don. Does Draper in some way have a similar history? Hamm tells The Observer: ”I think it’s pretty close to the surface. I’m not shy about that. I think Matt Weiner and the writing staff have wisely mined that source for its dramatic motherlode so to speak.”
And what does he think of his screen ego? “Don Draper is a pretty dismal, despicable guy, so why I would want to take him home with me I don’t know … It’s a strange thing. People tell me they look up to Don, like they look up to Tony Soprano or Walter White [in Breaking Bad]. People have these weird fascinations with people who, in reality, you would not want to be for a second. There seems to be that vicarious thrill. Maybe it is the fact of doing everything wrong and getting away with it.”
I’m only in the second season and am already beyond fascinated by this man who presents the “perfect” life yet seems to want to destroy it to its very core. I have yet to witness him share any genuine emotion and have marveled at his ability to switch off all feeling — particularly when he tells his brother to forget he ever existed, having assumed a fake name and life.
Mad Men‘s seventh and final season will be split over 2014 and 2015, with 7 episodes each. So what will happen to Draper? Does Hamm have a say? “Well, it hasn’t been written yet,” he says. “But I have every possible faith in Matt. We have a meeting before every season starts and we sit and talk for an hour or two, not about specific things. Just chatting about what we did on holiday, what art we have seen, about sports or getting older or whatever. Just stuff that is on my mind. And he will write a bunch of things down from that conversation. I have no idea at all what the process is after that.”
One thing Hamm does admit is that when he says goodbye to Don, he will probably be crying his eyes out. So will we, Jon. So will we.
Photo credit: Pacific Coast News