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For those of you have haven’t seen it yet (please don’t make that mistake twice!), Mad Men focuses on the employees at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency in New York City in the early 1960’s, just when the stylized mores of the 40’s and 50’s are about change forever, as peace, love and rock ‘n roll sensibilities of a new generation begin to rock the advertising world. But that has not happened quite yet.

 

We first met Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner (The Sopranos) in 2007, and he described what motivated him to create the show. “What really happened is I reached a certain point in my life where I started thinking about myself as a man and where I was and what I was feeling, and it just intersected with this period in the United States, and I said ‘This is what I feel like.’ And it had to do with New York at that period, and it had to do with the fact that I was a television writer. And I looked at these guys, at this world, these men who were overpaid and drank too much and smoked too much and were glib and cynical and bit the hand that fed them all the time and showed up late and had no respect for authority, and I thought, ‘These guys are my heroes.’”

 

Since then, the show has achieved a commanding audience for a cable channel (AMC) and has won multiple awards, including Golden Globes® for Best Television Drama Series and Best Actor for Jon Hamm, who plays the intriguing Don Draper.

 

Recently, Dish caught up with Hamm in L.A. and had a chance to talk with the actor about the show’s upcoming second season, which picks up after some time has passed. “It’s phenomenal. It’s a wonderful experience,” he said, “but the kind of swirl that happens around the show kind of exists outside the show, and I think I speak for everybody when I say, it remains kind of fun to go to work. I’ve been so proud of this thing from the beginning that to have it vindicated in the greater world of television criticism and the culture is amazing, and it makes you feel like John Slattery (John Sterling) once said, ‘You’re not crazy.’ Like OK, other people like good stuff too.”

 

Dish tried to find out some of the secrets that might unfold in the upcoming episodes. “The themes of the second season are not dissimilar to the themes from the first. It's people dealing with the relationships in their lives and managing their lives. Whether it's Don or Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) or Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) or Roger (Slattery) or Joan (Christina Hendricks), these people have a lot of baggage in their lives and they have to manage that or manipulate it. It's set in this wonderful sandbox that we get to play around in. The more you think you know about these people, the more they surprise you, I guess. We revealed a significant portion of it last season, but there are still quite a few gray areas and gaps to fill in. There are a lot of questions that still remained unanswered, and I think, I know, we start to find those out a little more.”

 

He concludes, “There's a lot of power in saying no, and there's a lot of power in not saying anything. I think that whets people's appetite. Again, I think part of the culture we live in where everybody's so exposed all the time and people want to do a reality show about their whatever, it's a little coarse and crass to be that available. I think part of the attraction of our show is it reveals itself at its own pace. I think that's what has attracted people to it.”

 

One of the most shocking things about the show, especially to a modern-day audience, is how the men and women treat each other. Dish wondered how Hamm felt about that.

“I guess the surprising part is its bluntness, sort of leavened with politeness. There was certainly an ethic of politesse or politeness that people had, and yet, they were often very blunt or very direct with their feelings. They were very outward. It wasn’t hidden underneath a layer of political correctness or that kind of thing, so I think that the really tricky part of it is, and I think most challenging, to sort of see and be like, whoa, okay, right out there with it, huh? I think we live in a time where the sort of rudeness and coarseness is holding sway a little bit. I think you can still be direct without being a total douchebag about it.”

 

When asked if guys got away with more back then, Hamm smiled and said, “Sure. Watch the show. The HR department would be very busy right now at Sterling Cooper if it was 2008 and these people behaved that way.”

 

We wondered if being immersed in Don Draper’s world changed the way Hamm lives his own life. “Well, I think the more you participate in things like this with microphones pointed at you, the more you realize that there is a great power in trying to reveal as little as possible. Because once it's out there, it's out there. We live in a time of incredible immersion in the media and availability in the media. It's omnipresent. There's no such thing as down time or off the air or anything. You say one thing, and it gets echoed and bandied around the world instantly. So I think it makes you certainly aware of what you're saying a little more. I am much more reticent to shoot my mouth off these days.”

 

There is no question that Jon Hamm is a very sexy guy. We wondered how he defined sexy. “I don't think I have a very different definition of sexy than anybody else. I think it is what it is. Whatever turns you on.”

 

But the show is sexy, we reminded him. “That's part of it,” he agreed. “But I think again, we have attractive people in an attractive time. Matt set this in an advertising agency because that's basically what they do; they define what is attractive and what is desirable, so I think that that's obviously not a mistake.”

 

Now that he’s out front, we wondered if he has the problem that so many other famous faces have, being harassed by fans and paparazzi.  “No, fortunately, I don’t. In my real-life dress I don’t look too much like Don. And when my hair is not slicked back, and I’m not buttoned into the very tight fitting suits that I’m put in, I’m able to sort of sneak in, blend into the background a little bit more, which is great. But I’m also working very long hours. So I’m very rarely out in the public eye anyway.”

Does Hamm like the image that people have of him now? “Sure. I mean it’s nice to be considered anything. I mean, as long as it’s positive, I’ll take it. Why not?”

Mad Men premieres on Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 9/8c on AMC. Don’t miss it!

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 86 - September 8413
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