John Hamm was born March 10, 1971, in St. Louis, Missouri. For years, Hamm struggled to find work as an actor. He made his television and film debuts at the turn of the millennium and appeared on the television drama Providence from 2000 to 2001. In 2007, he took on his most famous character to date, playing philandering ad executive Don Draper in the American Movie Classics show Mad Men, winning an Emmy for the role as well as two Golden Globes. He has also appeared in films like The Day the Earth Stood Still, Howl and Bridesmaids.
Jonathan Daniel Hamm was born on March 10, 1971, in St. Louis, Missouri. His father, Dan, had two daughters from his first marriage. His family owned a successful trucking company for generations in St. Louis, but the business declined as Jon grew up. His parents divorced when he was only 2 years old. Living with his mother, Deborah, he "tried a lot of different things—violin, soccer, creative writing," Hamm told In Style magazine. "My mother celebrated learning." He saw his father on the weekends.
At the age of 10, Hamm lost his mother to colon cancer, which had spread throughout her body. After her death, Hamm moved to his grandmother's house with his father. "We were three generations living under one roof, which is difficult in the best of circumstances," Hamm told GQ. He found sanctuary from his difficult home life at the progressive John Burroughs Preparatory School. Some of his friends' mothers also felt moved to look after him.
An athlete and performer, Hamm was a linebacker on his school's football team and had the leading role in a production of Godspell. He decided to go to the University of Texas, turning down offers to play football at several Ivy League colleges. His time at University of Texas turned out to be brief, however, due to personal hardships. First, his grandmother died. Shortly after, his father became ill. After struggling with his sickness, Dan Hamm died during Jon's sophomore year of college. "I suddenly had no parents," Hamm told W. "It was like I had no mooring." Choosing to finish school at the University of Missouri, Hamm looked for work to help support himself, and got a job at a local day-care center. "I basically went out and pitched myself saying, 'Here's the deal. I was always a latchkey kid, so I was coming home or going to day care, and there were never any guys around,'" he explained to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Interest in Theater
Hamm also became very active in the university's theater program. One of his professors, Jim Miller, said that Hamm "was the most intellectual actor I have had in 30 years of teaching," according to an article in the university's alumni magazine, Mizzou. He spent two summers performing in the school's repertory company, starring as Cliff in Cabaret and Leon Colgosz in a production of Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins.
In 1993, Hamm earned a bachelor's degree in English from the university. He then landed a job as a teacher at his old school, John Burroughs. For two years, Hamm taught drama there, teaching students such as Ellie Kemper, who later became a film and television actress. He also made friends with up-and-coming actor Paul Rudd while living in St. Louis. Rudd described Hamm as "one of those unfair guys who are good looking, really funny and good at everything," according to GQ magazine.
In 1995, Hamm decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. Packing up everything he owned, he drove to his aunt and uncle's house in West Los Angeles. He stayed with them until he got his own apartment, which he shared with a series of roommates. For years, Hamm struggled to find work as an actor. He made his television and film debuts in 2000, with bit parts in the comedy series The Hughleys and the adventure flick Space Cowboys. Landing a recurring role, Hamm appeared on the television drama Providence from 2000 to 2001.
Also around this time, Hamm got a part on the Los Angeles stage in Lipschtick written by Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen. The story follows two women pursuing a relationship. It was turned into the 2002 independent film Kissing Jessica Stein, in which Hamm also appeared. Off-screen he developed a relationship with Westfeldt, and the two eventually moved in together. That same year, Hamm had a blink-and-you'll-miss-it part in Mel Gibson's military drama We Were Soldiers.
On the police drama The Division, Hamm played Inspector Nate Russo opposite Bonnie Bedelia and Nancy McKeon. He stayed on the show for two years. After its cancellation, Hamm made a series of guest appearances on such shows as Charmed, CSI: Miami, and Numb3rs. He also landed recurring roles on the military drama The Unit and the dramatic comedy What About Brian.
In 2007, Hamm took on his most famous character to date, playing philandering ad executive Don Draper in the American Movie Classics show Mad Men. He auditioned seven times to get the role. Set in the 1960s, Mad Men explores the lives of the employees of a top New York City ad agency. The cast also features January Jones as his wife Betty and John Slattery as his boss Roger Sterling. Elisabeth Moss plays Peggy, a secretary-turned-copywriter on the show. The Don-Peggy relationship has been challenging for Hamm, especially when he has to be hard on Peggy. He said that Moss "looks about nine years old. It's like kicking a puppy," according to Daily Variety. But for Hamm, the character has been an opportunity to stretch as an actor. "Don, in a lot of ways, can be kind of mean, and that's not my go-to thing. . . . He's kind of mean to a purpose, but it was a little tough," he explained to Daily Variety.
While promoting the show's fifth season in 2012, Hamm got caught up in a media frenzy for his comments about reality TV stars in an interview. "Whether it's Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian or whoever, stupidity is certainly celebrated," he told Elle UK. "Being ... [an] idiot is a valuable commodity in this culture because you're rewarded significantly." Kardashian responded by calling Hamm "careless" for saying she was "stupid." But the actor was surprised by all the media attention over his remarks. He told The Hollywood Reporter that "we live in a world now where every word is micro-parsed and sometimes taken out of context, sometimes misunderstood."
Over its run, Mad Men has garnered stellar reviews and won several awards, including the 2011 Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series. Hamm personally won a Golden Globe Award in 2008 and 2016, and received numerous Emmy Award nominations for his work as Don Draper, winning in 2015.
Shortly before the debut of the final Mad Men season in April 2015, Hamm revealed that he had undergone rehabilitation for alcohol abuse. He talked about this recent crisis with Australia's TV Week magazine. “Life throws a lot at you sometimes and you have to deal with it as much as you can," Hamm said. He also said that he was very appreciative of all of the support he has received from family and friends since the news of his stay in rehab broke.
Film and TV Projects
Stepping away from the finely tailored vintage suits, Hamm appeared in the 2008 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves. He also had roles in the crime drama Stolen (2009) and the Allen Ginsberg biopic Howl (2010). Showing his comedic talents, Hamm also had a recurring role on the hit sitcom 30 Rock. He plays the handsome, but not very bright, neighbor of TV writer Liz Lemon (played by Tina Fey).
Wanting to have greater control over his career, Hamm established a production company, Points West Pictures, with girlfriend Westfeldt in 2009. The pair co-starred in her 2012 film Friends With Kids, which also featured Adam Scott, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig. Hamm had also appeared in the 2011 hit comedy Bridesmaids with Wiig. In this film, Hamm played Wiig's cruel love interest.
In 2014, Hamm starred in the heartwarming sports movie The Million Dollar Arm. The film is based on a true story about a sports agent who recruits several Indian cricket players and tries to transform them into major league baseball pitchers. The following year, he had a chance to work with his former drama student Kemper in her Netflix comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, for which he earned another Emmy nod in 2015.
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