How Jon Hamm Is Helping Small Theaters: "We're Trying to Keep the Lights On"

Jon Hamm - 2019 GQ Men Of The Year -H 2020
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No one can accuse Jon Hamm of forgetting where he came from. The St. Louis native is not only a die-hard fan who always roots for the hometown teams (Cardinals, Blues, etc.), he applies the same level of enthusiasm no matter the venue. Hamm, who first tested his performer chops as a kid via publicly funded arts programs in the city, answered a call this summer to lend time and attention to a virtual hang-out session as part of a fundraiser to benefit the Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund.

The initiative — designed to support performing arts venues that are suffering amid the devastating COVID-19 pandemic — is led by William Roth, founder and artistic director of the St. Louis Actors Studio. As part of the deal, donors can contribute $75 to enter a drawing to win a virtual chat session with St. Louis supporters like Hamm, Sterling K. Brown, Cory Finley, Beau Willimon and Neil LaBute. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Hamm to discuss his participation, why he signed on to a new Fletch film, and what he’s learned about himself during quarantine.

I know you probably field a lot of requests, but this one seems like an immediate yes considering its for actors and it’s from your hometown. Was it?

I do get a lot of asks and I don't say yes to everything because honestly, there aren't that many hours in the day. If I could, I would, of course. William Roth, who is the progenitor of this situation, was in a play with a friend of mine who became my mentor and then became my colleague when I was a teacher, a guy named Wayne Solomon. So I've known him for a long time, even though we're not close. When he asked, I said, "Of course. What can I do to help?"

His pitch was simple. It was basically, "You have roots in the St. Louis theater community, and we need your help." It was an easy yes in the sense that I didn’t have to have it make sense for me, it already did. Why it made sense is that people tend to write off the arts a lot because they seem like luxuries but what [the arts] really are, are necessities. I’m a beneficiary of arts programs. I was raised by a single mom in St. Louis, Missouri. My mother took me to every free publicly-funded arts program that she could find because she knew that it would pay dividends down the line. I'm living proof that it does.

It gives you a creative outlet and allows you to meet other people and experience other points of view. If you're just going to hang out with people that think the same way, you're in a cult, you're not in a community. Especially now being that we’re so divided and closed off [due to] the pandemic, the arts are a way to open your mind and to make you feel like a member of something bigger than just yourself. That was my experience.

When something like this, a pandemic or a disaster happens, unfortunately, the first things to go are the arts programs. So, we're trying to raise a little money just to keep the lights on, to make sure that whenever we come out of this, there's still a place where young artists and members of the community can put their worries aside for 90 minutes and watch a show.

How are you processing everything that’s going on right now?

Somebody said hanging in there is the new killing it, right? So, it's pretty much that, and finding ways to differentiate the days because they tend to bleed into one another pretty easily. What’s been interesting and actually kind of amazing is that because we don’t have the normal routines of meeting people for coffee, drinks, food or whatever, you have to create those [moments]. I've been able to connect with friends virtually, whether it's FaceTime or Zoom or what have you. I was just talking to my best friend that I grew up with who now lives in Australia. Obviously, we don't see each other in person very often because it’s a commitment to get down there. He said, “I think we've talked more during the pandemic than we have in the last two and a half years." He’s right and, by the way, it’s awesome. It feels good to connect and the technology is there and it's real. It’s half a world away but it feels like you're having a conversation across the table.

Is there anything else you've learned about yourself during this time?

Well, I think it's ... no is the short answer. This whole thing has accentuated all the good and bad things. It tends to hold a pretty big magnifying glass over everything. If there is one thing, it's been really nice in a way, to be at home and focus on your own space.

Right.

Which sounds a little woo, woo. But it's like, "Oh, maybe I should hang that picture or maybe I should go through my pictures and see which ones I want to hang. Maybe I should kind of focus on my own space and by the way, enjoy it." I live in a nice house. I'm never here. I'm always on the road. I'm always working. I'm always in a hotel somewhere and it's been really nice to kind of nest a little bit, you know what I mean?

That's great. Speaking of work, you’ve had some projects put on hold but also some big news, too. It was reported that you are producing and starring in a new Fletch film. He’s such an iconic character, why did you want to take on that role?

Well, first of all, obviously, we're not re-doing it, in that sense. No one can touch Chevy's portrayal of that character. Because of how much I loved that movie, I investigated [the series] as a kid and discovered that there were nine other novels that Gregory Mcdonald wrote about Fletch. So, I was like, "Oh shit, I got to read these." I read all of them, and they're all really funny. It was my first lesson in how people adapt characters for the screen. But the character in the book is a lot different than Chevy's portrayal.

When Bill Block at Miramax came to me and said, "We own this and we think you'd be a good fit for this." I said, "I agree, but I don't want to imitate Chevy. I'm not interested in that." I don't think anybody else would be because we already have that version. Maybe there's a way to get a version that's more true to life for the book, that's a little more intellectual and a little more live in its sensibility.

To that end, we hired an amazing writer, Zev Borow, who is writing a script for us now. My friend, Greg Mottola, who I've worked with before, has such a deft hand with comedy and is so smart and such a great filmmaker. We put a team together that has a lot of potential. I'm very optimistic.

As soon as that information hit the world, I got [flooded with responses]. I've never woken up to like 50 texts before. I was like, "Who died?" But fortunately, no one did. I got messages from my friends on the St. Louis Cardinals and the Blues, from heads of studios. It was just such an outpouring of people saying, "Oh, I can't wait." I literally was just on the phone with — not to name drop — but Tom Cruise called me yesterday. I had just seen a cut of Top Gun: Maverick and we were talking and he's said, "By the way, I can't wait to see Fletch." I'm like, "What?" Okay, we have to get this thing together.

That's a great name drop to have, by the way. I don't think I've ever been on the phone with somebody who got to say that.

I know, I was guilty as anybody, but there you go.

Top Gun: Maverick was one of the movies that had to move due to the pandemic, and since you’ve seen a cut and there’s such a fever for that film, I have to ask how is it?

First of all, the movie's fantastic. I was so pleased with it. I'm actually kind of glad that they moved it. Obviously, there was no way it was going to come out this summer because this summer has been canceled, but when they moved it to Christmas, I thought it felt like it needs to be a summer release. It just has that amazing Tom Cruise, tentpole blockbuster, summertime thing. It's so good. It rides the line so perfectly between the nostalgia of the first one and the newness of this next chapter in the story. Obviously, Tom knocks it out of the park and all the young kids are great in it. It's just a really good story. It's the movie equivalent of a fist pump. You're just like, "Yes!" It's exactly what it's meant to be.

Lastly, I want to ask you, when we get to the other side of this, what's the first thing you want to do, either professionally or personally?

God, everything. From going out to a restaurant and not being served by a person in a hazmat suit, to going to a baseball game and being able to sit outside, to flying on an airplane. There are so many things. I'm scheduled to go back to work, I think September 22 in Detroit to work on Steven Soderbergh's next film. I had very high expectations coming into 2020 but it’s just been a real merry-go-round and I would like to get off of it.

I hope that this whole thing has reminded us that we are a global community. We're all interconnected. This tribalization as in, "We're better than you and you don't get it,” is unsustainable. We need to have more of a sense of we're all in this together, and we’ve gotten off that train a little bit. When you look back at the history of our amazing country that we live in, when we’ve pulled together, we’ve done the right thing. When we’ve pulled apart, generally history has taught us that we’ve done the wrong thing. It’s time now to pull together. And to that end, donate to the Small Professional Theater Fund.