Only in 1999, after snagging a recurring role on the sappy NBC drama Providence, was Hamm able to quit waiting tables. Other parts followed, and Hamm settled into the life of an anonymous but steadily employed actor. “At the beginning I was like, Wow, I’m actually working now,” he says. “But as great as it was, when your show gets canceled, you’re back in the pool with everyone else scrambling to get a job.”
During one of those scrambles, Hamm came across the Mad Men script by Matthew Weiner, a former writer for The Sopranos. “I picked it up and thought, This title stinks, and it’s on some cable channel that’s never done anything,” he says. But after reading it, he walked into his bedroom and told Westfeldt, “This is the best script I’ve ever read. I’ll never get it.” Fortunately for him, Weiner believed the character’s secret past would be best served by an actor the audience wouldn’t recognize. Seven auditions later, Hamm got the part.
After 13 years of clawing his way into Hollywood, Hamm is still not used to the idea that his agent’s phone now rings with more work than he can accept. He recently shot two movies, including this fall’s remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. “It’s a strange new world,” says Hamm, “to say, ‘Ah, sorry. I can’t do the movie.’”