Mad Men's Season 7 premiere, which aired Sunday night on AMC, was a big episode for Don Draper—but then again, which episode of Mad Men isn't big for Don? For seven years now, Jon Hamm's debonair ad exec has been the existential question mark at the center of the series. But it's not clear how much lower he can go. His marriage to Megan (Jessica Pare) is crumbling. His relationship with his kids is damaged. And he's no longer welcome at SCDP, the firm he founded and fostered.
To help unravel the secrets of "Time Zones," The Daily Beast caught up with Hamm earlier this week in Los Angeles. He told us why Don seems to be giving up on Megan, how his scene with Neve Campbell surprised him, and what Don is really doing in the episode's final moments. Oh, and he also revealed that as he prepares to say goodbye to Don—Mad Men comes to an end next year—he's been turning to two other iconic television actors for advice: Tina Fey and Bryan Cranston.
At the end of “Time Zones,” Don tells Neve Campbell’s character that he “really thought [he] could do it this time.” He seems to think his marriage to Megan is doomed. Why?
I think he’s just an intelligent guy. I think he realizes that he’s in a different place and Megan’s in a different place—not only physically, but emotionally. I think he is definitely aware of that.
How about that scene with Neve more broadly? What happens to Don in that scene?
I finally got a chance to see the premiere, and that scene was surprisingly effective to me. I thought it was a beautiful, weird opening up for Don—to have this conversation with a stranger. It was remarkably affecting. I was like, “Whoa.”
Why was that surprising?
Because we shot it a million years ago and I’d forgotten about it. But it’s a beautiful moment, and she’s so good in it. It’s nice to see her again on screen. It’s this weirdly tender moment that kind of comes out of left field. I was pleasantly surprised by it.
"I hope he finds peace and balance in his life. I hope he finds a way to wrestle this demon away."
I noticed that Don repeated the line "I have to get back to work" to both Megan and Neve. Is he acknowledging that he's no good at life? At this point, does he think that work is the only thing that can save him?
At the end of Season 6, Don loses his job. His relationship with his wife is broken. His relationship with his kids is not good. And now his relationship with work is on the rocks. I think that’s the one that knocks him off his pins a little bit. And “I have to get back to work”—you’re not at work. That’s the thing. He ain’t at work.
I love the scenes with Joel [Murray, the actor who plays Freddy Rumsen], too. He’s such a wonderful actor—a good friend and a good guy. Freddy’s the guy who’s like, “Hey, shithead: get it together. You don’t want to be where I’ve been.”
Why does Don sit out in the cold at the end of the episode—alone on his balcony in his bathrobe? What did that moment mean to you?
It’s interesting. That scene was rewritten. He walks outside. He’s in New York. He’s alone. And I think he’s trying to feel… Something. It’s an image that is arresting, but it’s also a moment when he is alone. When he needs to be alone, and to feel alone, and just understand what that is. Hopefully it… well, I know exactly what he does do. But hopefully it motivates him to pull it together.
Is this season going to take Don somewhere he hasn't been before? Are we going to learn anything new about him?
I hope so. Don is in a particularly tricky spot now, and he's got a lot of lessons to learn.
It’s very strange because we have this bifurcated final season. It’s hard for me to think of it as two seasons, or in any other way besides the way we normally do it, which is as one long season. I hope that we do see Don someplace else—someplace new. In the sense of, like, I hope he finds peace and balance in his life. I hope he finds a way to wrestle this demon away. Here’s hoping.
Is it going to be hard for you to say goodbye to Don?
This has been the singular experience of my acting career, really. And it's coming to an end. So yes, it's going to be hard to say goodbye. I talked to Bryan Cranston about it. I talked to Tina Fey about it. Both of them played iconic characters on TV and they had to say goodbye to them.
Did they give you any advice?
They're like, "It sucks. It's hard." And I was like, "I know, I know." And they're like, "Yeah... no you don't. But you're going to find out."
I recently saw some footage of the last day on the Breaking Bad set. There was lots of hugging and crying. Make sure you come equipped with Kleenex.
It's inevitable. Fortunately, we got the chance to write our ending. I'm glad I don't have to write it. I'm glad that's someone else's job. But it's inevitable. You can't wish it away. You can't push it off indefinitely. You have to be like, "Like the beginning, everything has an end." You have to accept that. I'm turning very Zen. [Laughs]
Speaking of: have you found out how Mad Men ends?
I don't know how it ends, actually. It hasn't been written yet. We're shooting the last seven episodes now, and we are very, very early in the process. Hopefully it will be satisfying. That's all I can hope for.