Having won a Golden Globe for his iconic role on TV’s “Mad Men” as the conflicted ad executive Don Draper, St. Louis-born actor Jon Hamm might seem like he’s most at ease in a sharply pressed suit and with a stiff drink in his hand, but that’s acting, isn’t it? In the new indie murder mystery “Stolen” (formerly called “Stolen Lives”), the square-jawed hunk stars as Tom Adkins, a small-town police chief who hasn’t accepted that his son may be dead, having disappeared some eight years before. When the mummified remains of a murdered child are uncovered, the case speaks to Tom’s troubled soul and soon becomes his quest to find the truth. In a curious twist, the film introduces parallel flashbacks to 50 years earlier, as Matthew Wakefield (Josh Lucas), the father of the boy in the box, seeks his own catharsis. Hamm called me to talk about “Stolen,” what he has in common with Adam Sandler’s “Billy Madison,” and two kinds of comics: both the graphic novels he loves, and the stand-ups he’s friends with.
I’m sure you’ve had a slew of movie offers in the last couple years, so how did you come to take a chance on a little indie with a first-time director?
We shot this film between season one and two of “Mad Men” a little over two years ago. I thought it was an interesting script, and I didn’t have to play somebody in the ’60s, which was a refreshing change of pace. [laughs] You roll the dice on any independent film, whether or not the thing will ever see the light of day. But I sat down with Anders [Anderson, the director] and [cinematographer Andy Steinman] and they seemed to know what they were doing — they weren’t just guys with more enthusiasm than actual intelligence: “Which way do we point the camera?” They seemed to have a firm handle on how to tell that story, so as you said, I took a chance.
Your character is a broken man, in utter denial about his son. Is it draining to shoot an entire film from that headspace?
It was tough, especially given the rigors of an independent film schedule. You’re cramming a lot of work into a small amount of time because of the money involved — basically, there is none. So you have to sprint the whole way and hope you have the movie when the well runs dry. You don’t want to play this character as just one note, a bummed-out sad guy, but there is that driving obsession. My mother passed away very suddenly when I was young, but she passed away — there was no chance of her ever coming back. When you lose somebody and there’s this question mark hanging, I would imagine it [would] be a life-long obsession. What happened? Obviously, it’s to the detriment of the rest of your life, your relationships and your family.
Have you had any of those “question marks,” perhaps not to that extent, for which you’ve done something seemingly absurd in search of answers?
I can tell you right now that if my dog ever disappeared, if would be a life-long obsession of trying to find out what happened. [laughs] It’s a completely different kind of film, and I can’t believe I’m actually going to quote it, but I will: “Billy Madison,” Adam Sandler’s movie, when he’s talking about how he lost a dog, he’s like, “You gotta get out there and FIND THAT DOG!” You literally need to drop everything. It’s a tortured analogy, almost infantile in its ridiculousness, but that’s how I feel about my dog.
Would you ever want to have a son someday?
If the opportunity presented itself, sure. I think the realities of that, and given [long-term partner Jennifer Westfeldt of “Kissing Jessica Stein”] being an actress and what that takes away career-wise from you, are tricky. I don’t think either one of us will rule anything out, but I don’t know how ready I am to be a dad. Anybody can have a kid, but it takes a lot of work to be a dad. We actually have another script that we’re developing that Jen recently wrote about what happens when people start having kids and how it changes your life. It’s a cool script, so hopefully we’ll get that made.
Speaking of dads, Ryan Cutrona has a small role in “Stolen,” and he also plays Don Draper’s father-in-law on “Mad Men.” Was there any casting connection to the show?
How about that, right? No, I didn’t know when it happened. I was like, “Oh my god, what are you doing here?” Ryan’s a fantastic actor. It was just a bit of serendipity.
Since doing “Mad Men,” how much more hypersensitive have you become to advertising?
Even as a kid, I was always a bigger fan of commercials than programming. People who say, “Advertising doesn’t work on me”? I had that attitude. Meanwhile, I want Nike shoes and can sing the jingles to 1500 ads by memory. So I haven’t become more sensitive to it, but I’ve certainly become more appreciative of how hard people work to make it so effective.
In interviews I’ve read, you don’t seem to share much in common with Don Draper. How do you think you’re most diametrically opposed to that character?
Don has a very fleeting relationship with the truth. I think that’s a survival tactic for the most part, but it’s also a business approach. A lot of people, when the show first came out, said “This is such a bad guy.” He is in many ways, but he also has a weird, specific sense of morality. So I guess the thing I have least in common with Don is I’m honest to a fault — I have a very hard time lying. Don does not. [laughs]