Jon Hamm isn’t taking “Mad Men” questions. He’s only talking sports, be it his hosting gig at this year’s ESPYS — ESPN’s equivalent of the Oscars or Grammys — or his starring role in “Million Dollar Arm,” in which he plays real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein as he looks for new baseball pitchers among India’s cricket champs. He’s about to wrap the latter, after which he’ll fly back to America to take the stage among athletes.
“It’s not going to be ‘The Jon Hamm Show,’ nor should it be,” he says, adding that he won’t be the only one trying to crack wise. “It’s been my experience through various dealings with ESPN through the years and stuff I’ve done with ‘Saturday Night Live’ that athletes are desperate to crack eachother up and make fools of themselves.”
Hamm is a giant sports fan; he’s most rooting for his team, The Cardinals, though his schedule doesn’t always permit him to watch them, even when they’re in the World Series. But his respect extends to everyone. “There used to be a saying — or maybe I made it up — that all athletes want to be movie stars, and all movie stars want to be rock stars, and all rock stars want to be God,” Hamm says. “I think it’s basically that no matter how good you are at what you do, whenever you look at some one else who’s excellent at what they do, you can’t help but be jealous. I’m definitely like that when I see athletes.”
He was an athlete himself, at least in high school. “Most of what it was was I hated working out. And I still do. Sports provided a way to actually get some exercise and work out while not doing something dumb and repetitive like lifting weights.”
As for “Million Dollar Arm,” it’s his chance to star in a genre he adores: The sports movie. It’s one where he doesn’t mind the cliches. “I think the formula is the good thing about sports films, honestly,” he argues. “What makes a great sports film is sticking to it — that I knew what’s coming and it got me again. With the story told in “Miracle” — I watched that game live! I knew how it was going to end! You know how it’s going to end but it still gets you. That’s the best part.”
When asked what famous athlete he’d like to play, he replies with Gordie Howe. “I can’t skate a lick. But old time hockey I find absolutely fascinating. He played hockey for four decades. Some of those may have been minor league, and maybe with his kids or grandkids. That would be pretty cool. Or I could just play Paul Newman’s character in ‘Slap Shot.’”
Inevitably his personal life comes up, and how with George Clooney once again single, some eyes are on men who haven’t married. Hamm remains unwed, though he’s been with his girlfriend, the actress and filmmaker Jennifer Westfeldt, since 1997. “I just can’t manage any sort of fascination with anyone’s personal life. It’s silly, Jen and I have been together for many years. It’s constantly mind-boggling to me that people care,” he says, with a laugh.
Jon Hamm’s favorite sports movies:
“North Dalls Forty”
Maura Mandt, ESPYS executive producer, on Hamm:
Jon was a die hard sports fan growing up in Missouri — a three-sport athlete in high school. There are two main things we want: Talent — and Jon has that, and he’s proven he has comic chops by doing “SNL” —but also he’s an authentic sports fan. You can’t put someone up on this night in this room who does not have knowledge of sports this year.