LOS ANGELES — Don Draper may remain immortalized in the '60s, but Jon Hamm is taking one giant swing forward.
This weekend, the Mad Men star readies his next chapter in Disney's Million Dollar Arm. The baseball tale, based on a true story about a sports agent who staged an American Idol-style contest in India to find the next great MLB pitcher, is a crowd-pleaser.
Hamm has been traversing the country in promotion mode as he wraps AMC's Mad Men, which shoots through June (the last seven episodes will air in 2015).
"If not for this, for what?" says Hamm, 43, who grew up a baseball fanatic (and still plays catcher in a local L.A. league). "This is essentially the first movie that I've top-lined. It's a big deal and I'm excited about it and proud of it. So it's like, line it up. I'll sleep on the plane."
Audiences can expect to see a new side of the actor.
"We've seen him do incredible work on Mad Men and (2010's crime drama) The Town," says director Craig Gillespie. "And you've seen him do the broad comedy inBridesmaids and SNL. So I knew he could be funny. But he's never had this opportunity to be able to blend the two."
The affable actor is a far cry from the moody icon he embodies. "He's not Don Draper to me, but he is Don Draper to the world," says Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. "I completely support him. He knows I'm rooting for him."
"I'm incredibly appreciative of what it has done for my life," says Hamm of his cable success, while admitting it's been a challenge to exist inside Don's dark mind, where womanizing mixes with the constant processing of a broken childhood and an intense sense of survival. "As juicy as it is to play all those emotions, you're talking about 90 hours with maybe 50 smiles," calculates Weiner.
"It's a challenge to play that guy because he's not a great guy," says Hamm. "And it's hard to be in that world … for this long. My hope for him has always been, I hope the guy gets his (crap) together and I hope he finds balance. And peace. And happiness."
Next? In a reporter's mind's eye, there exists a vision board: sports flick followed by sci-fi blockbuster and perhaps a dose of David O. Russell-esque Oscar bait.
"I wish I had this conscious plan," Hamm says, unable to find footing amid phrases like "the next chapter." "I don't know if there are 'chapters' or 'periods.' I feel like there must be those people in the world that have these (structured plans) and then plan accordingly. I guess I just don't have that gene."