Jon Hamm talks 'American Hostage,' 15 years of 'Mad Men' and the 'X-Men' role that got away
Despite being an avowed comic book fan — and, quite frankly, looking like a comic book character come to life — Jon Hamm has somehow never been in a comic book movie. But in a new interview with Yahoo Entertainment, the former Mad Men star confirms longstanding rumors that he almost joined 20th Century Fox's now-defunct X-Men franchise as a major mutant villain.
As the story goes, Hamm intended to cameo in a post-credits scene that would have played at the end of Josh Boone's The New Mutants. His role? Mister Sinister: a Victorian-era geneticist who gains immortality and pursues mutant DNA for his own twisted ends.
Unfortunately, Hamm's comic book movie debut ended up being another casualty of The New Mutants's famously troubled production. While early reports suggested that Boone had shot material that set the stage for Mister Sinister's introduction, the actor says that there's no footage of him in costume locked away in deep storage just waiting to be repurposed by the franchise's new owners at Marvel Studios.
"I never shot anything," he reveals now. "I remember having a conversation with people: I'm a huge comic book fan, especially of the X-Men and The New Mutants, so I was excited to be considered. But these conversations happen and then life intervenes."
Hamm similarly downplays the notion that he was seriously ever in the running to play Superman, despite the fact that he's been a fancasting favorite for over a decade. He even appeared in Zack Snyder's 2011 film, Sucker Punch, right before the director rebooted the dormant DC Comics franchise with 2013's Man of Steel. But Hamm insists that he and Snyder never brought up their shared affection for the Last Son of Krypton during production. "I never spoke to him about superhero stuff. I think I might be long in the tooth for the Superman tights these days. But I love Zack: He's a super-talented guy and a lovely man."
Hamm does get to play a hero — though not of the comic book variety — in American Hostage, a new narrative podcast that's currently streaming on Amazon Music and launches Tuesday on all major podcast platforms. The eight-episode drama is based on a real-life 1977 crisis that played out in Indianapolis when Tony Kiritsis (voiced by Joe Perrino) took his mortgage broker hostage rather than have his property reclaimed. Hamm voices local radio journalist, Fred Heckman, who puts Tony on the air and becomes a bigger part of the story than he bargained for.
We spoke with the actor about the contemporary resonance of American Hostage, the 15th anniversary of Mad Men and his near-miss with hosting this year's Oscar ceremony.
The hostage crisis depicted in American Hostage happened one year after Sidney Lumet's classic media satire, Network, and I hear a lot of Howard Beale in Tony's dialogue. Do you know if the real Tony Kiritsis was a fan of the film?
I'm a huge Network fan, but I honestly don't know if there was any kind of overlap from Tony's point of view. But you can see how the media landscape was shifting in both American Hostage and Network. The DNA of what's going on in there, and the fact that all of these stories were kind of unfolding live, because the technology was such that you could do it. You also have this kind of dissatisfied person using the tools at his disposal to make his dissatisfaction known, and obviously, we are seeing a lot of that happening these days. If you look at the events of January 6 last year, there was a very weird kind of sensibility in terms of what's going on with dissatisfied, cranky whites.
The troublemakers, right?
Yeah, and not good trouble either.
One of the things we saw with January 6 is that the dissatisfied individuals you're talking about don't really need established media platforms anymore. Today, Tony would likely be livestreaming on his phone.
Yeah, and we've unfortunately seen a lot of examples of tragedy unfolding live. It's the unfortunate circumstance of giving everybody the capacity to broadcast. I mean, in a perfect world, it democratizes the ability to get your message out, but we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a sadly imperfect world, and what makes headlines is livestreaming tragedy, and this was, unfortunately, kind of the first version of that.
You're not on social media at all: Is that a conscious choice?
I got lucky in that I got famous right before that all happened. So I made the very conscious decision to opt out, which is, I think, healthy. All of this social media stuff is a relatively new technology in the scope of things, and it's still being beta tested as to how it really works in all of our lives. People seem to enjoy it, but I don't. It's a time suck, and it seems to require effort. If I'm performing for someone, I would rather get paid! I don't want to do it for free. [Laughs] It's just a very weird choice that people seem to want to do in oversharing their existence, but it's kind of become the coin of the realm, so I don't know how to judge or not judge it.
Fred's place in the American Hostage narrative is interesting because he's clearly ambitious, but he's not yet part of the generation of journalists who relish being celebrities. Was that your sense of how he handled himself during the crisis?
It almost seems quaint at this point: The person who's literally thrust into becoming part of the story, but wants no part of it. Fred had to do it because that was his job. It's very weird how we exist in a world now where journalists almost demand to be part of the story.
Do we lose something when people place their trust in specific voices rather than the institution of journalism?
I think at the end of the day, people are really only as good as the choices they're given, right? In the old days, it was like, "OK, you have three networks — pick one," and you listened to whoever. Whereas now it's a million networks, and you can find the exact person who will tell you what you want to hear, and that's where we are.
It's a shame because instead of somebody telling you what's happening, you are getting a version of what you want to hear. You know, some people think Tucker Carlson is the voice of reason or that Rachel Maddow is the voice of reason, and yet they're only the voice of an opinion — their opinion. They're writing op-eds, it's just that they're reading them as news, and that's very, very different.
Where do you go for your news these days?
Boy, that's a good question. I listen to NPR. I'm not on social media, so I don't have a feed, but I get a lot of it from my phone, too. I try to apply a pretty good filter and understand that if I'm reading something from Fox News, it's going to have a slant, and if I read something from this or that or the other it's going to have a slant. I try to self-filter. Is that a thing? [Laughs]
It's the 15th anniversary of Mad Men this year: I watched the pilot again recently and it's striking how different that episode is from what the show eventually evolved into. Did you have a sense at the time of what the series was going to become?
No, we didn't know what the show was going to become. Obviously, we all had very high hopes, and we really hoped that it was going to continue from when we shot the pilot. We were all hoping we would have a job! [Laughs] But we got to tell a very interesting, cool, exciting, resonant story, and it was a real blast. I can't believe it was 15 years ago that the pilot came out, and I can't believe all of the things that have happened to me since then. I'm super grateful for all of them.
The key moment in that pilot is the "It's toasted" scene. Was that the scene you knew you had to get right for the show to work?
Oh yeah, that was very key to Don's sensibility, since him being a salesman is a big part of it. I probably did that scene 100 times in auditions, and I can vividly remember shooting it now.
The other great scene is the exchange between Don and Peggy where she tries to flirt with him, and he shuts her down. It's amazing to watch again knowing where those characters ultimately end up.
Yeah, there were a lot of cool moments between those two characters over the course of the series, and that was the genesis of it. It was very much an establishment of a relationship that only got richer as the series progressed. You saw it over the course of the first season when she has a baby and Don is there for her, and then over the course of the whole series when Peggy moves on. That particular relationship was so rich and fulfilling, I think, on both sides of the equation.
You're in Top Gun: Maverick, which is finally coming out this summer after multiple delays. What's your favorite Tom Cruise story from that shoot?
On my first day of shooting, I walked on set and he just gave me the biggest hug. He was like, "I'm so glad you're here," which of course he doesn't have to say! I'm glad I'm here — are you kidding me? [Laughs] I remember talking to him at some point on that first day, and I said, "This has to be so weird for you. You're literally in the same place and in the same costume that you were in 25 years ago." And he was like, "It is weird." I'm glad that he recognized it! By the way, I've seen the film and it's so good. I cannot wait for people to see it; it's exactly what you want it to be, and I just can't wait for it to come out.
It sounds like Paramount made the right call in delaying it until theaters reopened.
Yeah, that's how you want to see that movie: You want to see it big and loud, and blowing up in your face. You don't want to see it on your phone, c'mon! And Tom, to his tremendous credit, is one of our few capital "M" movie stars, and he delivers. It's exactly the sequel to Top Gun that it needs to be. There are great references to the previous movie, and yet it's also its own thing. It's really cool and delivers all of the excitement that you want in a movie like that.
Will we see you on Saturday Night Live again anytime soon? I always loved that Halloween sketch where you played James Mason.
I mean, I hope so! It's an institution, and I'm very happy to have a place in that institution. It's not up to me, but I would love to do it again. It's so interesting to see how the cast and the show changes over the years, and yet, it's still the same in a lot of ways. I still watch it religiously. I don't miss an episode, even if I'm out of the country. Bill [Hader], Will [Forte], Fred [Armisen], Kristen [Wiig], and Jason [Sudeikis] were my team and they were so fun to be a part of. It was a moment in time, but boy, is it fun to think back on.
You haven't gotten your Five-Timers jacket yet either.
I know, I'm just a Three-Timer! Someday, fingers crossed.
Finally, there were reports that you were in the running to host the Oscars this year. What would your approach to that have been — would you have channeled Bob Hope or Billy Crystal?
Yeah, I really wanted to reach out to the millennials, so I thought I'd channel Bob Hope! [Laughs] I was in contention to do that, and they went another way. I'm a fan, and I'll be watching. It's a thankless job, but I wish them all the best.
American Hostage is currently available on all podcast platforms; Mad Men is currently streaming on IMDb TV.