A Minute With: Jon Hamm on Don Draper and directing

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jon Hamm insists he is nothing like Don Draper, the cool and mysterious advertising genius at the center of TV's "Mad Men".

But Hamm, 41, who struggled for years to make it in Hollywood, says playing the character on the critically-acclaimed show has been a dream job, and Sunday's second episode of the long-delayed fifth season of "Mad Men" marks a milestone for the actor. It is his debut as a director.

Hamm recently spoke with Reuters about the role and the voice that have made him one of the sexiest men on television, and what he learned from spending years working as a waiter.

Q: So, Don Draper is happy at last!

A: "He seems so. It's a big shift in his existence, and it is something that we explore throughout the season. All will be revealed."

Q: Do you like Jon Draper? Sorry! I mean Don Draper.

A: "It's okay. I know what you meant. I do. I have an affinity for him. I think he is complicated. He is often wrong, he is often spiteful, he is often mean. But I think we all know people like that, and I think he is coming from a place of pain and working through that. I think he is an interesting, multi-faceted, tricky person. But I think he is worth getting to know. I also think he is smart and ambitious and he cares deeply."

Q: How closely do you work with "Mad Men" creator Matt Weiner?

A: "We have a fairly in-depth sit down at the beginning of every season and we talk for about 2-1/2 hours about the show and about life and about where it is going - very general themes and ideas and colors. And we talk about the next chapter. It is very non-specific, but it is always very thought provoking. And I think it is helpful for him as a writer and for me as an actor to get back into the headspace of where Don is."

Q: What similarities are there between you and Don?

A: "None. We both had kind of tricky, driftery childhoods. But other than looking a certain way and being a certain body type that is about it."

Q: Why do you think audiences have responded to the show and to your character, especially since Don is so mysterious?

A: "I think the mystery of who this guy is, is compelling from a dramatic standpoint. It is also set in a very rich period of time in American culture. It feels far enough in the past to feel like it is a little bit foreign, but it is not so far away that we have no bearings."

Q: What's the most fun part about playing Don?

A: "The work. The part where I get to say all these great words and tell this great story. It is a dream job for an actor. It is getting to work on something that I truly love. As actors, we don't always get to pick our jobs. We get picked. So when something like this happens and you really enjoy it - that's hitting the jackpot."

Q: And the worst thing?

A: "Being an actor is not the worst job in the world. Any kind of complaining I have doesn't seem fair. It is hard work and it takes a lot of mental energy when we are doing the show. But it's not working in a steel mill."

Q: You directed the episode that airs this Sunday. That's something quite a few TV actors are doing these days.

A: "They asked me at the end of season 3, but I didn't feel I was ready to do it just yet. But at the end of season 4, I felt comfortable to take a whack at it ... It was fun, it was invigorating. It was the first show back that we shot after that long lay-off. It was wonderful to get a totally different perspective, not only on the show but on these wonderful actors I have known and to watch them work from an objective viewpoint. It really enables you to see how much work goes into creating a TV show before the actors come on set."

Q: You struggled for a good number of years, working as a waiter while trying to break into the industry. What did you learn from that?

A: "I don't know how the 'Twilight' or the 'Hunger Games' kids deal with the crazy swirl they are surrounded by because it is a hard thing to go into when you don't have any perspective. Being a waiter for pretty much longer than anything else I have done in my life was an important lesson. It is important to have a job ... A restaurant is like a big dysfunctional family. You have got to get along with people even though you don't like them. I loved working in restaurants. I made a lot of friends. It is a good way to spend your time if you are not acting."

Q: Matt Weiner has talked about bringing 'Mad Men' to a conclusion after two more seasons. You have this suave, sexy image now, but do you worry about having to shake it off?

A: "It is an image. It is not based in reality, so once it goes away, it will go away, and I am certainly not getting any younger either. I will be sorry to say goodbye to Don but all good things come to an end."

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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