Jon Hamm on His ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ Villain and Former Eighth-Grade Student Ellie Kemper
The Mad Men star sat down to discuss his scene-stealing turn as cult leader Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne on the Netflix series The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
The highly anticipated final episodes of AMC’s celebrated series Mad Men begin airing on April 5, and The Daily Beast had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with its dapper star, Jon Hamm, to discuss the show. But first things first: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Now that the hilarious Tina Fey- and Robert Carlock-shepherded Netflix series has been available for a few weeks, we decided to ask Hamm about his wacky, scene-stealing performance as the Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, a charismatic cult leader who, in the late ’90s, lures four women into an underground bunker—including the titular Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper)—claiming that the apocalypse is coming on June 6, 2006.
[Warning: If you haven’t finished the show, you may want to stop reading now.]
“Richard Wayne Gary Wayne! The four-namer! I kinda wanted to go with the Rev. Dr. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, but I put my faith in Tina Fey and Robert Carlock to come up with the funniest version of whatever is being talked about, and trusted them completely,” Hamm told The Daily Beast. “I was very glad they asked me to be a part of it. Ellie Kemper is a really nice person, and I felt honored to be able to play in the sandbox with the cool kids again.”
The show is a bit of a full-circle moment for Hamm and Kemper. Back in 1993, after graduating with a degree in English from the University of Missouri, Hamm returned home to teach an eighth-grade acting class at his former high school, the private John Burroughs School in Ladue, Missouri. Two of the students in his class were Kemper and Beau Willimon, who now serves as showrunner for the Netflix series House of Cards.
Now Hamm is starring in a Netflix series as Kemper’s Svengali-nemesis.
“Ellie, my former student!” said a beaming Hamm. “Honestly, it’s really great. I wish I could have said when I was 24 that I knew that girl—or Beau—would be famous. It wasn’t that specific, but in a school full of highly motivated and very high achievers, they were standouts. They just were. Ellie, for a young kid, was incredibly forthright and very confident, and Beau was wildly intelligent and creative. I thought, ‘I hope they do it and go,’ and they did. And it’s amazing.”
He paused. “I remember walking the red carpet at the Emmys and seeing Ellie there and going, ‘You’re here, too! This is so great.’”
We first catch a glimpse of the reverend in the series’ 11th episode, when he’s forced to stand trial for his crimes—only his gnarly beard has been shaved off to reveal the handsome mug of Hamm. And during the subsequent trial, a tape is discovered by Kimmy and used as evidence against the reverend. In it, he’s seen engaging in a variety of hilariously embarrassing tasks, like kung fu, flaunting his DJ skills, and violently humping a piece of furniture in workout gear.
While the sequence appears improvised, Hamm said you can chalk up the entire sequence to the comedic genius of Fey and Carlock.
“There was a lot of discussion about what the reverend would be doing with his downtime,” said Hamm. “That couch-humping bit was based on a very specific YouTube clip of some other couch-humping. It was a meta moment. Tina is a very, very hard worker—as is Robert. They’re very good students and always get their work done, and you can always tell when they really want to ask you to do something because they get very nervous. I’m like, ‘What do you want?’ ‘Well, we want you to hump this…’ And I always say yes, so I don’t know why they get so nervous!”
Fey and Carlock previously served as co-creators of the NBC series 30 Rock (also featuring Hamm), which ran for seven seasons to critical acclaim and mediocre ratings. And NBC commissioned The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt but ultimately passed on hosting the series. Given the show’s critical raves and fanfare, taking a pass on it has proved to be yet another puzzling move by the peacock—one the New York Post recently claimed “shows the irrelevance of NBC” in a blistering takedown.
For Hamm, the NBC pass and move to Netflix makes sense given the current network television climate.
“I certainly was not a part of the discussion, but part of it is understanding that the network model is so different,” said Hamm. “You need a number and a model, and to be responsible to advertisers, and put it in a schedule that fits. It seems like an outmoded model.”
He added: “And the people that are successful? Two and a Half Men ended this year, and it was the longest-running sitcom, and people like it—that’s fine, nothing wrong with that. But you go, ‘How does that happen now? There are so many different ways to consume entertainment, so how is it possible?’ I’m really glad [The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt] found a home on Netflix.”
Stay tuned for more from Jon Hamm on the end of Mad Men in the coming weeks.