Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jon Hamm: I am worried about this boy

(From the Washington Post. I've long wondered if Hamm's ability to inhabit the tortured soul of Don Draper is connected to some torment in his own soul. This, apparently, answers my question.)

Jon Hamm exits rehab for alcoholism before ‘Mad Men’ final season premiere

Jon Hamm as Don Draper in “Mad Men.” (Michael Yarish/AMC via AP)

After a 30-day stay, “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm has been released from a rehabilitation center where he sought treatment for alcohol addiction.

“With the support of his longtime partner Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm recently completed treatment for his struggle with alcohol addiction,” a spokesman for Hamm said in a statement, as the Associated Press reported. “They have asked for privacy and sensitivity going forward.”

After a long struggle in Hollywood, Hamm, 44, became famous in 2007 for playing alcoholic, womanizing Don Draper on the landmark AMC series. He won a Golden Globe in 2008 for the role, and has been nominated for an acting Emmy seven times.

TMZ reported that Hamm completed a program at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn., at the end of February. The publication called it a “high-end facility,” and the hospital is affiliated with Yale University.

After an eight-year run, “Mad Men’s” final season will air this spring.

“There’s no version of this ending that is not super painful for me,” Hamm said last year, as The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever reported. “[‘Mad Men’] has been a single constant of my creative life in the last decade, so that’s kind of tough. Yeah, I will be happy when [the final episodes] air and I don’t have to fake like I don’t know how the show ends [but] I will never be able to have this again, and that’s a drag.”

[Jon Hamm and others discuss a ‘super painful’ (but ‘satisfying’) end to ‘Mad Men’ at TV press tour]

In the past, Hamm has tried to draw a bright line between himself and the character he plays on television.

“There is no Don Draper,” he told Esquire last year. “Don Draper was blown up in a ditch in Korea. That whole ‘Be Don Draper’ thing, I feel it’s … sad.”

He added: “This is a fundamentally f—– up human being.”

But some quickly drew a line between the real man and the ad executive who specializes in behaving badly. Deadline Hollywood called Hamm’s trip to rehab “a surreal case of life imitating art.”

“The news does change the narrative in the final promotional push for AMC’s celebrated first original series,” Nellie Andreeva wrote. “It also raises the question about the toll of playing an anti-hero.”

Andreeva pointed out another case of an actor who perhaps got too deep into a role: the late James Gandolfini. After Gandolfini first inhabited New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano on “The Sopranos,” which debuted in 1999, his personal life seemed to get worse. He got divorced. There were problems with drugs. He would disappear from the set. And he reportedly once punched himself in the face.

“Turning Tony — anxiety-prone dad, New Jersey mobster, suburban seeker of meaning — into a millennial pop-culture icon, the character’s frustration, volatility, and anger had often been indistinguishable from those qualities of James Gandolfini, the actor who brought them to life,”GQ wrote after the actor’s death at age 51 in 2013. “It was a punishing role, requiring not only vast amounts of nightly memorization and long days under hot lights, but also a daily descent into Tony’s psyche—at the best of times, a worrisome place to dwell; at the worst, ugly, violent, and

I can't help but note a fundamental change in the things Jon Hamm is saying to the press. In the past, he was almost glib about Don Draper, as if he was a vehicle - classy, if a little cracked and broken in places - that would take him far. At one point an interviewer asked him, "Do you think Don Draper can find happiness?" His response was, "Oh, of course! Why not? Anything is possible," or words to that effect.

I've been a Maddict since the show began in 2007, and while last season kind of slid sideways, there was still much to recommend it. Don's chronic desperation was beginning to get old, almost frayed, as was the character himself. Those message boards plumbing hidden symbols in the show (and Don is a good plumber, by the way, fixing the ineffectual Pete Campbell's leaky faucet) seemed a bit too much for me however. EVERY atom of EVERY episode was analyzed - oh, Don could be like Don Corleone! Or Dawn - the dawning of a new day? Draper - obviously, he has draped himself to hide his real identity, and if you take the d away, you have "raper"! We won't get into Dick Whitman, except that Dick is a penis and Whitman is a folksy/literary allusion to Walt Whitman. And so on, and so on, ad nauseam.

But I was still drawn back again and again. I don't know if I have a favorite episode because the show, more so than most,  is all of a piece. I just saw, for maybe the fourth time, the one where Don has to fire Lane Pryce for embezzlement. It's particularly powerful because of Don's reaction: straightforward, not shocked nor apologetic, but with absolutely no room for discussion. You're out of here, Lane, I can't trust you any more - and he's right. It's hard to feel much sympathy for this cloying, blithering Englishman who tries to commit suicide in a "Jag-yew-ar" that won't start, but when the staff find him hanging dead in his office, Don once again shows a kind of low-key integrity by insisting on cutting him down, honoring the body in a way that reflects his wartime experience, no matter how flawed.

Re-watching these still-watchable things, which I really wasn't going to watch, but I recorded them anyway, I once more got lost in the labyrinth. Fortunately the episodes wear well, better than I thought they ever could. Even knowing exactly what came next, I was drawn in. Again.

One of my favorite characters - maybe my absolute favorite - is Sally, whose odyssey has taken her from chubby eight-year-old girl ballet dancing for guests in the living room to fiery, rebellious young woman, someone who conveys a brokenness that she will somehow parlay into an extraordinary life. She has always been a Daddy's girl, but has seen much of Daddy's dark side, which is very dark and murky indeed. She watched Lee Harvey Oswald get shot, screamed when Don scored tickets to the Beatles, got her first period in the Museum of Natural History and ran home to her mother, jumping over years of alienation and emotional abandonment for an understanding and comfort which, against the odds, she did receive.  Sally and I are the same age, which took me a while to realize. She's experiencing all the madness of the 1960s through the eyes of a smart but confused, often emotionally-deprived child. And where else can you find a character like that, one who is allowed to develop in so many directions, with so many dimensions, over a period of eight years?

I do hope the series winds up with a little more dignity than was displayed in the last few episodes, which in many ways sucked. I groaned at some of it - Ken Cosgrove's meaningless tap dance seems to have hit a new low. It was a mistake to take the series into the beginning of the '70s, when all that Rat Pack coolness had worn off and people were into long greasy hair, sideburns and polyester leisure suits. And everyone's wondering what will happen to Don. Will they kill him off? (That would once and for all eliminate the possibility of Mad Men II: The Adventures of Disco Don.) Will he become hap-hap-happy at last? Will he realize all those flashbacks to the old homestead were a complete fiction (as witness the fact that the young Dick Whitman looks more like Alfred E. Neuman than Don)? I would be happy if they killed off the repulsive, non-acting Glen, Matthew Weiner's talentless, creepy son, who has blighted the show and pulled down the quality of it for many seasons now.

Last episodes are a stumbling block for long-running, epic series. Most of them fumble, drop the ball. St. Elsewhere was ludicrous, with the whole series being the dream of an autistic boy. The Sopranos turned all the lights out or something (I didn't watch), stopping in mid-conversation and leaving everyone hanging. Seinfeld just had a ridiculous jailhouse scene that seemed to be punishing the characters for being too entertaining all those years. It was a long time ago, but I think MASH squeezed it a little too hard, so it came out almost as maudlin as the excruciating ending of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. And Sex and the City - dear God - talk about Don Draper! Carrie returned to the wealthy, powerful, smooth sociopath Big after he had mangled her heart a hundred times - and everyone cried and clapped their hands - it was sickening, but no more sickening/completely irrelevant than the two movies that followed.

We'll keep our expectations low, or maybe we'll have no expectations at all. But we'll watch. I don't think we'll find it as hard to say goodbye to it all as Jon Hamm, who seems to be at a fragile point right now. He speaks in another article about Don Draper building his house on a crumbling foundation. It alarmed me, because I wondered if the brokenness in him was being laid bare by playing a deeply broken character for so long. I was even more alarmed reading about James Gandolfini - I confess I never watched The Sopranos, but I hated to see what happened to him when the show got hold of him.

Actors become. Don't they? Do the best of them stay separate from their work? Can they? And how do you do that, exactly? Why would anyone need to anaesthetize and numb themselves with booze to the point of needing rehab? Doesn't this point to a pain and a pressure approaching the unbearable load Don Draper has carried for eight years?

For if Don's fundamental nature is one of integrity, as that one episode seems to indicate, how and why has he trespassed against himself that many times, and survived?

"You had me at hello"

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