What's startling about Draper isn't just the physical man-ness Hamm projects as the chisel-chinned messenger sent from the past to save us from casual Fridays and Twitter. It's also the way Hamm imbues everything Draper does with a sense of complicated, conflicted adult-ness. As is often noted, the very fact that he's made this philandering, imperious, brittle, not-at-all-well-adjusted guy into an icon is remarkable. What does it say about masculinity today that we've exalted such an openly divided character—the fraud who values authenticity, Cicero's ideal Orator selling Glo-Coat floor wax and reading Frank O'Hara's poetry at night, the great charmer who can't make anyone happy for long, including and especially himself? I have no idea, but the lapels on his suit look great, and I could really go for an old-fashioned right about now.
Bottom line: If we didn't like Hamm's Don Draper, Mad Men would be a flop. What this portends for the future of Hamm's career it's too early to say. One good sign: While he's capable of goofing it up on Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, serious film directors have been able to see the man behind Draper: the kind of fully formed adult not all actors grow up to be. But he is not yet the breakout star Mad Men fans think he should be. "I do this show for four months of the year. I can't live on it—I gotta keep hustling."
Hustling means taking advantage not just of the moment—but of his good fortune, too. During the last break between seasons, Hamm filmed more movies than ever before. "I went right from the show into The Town, working with Ben Affleck for six weeks up in Boston," he says. "Then right from that up to Canada to shoot a little part in Sucker Punch with Zack Snyder, who did Watchmen and 300. This guy is a genius-level-weird artist. It was just amazing—a-mazing—how much energy he puts into it day to day, how excited he was about it. This guy is totally inspirational, in every way. It was like, 'I'm on board! Let's do it! Fuck it! Fuck, let's do it!'"
In The Town, which Affleck directed and stars in, Hamm plays a beleaguered Boston FBI agent chasing robbers and generally looking unshaven in a bulletproof vest. "It's almost like an old Hollywood movie," he says. "It's got a love story, it's got a crime element, but it's very much for adults. There's not a lot of candy for the Twitter-obsessed. It just deals with adult shit—no werewolves, no vampires. Yet . . . they're retooling it for 3D."
Not being an overnight success meant years of working in restaurants and hanging out with pals—but it also meant having time to think about how to approach acting as a career. "Anything can be the next big break," Hamm says, "and you really don't know what's going to hit. You can try to be that guy who's the predictor. Or you can just say, 'I want to do this role because I really like it.' It's much more difficult to predict shit."
We finish up at Duke's and reboard the spaceship SLS. Hamm's got to get back to fire up the grill for Westfeldt and their friends, then drive to Anaheim for an all-star softball game. With the success of Mad Men and the Emmy nominations and the movie opportunities that followed, it all seems so wrapped up, so clearly destined to happen. Not so.
"If this show had been on any of the major networks," Hamm says, "I never would have been cast, ever, period, done, never, no way. They would want someone like Rob Lowe who's got a proven track record. I would've gotten all the way to the end . . . and then I wouldn't get cast."