Open Mic

'Mad Men's' Jon Hamm Takes a Walk on the Lighter Side

Hillary Atkin Posted July 16, 2013 at 12:58 PM

Those who have followed Jon Hamm’s career closely over the past few years will know that in addition to the tall, dark, handsome, brilliant, broody and deceptive character of Don Draper that he plays on "Mad Men," Hamm has a light, goofy and quick-witted side as well.

Those qualities will come to the fore as Hamm takes on a new gig, hosting the 2013 ESPY Awards on ESPN Wednesday night -- his first time emceeing an awards show.

Yes, he's hosted "Saturday Night Live" three times and appeared on multiple occasions in episodes that highlighted his comedy chops -- in skits like “Jon Hamm’s John Ham” and, of course, spoofs on his lead role in AMC's “Mad Men.” He’s also been Emmy-nominated three times for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series for his appearances on "30 Rock.” And then there was the uncredited bad boyfriend role in 2011's smash comedy hit "Bridesmaids.”

But Hamm says none of that experience was real prep for the 21st edition of the ESPYs. “It's a challenge. It's not like hosting ‘SNL.’ It's a whole different skill set. But I've never had a problem standing up and making a fool of myself," says the actor, who counts himself as a huge sports fan, starting with his well-known support of his hometown baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals.

Hamm talked about the upcoming awards show in a conference call with reporters last week, with the ESPYs' executive producer Maura Mandt also on the call.

Hamm says his connection with sports goes back to when he was a high school athlete in St. Louis, lettering in football, baseball and swimming. But he says there was no danger of his progressing as a professional in any of those endeavors.

"I have a lot of good memories and am still friends with a lot of the guys from then," he says, noting that his school's curriculum encouraged students to be active. "I think it's important for young kids to get out and move around. I loved it."

One of the things Hamm says he appreciates about the ESPY Awards is that it recognizes many sports and not just the big four. While he's been in production in Atlanta on a baseball-themed film called “Million Dollar Arm,” in which he co-stars with Bill Paxton, he's been working with writers on material for his role as host.

"Jon is a perfect fit," says Mandt. "He is a die-hard, authentic sports fan who appreciates the achievements in sports. And he's proved his comic chops. It's a tough job for anyone to fill.”

ESPYs, which are voted on by fans, will be awarded in 35 categories including best male and female athlete, best championship performance, best upset, best game, best comeback, best team, best manager/coach and sport-specific awards for hockey, baseball, basketball, football, golf, tennis and auto racing.

“The main thing is to celebrate these incredible things they’ve done," says Hamm of the people who will be taking home the statuettes. "I look at other hosts, and the best ones keep it moving, and keep it light. It's not going to be the Jon Hamm show, nor should it be. Those are my marching orders."

Obviously Hamm is no stranger to award shows -- from a seat in the audience. He’s been a bridesmaid many times at the Emmys since 2008, while taking home hardware at the Golden Globes, the Critics’ Choice Awards, TCA and SAG for playing Don Draper on AMC’s acclaimed drama, recently named one of the top 10 television shows of all time by the Writers Guild of America and Entertainment Weekly.

Having been around that block many times, Hamm has honed his strategy, and philosophy. "If you’re nominated, you want to get past your category, then you can relax. If you don't win, you want it to go fast because there are usually fun parties afterward. You don’t want to forget you are there to celebrate achievements of peers and their good job. It’s nice to see people celebrated."

The ESPYs take place at L.A.’s Nokia Theatre and air on ESPN July 17 at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.