Why Jon Hamm Only Wants To Talk About His Craft
Jon Hamm is tired. He's spent the week promoting his latest, Baby Driver, an action-dramedy that pounds the pavement to the beat of a killer soundtrack — and has a staggering 100 percent Rotten Tomato rating. It's a film he's thrilled to be promoting, but his sullen expression reveals that he could use a break — and maybe a nap. Nevertheless, the actor, who is known for an AMC show that needs no mention here, chugs along, and is keen to talk about, more than anything else, his creative process.
"I've had one guiding principle my whole career — even when I wasn’t able to sort of pick and choose, which I’m still not really able to do — there’s still five guys that get all the scripts first, and I’m not one of those five people. But the thing that I look for is, and [Baby Driver] had it in spades, being surrounded by people who are in some way better than me, some way more talented or differently talented than me," he says, sitting, somewhat oddly, two seats away from me at an empty table in a hotel room in the Beverly Hills Four Seasons hotel. I'm not offended by his choice of seat — it's a bit of an awkward dance to enter an empty room with a dozen chairs and choose the perfect one — too close many produce a sense of unease, and too far feels impersonal. For Hamm, the empty seat in between us may have been just right.
Baby Driver, out June 28, follows a young getaway driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) who is coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey) and his team of misfit criminals (Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez, and of course, Hamm). According to the actor, this lineup of cinematic big-hitters was a big reason for his involvement in the film.
"Foxx is a musician and a comic and an award-winning actor — he's got an Academy Award and awards up the wazoo. Ansel Elgort is just resoundingly talented. There’s a reason he’s gotten the success that he’s gotten. He’s so musical, he’s such a talented dancer," he says, eyes focused on the plastic wrapper he's slowly peeling off of a water bottle. "And then really it’s about the leader, which is Edgar [Wright], and the material. [This] is an action film scored to a soundtrack and choreographed to specific beats... we said, 'This could be a glorious mess, but if it works, it'll be great.' That's the exciting thing. It's what gets you out of bed in the morning."
Clearly, Hamm feels the pressure of performing among his multi-talented peers. And no matter what question I ask him, his answer falls into a similarly veiled response: Actor-y jargon and isms. I consider that this may be his way of never getting too personal. Nevertheless, I push my recorder a bit closer to him, hoping the seat between us won't stop Hamm from opening up.
"Throughout my career I’ve always been aware that it takes a fairly healthy sense of narcissism, or what have you, to do this — you have to have a pretty established sense of self — but there’s also the other half of it where you realize there are other people involved as well," he says. "Acting is not about monologues, it’s about being present in the scene with other people... you never want to be the weakest link in the chain. I want to be the most prepared person there."
Though he'll speak without hesitation about his career, Hamm has always been close-lipped about his personal life. Fans know he recently got out of a nearly two-decade long relationship, but even those details are murky, and he seemingly wants to keep it that way. He doesn't have a social media presence, and the most intimate details Hamm divulged during our conversation include the facts that he played the violin in third grade, (then promptly gave it up), and that he, like so many others, enjoys sports. These are not exactly titillating discoveries. The stubble-faced brunette, wearing a checkered button-down and cardigan, seems uncomfortable speaking to anything but his craft. Only to his acting, his one true passion (that we know of), he will offer lengthy monologues.
"When you're making a movie, especially a studio movie where there’s a lot of money on the line, it is challenging in the sense that you’re in the big leagues," he says. "I made it here. I’m happy with where I am, and I’m ready to do this, you know? When you make it to the big leagues, that’s what you’re shooting for. Nobody wants to finish in fifth place. Everybody’s going for gold, that’s what you want to do."
For Hamm, it seems, the idiom of "going for gold" simply means that he wants to create content worth paying attention to: "If it’s great, it will push some button in you, it will trigger something," he says. As our conversation evolves, Hamm straightens up a bit in his chair, and he speaks with an increasing amount of zeal. He's finally, in our last few moments together, opening up — a bit. "That’s what art should do. That’s what I hope to do in performances. I’ve been able to make people feel something, that’s the hope. That’s the dream."
Hamm may be chasing a dream, or rather, a quick cat nap between interviews, but his goal to affect the masses is a noble, if not difficult one. Though the world may never know much about the man who is Jon Hamm, his work — Baby Driver included — will delight audiences nonetheless.