It’s a white heterosexual man’s world in the AMC series Mad Men, set in 1960s Manhattan. But that world is somehow less oppressive with a handsome star like Jon Hamm calling the shots. He won a Golden Globe and is nominated for an Emmy for his leading role as hard-drinking, chain-smoking, skirt-chasing advertising exec Don Draper. Here, the 37-year-old former prep school drama teacher explains why he’s just mad about men like costar Bryan Batt, Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank, and especially Keanu Reeves.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: I hear you’ve had a long day of back-to-back interviews, but hopefully this will be your gayest one ever.
Jon Hamm: I don’t know. We’ll see. I’ve had some pretty gay interviews before, my friend.
Congratulations on your Emmy nomination. But what’s an Emmy when you’ve won the title of Salon.com’s Sexiest Man Living?
[Laughs] I would suggest that those are two very different feelings. There’s been a crazy amount of completely unexpected publicity and attention for the whole ride. It’s interesting that it all started happening after the first season of Mad Men aired. Nobody really watched it, but the tastemakers and the right people saw it. Fortunately we live in a world now where you can get it on demand or on iTunes or on DVD, so the snowball effect happened, and I couldn’t be happier.
How would you create a Mad Men ad campaign geared specifically to the gay community?
Well, it’s a very high-drama show, and it’s very stylish. Three things that the gay community responds to are attitude, sexiness, and style. We’re a prime property for a big gay following — I love it.
We’re an easy sell, Jon — just show us some skin.
[Laughs] I don’t know about that. I don’t know if you want me anywhere near any kind of skin thing — that’s a nightmare.
You could enlist the help of Bryan Batt, who plays Salvatore, the closeted ad man.
Yeah, what an amazing and complex role, and it gets even better and deeper in season 2. It’s not a joke, a stereotype, or a sort of queeny, campy whatever. He’s just a real guy. He’s actually based on a real guy who was closeted throughout the ’60s and worked in the advertising industry. As a gay man, Bryan does a wonderful job with it, but I’d take that part in a heartbeat — gay, straight, or indifferent.
What would happen if Salvatore came out?
I think it would be devastating to him, career-wise and culturally, as an Italian man with an Italian family. This is before Stonewall, even. And we’re not talking about the Midwest; this is New York, the cultural capital of the world, and it was still a very closeted time, so I think it would be tremendously challenging for him to come out. Now, in 10 more years, in 1972? Then it’s a different story.
Your character, Don, is kind of a slut. Any chance of he and Salvatore hooking up on the sly?
[Laughs] I don’t think Don swings that way, but in 10 more years, who knows? The swingin’ ’70s.
With 0 being exclusively straight and 6 exclusively gay, where does Don fall on the Kinsey scale?
Well, I don’t think anybody’s a pure 0. He’s a heterosexual man, but I think sexuality runs along a continuum. The big thing now is the man crush — I love this new phrase, which tries to butch up the idea as much as possible. But guys like guys all the time. They don’t necessarily want to have sex with them, but they have relationships with male friends. No one’s a 0 and no one’s a 6; I’m pretty sure of that.
Who’s your man crush?
Man, Matt Weiner, who wrote this goddamn thing… [John] Slattery, who’s fuckin’ genius on it… I have tons of men who have inspired me in my life.
What about Keanu Reeves, whom you worked with on the upcoming remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still?
You look at Keanu Reeves and you think, You gotta be kidding me. I think I’m a pretty good-looking guy, but c’mon, man, that’s not fair! And he couldn’t be nicer or more laid-back or more of a regular cat. It’s like, Wow, you’ve got the whole package? Really?
When you were on The Division from 2002 to 2004, were you aware that the Lifetime network was television for women and gay men?
Yes, I was. And I was sort of the token man on that show too. Being the emasculated perfect man is a challenge, so it’s nice to be able to explore the other side of that on Mad Men.
You played the beefcake in other “chick” series, such as Providence, Gilmore Girls, and Charmed. Did that put pressure on you to maintain a physique?
I’m not really a health and fitness nut, and I’m not a gym guy. I can’t do repetitive motions; it makes me crazy. But I do live in a beautiful part of Los Angeles that’s really near Griffith Park, so I’m able to go outdoors with the dogs, go hiking in the hills, and play tennis and golf. I much prefer playing a game or anything that takes your mind off of the fact that you’re working out.
Have you ever played a gay role?
I played Cliff Bradshaw in Cabaret in college, and there’s very clearly at least a bisexual side to that cat. Talk about the swinging years — the Weimar Republic back in Berlin in the ’30s, which gets back to my point that with sexuality it’s not one or the other.
So are you itching to play a gay role on-screen?
Well, c’mon, if I want to win awards, let’s talk gay. [Laughs] Now, if I were a mentally disabled gay man, I’d hit all the boxes. If there’s a great part out there, sure. For me, it’s much more about being a part of telling a great story. After the first audition for Mad Men, I said, “I will do any part in this script.” I just wanted to be a part of telling this story.
What’s going on with you and your girlfriend of nearly 10 years, Jennifer Westfeldt [cowriter and star of Kissing Jessica Stein]? Are you waiting for gay marriage to be legal before tying the knot?
Yeah, that’s a totally fair observation. Somebody once said — more hilariously than I can — that everybody ought to be allowed to be miserable in the same way. And it’s not fair that a man and man and a woman and a woman can’t choose to be protected under our government’s laws together. That’s just stupid, and I don’t understand the rationale behind it. I think marriage, the institution, is driven much more by religion and family than it is by any sort of practical application of love. Love exists outside of government, so that’s how Jen and I have our relationship. We discuss it all the time; we’re like, “We’re totally in love with each other, so why would we want to change the rules of that, if in fact that would?” Then, of course, you get into the practicalities of it, like, “What if you get sick and I can’t visit you in the hospital?” or “What if you die and all your stuff goes to the state?” You’re like, “Well, that makes sense. Shit, how do we handle that?” So it’s unfair that the practical applications of it are not available to everyone. Then you mix in all the political grandstanding and bullshit that surrounds it, and it goes from unfair to absurd.
Earlier this year you appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher. What did you learn from your fellow panelist congressman Barney Frank?
I learned how to talk really loud and shout over anyone who disagrees with you. No, he’s an incredibly intelligent guy and a pioneer. Talk about having the balls to speak your mind.
Growing up in St. Louis, when did you first realize what being gay was?
I don’t have a recollection of knowing what gay was in high school, and if I did, it was a nebulous thing. Then I was in the theater department at the University of Missouri, and it was like, “Well, now you know!” But it was never treated with any sort of disdain or secrecy, and that’s the wonderful part about most theater departments: Everybody’s everybody and you are who you are. Gay, straight, or indifferent, it doesn’t matter — there’s enough drama on the page that you don’t need to bring more into it.
Was your upbringing anything like Judy Garland’s in Meet Me in St. Louis?
It wasn’t the turn of the century, so no, not at all. I couldn’t have been more of a regular, goofy Midwestern kid.
Fair enough. But if you ever get asked a gayer question than that, Jon, you call and let me know.
he Advocate, September 2008 issue; extended online version.