With Mad Men coming to an end, we look at the future prospects of one of television’s finest actors.
Jon Hamm is Don Draper. They’re synonymous to the point where they go together like the proverbial horse and carriage. As an equation, it’s even simpler to understand than the idea that two plus two makes four. For seven series of Mad Men, the last part of which is set to air next year, Jon Hamm has gone from an obscure actor to seemingly cornering the market in tall, dark and mysterious, portraying the chiselled jaw alpha male Don Draper, while keeping his somewhat more vulnerable beta male alter ego, Dick Whitman, as hidden away as he can.
That’s been the ongoing theme of Mad Men where Hamm’s character is concerned: the scared farm boy who ends up digging trenches in a faraway country only to return home and invent a big boy, go get ‘em slugger character who’ll keep him safe. It’s the kind of role that can define an actor. Think Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy, or Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard. Of course, such definition won’t necessarily be in the actor’s favour. Shannon Houston of Hollywood.com argues that playing a role too well means that’s how people see you. So Sarah Michelle Gellar is Buffy; Matthew Perry is Chandler. Will Jon Hamm be the next to add his name to the list?
Jon Hamm is Don Draper. As an equation, it’s even simpler to understand than the idea that two plus two makes four
The answer for many seems to be yes. Houston sums up Hamm’s character in the 2011 film Friends with Kids as a contemporary Don Draper, while Joel Rubinoff of the Toronto Star quotes critic Andrew O’Hehir, who delivers the brutal line that Hamm’s character in his latest film, Million Dollar Arm, is “a cynical sports-agent protagonist played by Don Draper… I mean Jon Hamm”. Rubinoff’s article, meanwhile, takes shape around that seemingly terminal quote with the author going in to what can only be described as full on despair mode. “How could one of TV’s great actors – which Hamm undoubtedly is – be relegated to the same workplace humiliation his TV counterpart experiences every week on Mad Men?”
Going on to reference actors such as Ben Kingsley, Robert De Niro and Morgan Freeman as actors underused in films, Rubinoff goes on to say, “Hamm represents a new generation of esteemed niche actors who make a bid for Hollywood stardom but, for reasons large and small, end up face-planting on the pavement. Call it the Great Hollywood Screen Swindle.” All of which seems to be pretty damning criticism, not least since Rubinoff signs off by mentioning that Hamm’s next project is as the voice of a villain in Minions, a spin-off of the Despicable Me films.
If you’re a fan of Jon Hamm and have been reading this half flabbergasted, half exasperated, don’t worry. Team Hamm has more than a few well-wishers and cheerleaders. For a start, there’s Jim Windolf over at Vanity Fair, who notes that Hamm has two qualities that will prove to be great where his industry is concerned. First, he loves the performing arts, and second, he seems to have a competitive streak that drives him to continual successes. For Mike Nichols, who has no doubt that Hamm will make it, the argument is simple: “very few good actors who look like that are as good as that. I think the main thing about Jon is that he’s very surprising”.
Hamm, speaking with a British accent, demonstrated the full range of his acting talent in A Young Doctor’s Notebook
Words hard to disagree with for anyone who saw Hamm in A Young Doctor’s Notebook, in which he played Vladimir Bomgard, a morphine-addicted Russian doctor who is nothing like Don Draper. Hamm’s performance in this role required both slapstick and gravitas, since the show alternated between farce and tragedy. Hamm, speaking with an unfamiliar, refined British accent, demonstrated the full range of his acting talent during the show’s run. If he is therefore to be consigned to being typecast/pigeonholed by the Hollywood Machine, as Joel Rubinoff believes is inevitable, then he always has the option of being able to come here, to Britain, and successfully carry on with what he started in A Young Doctor’s Notebook.
Kevin Spacey did it when he became director of The Old Vic theatre company, so why not Jon Hamm? If an actor of his calibre cannot find the variety of roles and challenges that such calibre deserves in his homeland, then let Britain welcome him with open arms. After all, the question of whether we can make fine dramas is a rhetorical one when you look at the likes of A Young Doctor’s Notebook or Channel 4’s Utopia. Because it would be sad if Hamm were to simply end up as another cog in Hollywood’s current system of churning out uninspired films. Given Hamm’s talents, surely obscurity would be a better fate.
Featured image: AMC
Inset image: SkyArts