TMCnet News

Mad man: Jon Hamm's rise to becoming the slickest, suavest man on television has deep, dedicated roots in Columbia.
[July 27, 2008]

Mad man: Jon Hamm's rise to becoming the slickest, suavest man on television has deep, dedicated roots in Columbia.

(Columbia Daily Tribune (Columbia, MO) (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jul. 27--It was around the time of the Flood of '93, with weather quite similar to what we've been experiencing this past week in Mid-Missouri. Jon Hamm was driving into Columbia from the home he rented about 10 minutes east of town, butterflies churning a bit as opening night of another summer repertory production approached.

"It had been raining for a week or however long." Hamm said. ... "I was driving in, and a transformer box got struck by lightning and blew up right next to me, and I was like, That's gotta be an omen of some sort. I don't know if that's good or bad, but at least it didn't hit me.' "

Looking at it now, that nearby atmospheric discharge of electricity is nothing compared to the white-hot bolt that has pumped up the wattage on Hamm's career at the age of 37, transforming the University of Missouri graduate into one of the biggest stars on television.

As smooth, mysterious Madison Avenue ad rep Don Draper, Hamm is the man who leads the program that seemingly nobody can stop talking about these days. The second season of "Mad Men" debuts at 9 tonight on AMC, fresh off of becoming the most-nominated drama at this year's Emmys. Included in the haul of 16 nods is a best actor/drama bid for Hamm, who also won a Golden Globe and was nominated for a SAG Award earlier this year and, of course, was named Sexiest Man Living 2007 by The show itself won a Globe, too, and later walked away with a prestigious Peabody Award.

With its focus on cool, streamlined '60s style and calculated distance both at home and in the office, "Mad Men" is on the cover of all the right magazines and all over the Web. It's mind-boggling, now, to think that HBO, with its original-programming cupboard so bare, passed on "Sopranos" writer/producer Matthew Weiner's pet project. That's old news now, though, and AMC is reveling in the attention of being the historic home of the first basic-cable series -- along with fellow debut darling, FX's "Damages" -- to be nominated for a best-drama Emmy.

For Hamm -- a St. Louis native who graduated from MU with an English degree in 1993 -- it has been a whirlwind since the pilot was shot two years ago in New York. So, during our phone conversation earlier this week, instead of another interview loaded with questions about the demons of Don Draper being representative of the repression that led to the crumbling of the family in postwar America -- or the herbal cigarettes smoked by the cast -- we mostly zeroed in on a less-taxing time, an era when a slow-paced summer day in Columbia was as good as it could get.

Tribune: As far as your time here, how did that help inform the person you are today, both professionally and on a day-to-day level?

Jon Hamm: There's no real kind of class you can take to go become an actor. You just kind of have to go do it and try not to get cripplingly depressed at the massive amount of rejection you have to take on a daily basis.

The good thing about Columbia is that it's a tremendously supportive environment, the city and the school. You know, it's a small town in a lot of ways, and yet it's got a lot of tremendously talented and interesting and cool people that are kind of doing their thing, so you get a lot of influences.

And I think that's one of the best things you can do as an actor, at least as a young actor kind of up-and-coming, is just kind of expose yourself to different stuff, whether it's seeing cool music or theater or dance or whatever it is, art. Being around people that are attempting to do that and achieve those things makes you believe, "OK, this person can do it. It is possible." That helps with that aforementioned crippling depression when you're massively rejected, so it helps to be in a nice supportive environment like that, and Columbia's certainly one of the best.

Tribune: What are some of the moments that stand out most from your time here?

JH: I did a lot of theater there, at Mizzou obviously, and I did summer rep both summers that I was there -- I was basically only there my junior and senior years, ended up graduating there, but I was there both summers.

Columbia in the summertime is so much fun because it's so empty. You get to kind of do a whole other set of stuff, you know, bombing out around Rocheport, all that other stuff, having a really good time. And we were doing plays, so we're in this kind of group of people that are all working together, and we're all 19, 20, 21 years old, and it's a tremendously fun place to do that, so I had a blast.

Tribune: What were some of the productions you worked on?

JH: We did a big production of "Assassins," the Stephen Sondheim musical that they recently redid on Broadway, which I saw and I was kind of like, "Ours was almost as good as this, if not better in a lot of places."

I did a big Sherlock Holmes thing one summer. I played the male lead in "Cabaret." "Ordinary People" I did.

I was looking back and was like, "I did a lot of plays in a very short amount of time." It was a really cool time, just jam-packed with learning and experience.

Tribune: So am I right in saying that you were teaching at the same time or working day care?

JH: Yeah, I worked at a day-care. I worked at a place called Kids Depot. I needed a job. I had no money, and I needed a job. I basically went out and pitched myself saying, "Here's the deal. I was always a latchkey kid, so I was coming home or going to day care, and there were never any guys around. There were always girls, that was fun and fine, but you kind of wanted to play basketball, you wanted to wrestle, you wanted to have somebody throw a football at you."

I had no experience, I had no sort of anything, but I said, "I think I can do this."

I worked there for 18 months or two years or something like that. It was a long, long time, and it was great. It was 3 to 6 every day. Who has that job where you work three hours a day? But it was perfect because I had rehearsal after it and class before.

And the kids were great. The kids -- who are now probably in their, Jesus, mid-20s -- you'd get totally energized by hanging out with these little kids.

Tribune: And then after that you went home, went back to St. Louis?

JH: I went back to St. Louis, and I basically did the same thing. I went to the headmaster at my old school ...

Tribune: This was at John Burroughs?

JH: This was at John Burroughs, and I said, "I really had a great time being taught by the teacher who came in and took over the theater department, but he seems to be overworked. I was wondering if you would like to create a position as a sort of junior member of that department." And he was like, "Sounds like a great idea. Let's do it." I was like, "Nice, I talked my way into two jobs."

I worked there a year. They decided they wanted to extend my contract -- at this point I was 23, 24 years old -- and I said I'd rather go out to see if I can do this while the iron is hot, you know, take my shot.

Tribune: Getting into a few details about the show, obviously when you started this, you knew the talent you were surrounded by, but no way could you have expected this kind of universal praise and acceptance.

JH: No way, yeah. No way.

Tribune: How is it to go through that experience, starting at the point of "Hopefully, hey, we've got something good here"?

JH: It's bizarre. I can think back to, and it was over two years ago when we shot the pilot. We shot the pilot in New York, and I remember getting the script and auditioning, and the auditioning process took forever; it was six or seven callbacks and all this other crap. At every step, I'm like, "You know what, they're not gonna. ... If they wanted to hire me, they would've hired me by now. Blah blah blah."

So I finally get the job, and I'm out in New York, and Matt (Weiner) is the show-runner and he's stoked, and I come there the first day for fittings and all this other stuff, and he's showing me around ... "The Sopranos" set ... and "The Sopranos" writers' office. And I'm like, "You've gotta be &#@*$% kidding me, man. This is the coolest thing I've ever done in my life." It's like going to TV heaven.

Tribune: I know you were a regular at The Blue Note.

JH: Yeah. Yeah. My roommate at the time was a bartender at The Blue Note, and her best friend was a bartender at The Blue Note, so I was kind of an honorary sort of bottle-picker-upper and got to know Richard (King) and (all the people) there.

I recently, I guess it was probably three years ago or so, got to see everybody again because they all came out for Coachella, and I was like, "Oh, my God." I hadn't seen these guys in a solid 15 years. ... You're immediately brought back into a certain place and a certain time. I flashed back to my times in Columbia, which were so much fun.

Tribune: I just wanted to finish off with ... can you hit me with a couple of your favorite shows at The Blue Note?

JH: I got to see Public Enemy there. ... Rap shows can tend to be terrible live, but that was a really great one with a really great crowd.

I saw Warren Zevon there. He did a solo thing with him and a concert grand piano. He just sang, like, 30 songs, and you're just like, "God, this is amazing." He was not doing very well health-wise, but he sounded great and amazing.

And, here's a show, it's like a random show, but I saw Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, which is the weirdest, coolest, not my kind of music really at all, but he's an unbelievably cool live performer.

So, those are three pretty great ones.

But I got to see so much live music. I have to sort of constantly remind myself to thank Richard King for not kicking me out of that club every time.

To see more of the Columbia Daily Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2008, Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

[ Back To's Homepage ]