Jon Hamm on new Disney flick
The "Million Dollar Arm" star talks "Mad Men," his first sports flick and his '90s hair
This is an extended story from ESPN The Magazine's May 12 NFL Draft Issue. Subscribe today!
Disney's "Million Dollar Arm" follows the true story of Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel, two kids from India who land an MLB pitching audition thanks to an agent played by Jon Hamm. The "Mad Men" star dishes to The Mag about the film (out May 16), sports passions and his last swing as Don Draper.
Sam Alipour: Hollywood is littered with baseball scripts. So why was "Million Dollar Arm" the one?
Jon Hamm: It's not really a baseball movie. It's not "Major League" or "The Natural." It's a story about a guy who takes steps to change his life for the better and two boys who worked their asses off and changed their lives for the better as well. It's just set against the backdrop of baseball.
Alipour: I'm gonna come clean with you: While watching your film, something wet fell from my eyes.
Hamm: Oh, it got a little dusty?
Alipour: A little bit. What sports movie makes Jon Hamm weep?
Hamm: All of them. The guys who produced "Million Dollar Arm," Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray, also produced "The Rookie" and "Miracle." I watched both on the plane and wept. "The Natural?" Waterworks. "Field of Dreams?" Forget about it.
Alipour: I won't tell anybody.
Hamm: It's not like we're recording this, right?
Alipour: I'm right there with you on those films, and I'd add "Rudy" and "The Karate Kid." I'm bawling every damn time.
Hamm: Sure, easy.
Alipour: Are we just very emotional men, or is there something wrong with us?
Hamm: Rosey Grier said it best: "It's all right to cry." There's nothing wrong with us. That's why we go to these movies. Who can't identify with Daniel-san's journey [in "The Karate Kid"]? And that's a big part of this movie -- [sports agent J.B. Bernstein's] unexpected journey. He didn't seek out a profound, emotional journey. He went into it to make money, and it ended up changing his life. Those are the best kinds of stories.
Alipour: And that's where so many other sports movies whiff. So even if -- spoiler alert! -- Rinku and Dinesh never make it to the bigs, it's about the journey?
Hamm: Well, Rinku is still in the Pirates organization. He still has a shot. He's only 25, a big lefty who throws gas. That chapter hasn't been written. Dinesh still works for the "Million Dollar Arm" [TV program] in India. He's teaching kids how to play baseball after coming to the U.S., having never seen a baseball game, having never been out of India. In the next couple of years, you're going to see an Indian kid in the majors. There are about half a billion kids in India, where sports has little value. If you're a good athlete there, you go to the army. Here, they'd put you on a travel team. Indian kids are looking at Rinku and Dinesh like, "Wait a minute, I'm the best cricket bowler in my village -- if they can do it, I can do it."
Alipour: They signed with the Pirates, so in a way, you made a Pirates film. But you're a Cards fan, right?
Hamm: Here's the thing: The Cardinals were so terrible in the '70s, and I got so angry rooting for a team that would lose so much that I adopted the Pirates as my secondary team. I also adopted the Steelers because the St. Louis Cardinals NFL team was so terrible and I hated the Cowboys so much. They beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, which is why, to this day, I love Terry Bradshaw. Pittsburgh is a river city, just like St. Louis. There are a lot of parallels between the two, so I feel totally justified in my support of the Pirates.
Alipour: Hey, you're the one who has to live with yourself.
Hamm: Look, we waxed [the Pirates] in the playoffs last year, which I enjoyed. I watched them in Boston, and I couldn't speak because I'd just had throat surgery, so I had to watch them silently, which was a very difficult thing to do.
Alipour: Apparently, there's a rec league in L.A. where you play some ball. Is that true?
Hamm: That's right. I'm good enough to play rec league baseball, over-40, in Los Angeles. And I'm good enough to hit .200 and make 10 errors per year.
Alipour: So say you're facing Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright. How would that go down?
Hamm: I'd literally step in front of it, get hit and take my base. I couldn't bunt off those guys. When I was young and in shape, I could hit at a pretty decent pace, but I can't anymore. I couldn't hit off him with a whiffle ball bat.
Alipour: Despite your St. Louis Blues fandom, I can't find any record of your playing hockey. But I did read that you played linebacker in high school. How good were you on the gridiron, and how bad are you on the ice?
Hamm: I was very good at football, all-state. We were a small school -- John Burroughs -- and I wasn't going pro in any way, shape or form, but I loved it. For a young boy, football was a great release. It's fun banging around. I'm not terrible at hockey. I'm self-taught. I can skate forward, backward and stickhandle a little bit, but watching the NHL is like watching ballet. They're enormous, and they can handle a puck like it's on a string. It's mind-blowing.
Alipour: A little birdie tells me you played in a fantasy football league with Bill Simmons and Jimmy Kimmel's Cousin Sal. And you got kicked out. True story?
Hamm: Yes. But I didn't do anything wrong. The rules of the league state that one person gets voted out every year, like "Survivor." And you don't find out until the day of the draft, so you show up with your laptop, they read the votes, and then you have to pack up your s--- and go.
Alipour: Brutal. Did you cry that day too?
Hamm: Not that time. I was like, "Great. I can go catch 'Game of Thrones.' Bye."
Alipour: Back to your non-fantasy team... Where will the Cards finish this season?
Hamm: They'll definitely make the playoffs. They have a very good team with a spectacular pitching staff, which generally means you're a dangerous team in the playoffs. Yadier Molina is going crazy right now, but we lost Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman -- big bats. If they get the offense together, if Matt Holliday and this kid Kolten Wong come around, they'll go deep.
Alipour: You narrated St. Louis' 2011 World Series video. What types of perks come with that gig? Ice cream dates with Holliday? Tickets?
Hamm: [Laughs] The sad fact of that 2011 run is, I was working and couldn't go to any games. I was devastated. But there are perks. I got to meet David Freese a couple of times. I was like, "How happy are you right now? You're 28, MVP of the World Series, from St. Louis and you clinch it at Busch Stadium." He said, "Yep, feels pretty good."
Alipour: Do you get as geeked up for the Cardinals as "Mad Men" fans do for you?
Hamm: Always have. Since I was a little kid, waiting for Ozzie Smith's signature at the stadium. "Oh my god! Is that him? Oh-my-god-oh-my-god-oh-my-god!"
Alipour: This is the final season of "Mad Men." How do you say goodbye?
Hamm: Letting go has been a process, and I haven't done it yet. I'm very good friends with Bryan Cranston and Tina Fey, who had to say goodbye to their iconic TV characters. I was in Boston at a preview of Bryan's Broadway show, "All the Way," a phenomenal show and performance, and I asked him, "How was it, man? What's it like?" He said, "It takes awhile, and it stings." Tina said the same thing. What happens when you're not Liz Lemon, or Walter White, or Don Draper anymore? I don't know, but there will be something. And hopefully it'll be less painful and more joyous.
Alipour: Speaking of painful, your dating-game show video recently set the Internet on fire. I just want you to know that your hair in that clip almost made me cry again.
Hamm: Thank you. Hey, what can I say? The '90s happened.