'Mad Men's' Jon Hamm on Working With Partner Jennifer Westfeldt on 'Friends with Kids' (Audio)

The indie romantic-dramedy premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was subsequently picked up by Lionsgate.
Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/Polaris

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet up in Toronto with Jon Hamm, the actor best known for his starring role on AMC's hit television show Mad Men, all four seasons of which have brought him Emmy nominations for best actor in a drama (but, inexplicably, no wins). Hamm, 40, was in town to attend the world premiere of Friends with Kids, the feature directorial debut of his longtime partner Jennifer Westfeldt, at the Toronto International Film Festival. The indie romantic-dramedy, which Westfeldt also wrote and stars in, and which Hamm co-produced and plays a small but memorable part in, played like gangbusters at its world premiere, was acquired shortly thereafter by Lionsgate (the same studio that produces Mad Men), and will be released in theaters sometime next spring. During our time together, Hamm and I discussed that and -- as you can hear for yourself below -- much more.

Some highlights of our conversation...

On getting into acting  "I was always kind of outspoken, and rarely shy, and, from a very early age, was, sort of, on board with standing up in front of other people and making an idiot out of myself, so it wasn't too big of a leap to turn that into a possible vocational decision."

On moving out west after college (for which he'd had a theater scholarship)  "Coming from St. Louis, Missouri to Los Angeles, California is a significant paradigm shift, to say the least... I basically didn't work for three years -- I, sort of, auditioned for a lot of things, and went up to a certain point in the audition process, and then would, sort of, fail... but I was either naive enough, or confident enough, or dumb enough, or some combination of the three to not get too terrifically discouraged... I'd never really done anything else -- I'd taught school, and I always knew that that was, like, a fallback position if it ever got dire."

On meeting Westfeldt  "Jen and I met in L.A. at a party -- a mutual friend's birthday party... completely random meeting... she was out here auditioning for a pilot or something... and I was, too... and she got an audition for Jake Kasdan's film Zero Effect [1998]... and wanted to read with somebody who was a guy, and she didn't really know any guys out here, so she called... and that was, kind of, how we first officially met, running scenes from Zero Effect. Apparently I wasn't very good, 'cause she didn't get the part."

On finally starting to 'make it'  "I started working steadily just before 2000... I finally started working, and that's, you know, when I was able to, kind of, not wait tables every day or every other day, and was making enough money to actually pay my bills and not put them off -- that was a pretty good feeling. And I ended up getting a television show called The Division [on which he appeared from 2002-2004], which I worked on for three years, and that was a steady paycheck, which was the first time in my existence that that had really happened. And that was actually around the time of Kissing Jessica Stein [the popular 2001 romantic-comedy co-written by and starring Westfeldt and featuring Hamm in a small role]... and then, you know, you know, that show ended, and a pilot here and a thing there."

On landing the role of Don Draper in Mad Men six years ago  "They certainly didn't 'go to me.' I had to audition for it many, many, many times... The network, the studio, and everybody else wanted a big star to hang it on, and Matt [Weiner]'s thought process, which I think is wise, was, you know, 'This guy is basically an enigma. I don't think we can have a person who comes in with a lot of star persona really effectively do it.' And it was to my great benefit, so I'm happy that he fought for me."

On his willingness to play supporting roles in films (i.e. The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Town, Bridesmaids, and Friends with Kids) even after becoming a bona fide leading man on TV  "I like to work with people whose work I respect and whose work interests me in some way... it's nice to have the opportunity to do that, I think. Unfortunately, sometimes you can get a little pigeonholed into one thing, and, you know, banging on the same piano key, after a while, is a little repetitive and maybe not so interesting, so it's nice to be able to, kind of, switch it up."

On the genesis of Friends with Kids  "We had, kind of, been talking about just the idea of what's happened to our, sort of, 'friend-base,' and we realized, 'Oh, they all had kids!' We went to, like, nine one-year-old birthday parties in one year and were like, 'Wow, man, we have a lot of friends with kids -- this is crazy!' And we watched them and watched how parenthood takes a toll... And then she basically decided to write it down."

On the night they decided to make Friends with Kids  "We had a table read of it at our house with Adam [Scott]... Jason Segel... Paul F. Tompkins... a bunch of fun people came and read. We were like, 'Come on, you want to read this? We'd love to have you. We'll make some pasta. Free wine!' And it, kind of, played well."

On the challenges of making Friends with Kids  "We shot this movie over 24 days in one of New York's worst winters in something like three or four decades, [which] presented production challenges, but... we got it done, somehow... and we're thrilled with the result."

On the first question begged by Friends with Kids: were he and Westfeldt friends first?  "Oh, yeah, very much so. She was involved with somebody, and I may have been involved, as well. Yeah, we were friends for a long time before we officially started dating -- and we've never gotten out of the 'dating' thing. We're still in it."

On the second question begged by Friends with Kids: do they have kids?  "We don't. It's always on the periphery of the discussion, but we do not have children. You know, it's a tricky balance to strike. And I have a tremendous amount of respect for my friends who do balance this particular career with raising a kid, 'cause it's a tricky environment to bring them into... So not for us just yet."

On the third question begged by Friends with Kids: was it ever considered that he, rather than Adam Scott, would play Westfeldt's romantic interest in the film?  "No. You know, we see enough of each other during the day. That has its own set of landmines, and pitfalls, and whatnot, and our relationship is -- I don't think -- something we need to explore on screen."

On season five of Mad Men (will air in 2012)  "We just started, so we're at the bottom of a very steep, very long hill, and I'm looking forward to getting to the top of it... It's tremendously fun. I love it. It's a great job. You know, at my advanced age, it's a nice thing to be able to work on something that you really enjoy... It's impossible to quantify what the show has done for my career and, sort of, footprint in the industry... it's been, you know, huge, and I certainly wouldn't be having this conversation -- or any conversations -- without it."