Image Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMCIt’s been a rough year for Don Draper, but as the curtains closed on the fourth season of Mad Men last night, the sultan of suave was basking in the glow of his surprise engagement. Surely the good vibes won’t last, as season 5 will tackle that decision’s collateral damage, but Jon Hamm’s own prospects couldn’t be brighter. The handsome actor — who some say was the model for Prince Eric in Disney’s The Little Mermaid — is in great demand. He has a supporting role in a hit-movie (The Town), he’s a comic treat whenever he visits Rockefeller Center — faux (30 Rock) or real (Saturday Night Live) — and he’s on fans’ short list for seemingly every rock-jawed superhero movie. He’s on the verge. So I can’t help but ask the question: Will he become George Clooney or Tom Selleck? Bruce Willis or Ted Danson?
I hope it’s understood that either fate represents ridiculous success for an actor, but it’s also true that some television stars never quite fill the big screen in the same way they did the tube. You could argue that no one was ever as poised for movie stardom as 1981 Tom Selleck, whose hunky Thomas Magnum inspired a women-want-him-men-want-to-be-him vibe similar to our current infatuation with Hamm’s Draper. (Who knows what would’ve happened if CBS hadn’t prevented him from playing Indiana Jones?) And who was more beloved than Danson’s Sam Malone on Cheers? But for some reason, we — the movie-going public — ultimately ruled that we preferred those two on the small screen. Perhaps they played their iconic characters too well, because we never loved them so much as when they were a tanned P.I. and a womanizing bartender.
It would make my job a lot simpler if Clooney and Willis had maneuvered differently in their transition from TV stardom to the Hollywood A-list, but it’s not clear to me they did. By the time Clooney became a certified star on ER, he’d been a utility player on at least five TV series, so his breakthrough can’t be called inevitable. Willis’ path was probably the most improbable, switching gears from a limbo-dancing smart-ass on Moonlighting to a yippie-ki-yay action hero in Die Hard.
Hindsight is 20/20, but I’m not sure how much these four actors actually determined how or where they ended up. We decided. Just as we’ll decide whether Jon Hamm belongs on our TV or at our multiplex. Maybe it has everything to do with the question: Do we love Jon Hamm as much as we love the character Don Draper? Will we be able to accept him for not always being that character? His dynamite appearances on 30 Rock and SNL are flavored by his flawless inner-Draperness, but I was pleased by his performance in The Town, where he played a ruthless good guy. Hamm is certainly in line for leading man movies roles, but I honestly have no clue whether he’ll be at the Oscars in 2018 or be part of CBS’s Friday night lineup. I’m fascinated to see how his career will unfold.
Where do you see Jon Hamm in eight years, PopWatchers? Whose career seems like the most likely model for him?