After four seasons as Mad Men’s Don Draper, it’s difficult to imagine anyone but Jon Hamm as the dapper 1960’s ad executive whose seemingly perfect life is slowly being unraveled by a dark secret. Hamm is Draper, even when he plays versions of the chiseled-chin character for laughs on 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live. But it almost never happened. Hamm tells Marc Maron in his WTF Podcast (scroll to 41:00) that Don Draper was nearly Hung. That is to say that AMC originally had its sights set on Hung’s Thomas Jane for the role.
“I started, literally, on the very, very bottom – I couldn’t have had less heat on me,” said Hamm, whose biggest credit pre-Mad Men was a minor role on Providence. “Nobody knew who I was. The casting directors didn’t know who I was. I wasn’t on anybody’s lists. … The funny thing was, I think they went to Thomas Jane for it, and they were told that Thomas Jane does not do television. Now starring in Hung, by the way.”
Draper and Jane’s Ray Drecker, a divorced high-school teacher who combats dire financial times by working as a male prostitute, couldn’t be more different, so it makes for a fascinating what-if. Moreover, Mad Men can boast Emmy wins and pop-cultural resonance. Hung, on the other hand, has carved out a niche audience in its three seasons on HBO.
I like Jane a lot – as does Hamm, by the way. His performance as Mickey Mantle in Billy Crystal’s 61* was, in many ways, Draper-esque. But on a purely superficial level, I just can’t imagine Jane swilling drinks in Draper’s suits. Maybe it’s simply because I can’t imagine Draper with lighter-colored hair.
Can you imagine both shows without their respective leading men? How might Jane’s Draper be different than Hamm’s? And do you think AMC interviewed any actors with more than four letters in their last name? Is this the most painful what-if for an actor since Tom Selleck had to turn down Raiders of the Lost Ark?