Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig just can't seem to make it work onscreen. The unlikely couple first got together in the 2011 smash hit "Bridesmaids," where Hamm -- in an uncredited supporting role -- played Ted, the callous alpha male who hooks up with Wiig's Annie throughout the film. ("You are no longer my number three!" Ted shouts to Annie as he drives away after she dumps him.)
Things aren't that much better for the pair in "Friends With Kids" (out on DVD/Blu-ray this week), where Hamm's Ben and Wiig's Missy are a newly wedded couple undone by children, life pressures and the realization that the only thing they have in common is their sexual prowess.
Written and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, Hamm's real-life girlfriend of 15 years, "Friends With Kids" stars Adam Scott and Westfeldt as a couple of lifelong best friends who decide to have a child together without any of the messy relationship stuff getting in the way. Hamm's supporting turn is one of the film's best performances, and it's yet another chance for the "Mad Men" star to exhibit his dexterity with both comedy and drama.
Hamm chatted with HuffPost Entertainment about "Friends With Kids," why Elisabeth Moss is key to "Mad Men's" success, and what was so special about the farewell Wiig received on "Saturday Night Live" in May.
"Friends With Kids" had a fairly lengthy development process. Were you always going to play Ben?
I planned on playing whatever part we needed. Kind of playing my part, as it were, to be helpful to getting the film made. Ben was a good fit for me, obviously, but I had at various times played every other part in the thing, except Jason. We knew we wanted Adam Scott to play Jason. The very first reading we had, Adam was playing Jason, Jason Segel was playing Chris O'Dowd's character, we had me playing Kurt [played in the film by Ed Burns] and we had Paul F. Tompkins playing Ben. We had a very different cast at the original read-through, but it was just people we knew and we wanted to hear it read. It was helpful, obviously. I had known I wanted to be a part of it, in some way shape or form, as I'm not only producing it, but I'm a very big fan of Ms. Westfeldt's work. I wanted whatever part I could get. My go-to joke was always, "I had to sleep with the director."
How does Jennifer's writing process work? She has said this script took almost four years to complete.
She kind of locks herself into her office and writes, and I read what comes out of it. She's a very reluctant writer, which is too bad because she's really good at it. She finds it -- like a lot of writers -- very hard work. It's difficult to stare at a blank page and come up with a story that doesn't feel unoriginal or repetitive or trite or any of those things that we as people don't like in our media. You don't want to contribute to that. You want to come up with something interesting and funny and real and that says something. It's a tricky balance.
Speaking of which, Ben seems like a tricky balance for an actor. Pushed too hard in one direction or another, he could easily become purely a jerk or totally pathetic.
That was the challenge of the role -- not only the performing of it but on the page. To get enough of the relationship between Ben and Missy so there was someplace to go; so they're not just the super angry, snippy, mean people. That was tricky for us -- not only playing it but also editing it. A lot of the stuff we shot didn't end up in the movie, for various reasons. Mostly due to time. When you're losing scenes and parts of things, you're like, "Oh God, does that make sense? Or does it now seem like they're this mean duo?" We were very conscious of it, obviously. We hope it worked.
How do you reconcile that as a producer-actor? Did the actor in you want scenes to stay in the film that the producer knew had to come out?
I wish we could have made the three-hour version. No one would have watched it, but we would have loved it. It would have been adorable. I think every filmmaker has that conversation. Obviously, there's a reason there's a thing called "the director's cut." There are so many various and sundry reasons why movies have to be within a range of a certain length, and a lot of those have nothing to do with filmmaking. They have to do with film distributing and exhibiting. It's like a weird game of Tetris; you've got to make all these weird shapes fit into one box.
This was your first film production credit, and you were also listed as an executive producer on the fifth season of "Mad Men." Is producing something you want to keep doing?
Let me sort of disabuse anybody of the notion that I'm making any kind of decisions on "Mad Men." That's 100 percent not happening. There's one guy who makes the decisions on that show, and I ain't him. But producing does afford at least a sense of access. That's the best way to put it. Especially as actors, you kind of come very late to the game. As such, you don't have a lot of control over what's happening. Unless you're Tom Cruise or Will Smith or a megastar who gets a movie greenlit. You don't get a lot of choice in the matter or control. You're just a moveable piece that can get replaced and that's sort of the sad reality of it.
There's a reason why Tom Cruise and Will Smith produce all their movies -- they want to control it from top to bottom. You want to be able to have somebody's ear if something is not hitting you the right way. That I do have on "Mad Men," which is nice. Not just in my quote-unquote producorial capacity, but I do have the ear of the people who make those decisions, which is nice.
Accepting that TV and film are two different mediums, what did you learn by watching Jennifer direct "Friends With Kids" that helped you direct the season five premiere of "Mad Men"?
When I started directing, I had been directed three times in a row by three people who were also acting: The first time was [fellow "Mad Men" star John] Slattery directing the show, the second time was Ben Affleck directing "The Town," and the third time was Jen directing "Friends with Kids." So it was an object lesson. The director, other than transportation and hair and makeup, is there the longest. It's tough. It's a lot of hours. Again, this is all said very qualified. I realize it's not steel working. It's not coal mining. But it is a lot of long hours and you have to be very focused. You don't want to fuck up. Especially the first time. You don't want to drop the ball. In many ways it was high visibility for me and it was high visibility for Jen. It was a lot of pressure. I know for a fact Jen handled it with grace and class and, if anything, that's what I tried to take home as well. Handle it. Be prepared. Know your stuff. Be nice to people.
On "Mad Men" this year, you got to enjoy a lot of great two-hander moments with Christina Hendricks, John Slattery and Jessica Pare, but your work with Elisabeth Moss really brought out the best in both of you. Now that her character has left the firm, are you worried that the vibe will change?
It's interesting, I guess. Now we'll find out what the different dynamic is going to be [between Don and Peggy]. I've said it before, but I think in many ways, "Mad Men" is not necessarily a show about Don Draper, but a show about Peggy. It's not a mistake we start the show on Peggy's first day of work. That's always been my perception of the show. Elisabeth is such a talented performer and has -- for such a young woman -- such an incredible, for want of a better word, gravitas. She can pull that lead role off. It is fun to act opposite her. She's an incredible talent. On a TV show, when you're moving very fast, you learn to quickly appreciate the actors that you work with who -- at that crazy pace -- can bring so much more to the proceedings. That's Elisabeth. It's not just with me. Watch her scenes with Ben Feldman [who plays Ginsburg on "Mad Men"] or Vinny [Kartheiser]. There's just so many deep and resonant scenes that Peggy has had. She's a good one. We're happy to have her.
You had that intense moment this year where Don actually threw money in Peggy's face. Did you personally have to do that?
I physically threw money in her face. It was hard! It's a very, very, very dismissive gesture, obviously. I think I was quoted as describing it as like punching a kitten. It's not a nice thing to do. But for the terms of the story, I think it obviously worked. [Pause] That was not a fun day.
Perhaps a better day was the season finale of "Saturday Night Live," where the cast and crew gave Kristen Wiig a beautiful send-off. You were there; what was that like?
I've watched "SNL" my whole life and I can't really remember another time when they did that. I think the way people leave "SNL" is never really as definitive. In fact, Andy Samberg left as well -- I don't know if Jason Sudeikis is coming back, I have no idea -- but it's just one of those things: Everyone knows when their contract is up, but you never really know if you're going to go. I think Kristen was pretty determined and the writing staff wanted to send her off in the right way. I was thrilled that she asked me to be a part of that. ["SNL" is] how I met Kristen and I consider her a very dear friend. I'm a massive, massive fan of her talent. It was sad and funny and exciting and all of the things that "SNL," at its best, can be. And in addition, it was sort of sweet and wistful, which "SNL" is sort of not really known for. It was a nice tribute by a lot of talented people thanking one of their own. It was a pretty cool thing.
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