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the star market

The Star Market: Handsome Jon Hamm Can Be Dapper and Goofy, So What’s That Worth in Hollywood?

He's the stone-faced, scotch-swilling, misanthrope hero of TV's most acclaimed drama. He's also a deceptively handsome up-for-anything comedic actor who's handily stolen entire episodes of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. Did we mention he's great at baseball, runs his own production company, and can grow a beard in two hours flat? If there's anything Jon Hamm is bad at, we don't know about it yet. So why isn't he more famous? And what's he worth to Hollywood? We've carefully analyzed his young career, then asked agents, managers, and publicists for their candid assessments: If Jon Hamm were a stock, should you buy, sell, or hold?


STOCK HISTORY: He'd had minor roles in movies like Space Cowboys and Kissing Jessica Stein, but when Mad Men debuted in 2007, Hamm seemed almost like he'd been cloned in a lab from parts of Cary Grant and Tony Soprano specifically to play Don Draper, the show's brooding, mysterious, perfect-outside, crippled-inside protagonist. Emmy nominations and a media obsession came fast despite Men's tiny ratings (viewership for the first two seasons topped out at around 2 million people). But could Hamm do anything else? Turns out he could! A jaw-droppingly funny turn as host of SNL in October of 2008 impressed Tina Fey enough to make him her recurring boyfriend on 30 Rock (and Lorne Michaels enough to call him back for more SNL this January).


PAST EARNINGS:


Mad Men (2007): $20,000/episode


Mad Men (2008): $25,000/episode


MARKET VALUE: Right now, Hamm's a premium brand with untested mass-market appeal. To Mad Men's upscale viewers, he might be the second coming of Clark Gable — but they can't make him a movie star in flyover country, where he's still virtually a nobody. (For as much media gushing as Mad Men receives, its ratings would make it a bubble show even on the CW.) As he dips his toe into movies, though, Hamm has a few things working to his advantage. First, lots of cool people want to work with him: look for him soon as Allen Ginsberg's lawyer in James Franco's Howl, an FBI agent in Ben Affleck's This Town, a brothel owner in Zak Snyder's Sucker Punch, and a wedding attendee in Kristen Wiig's Apatow-produced Bridesmaids. Second, he has a broad range and he seems intent to prove he can do more than just brooding ad-man types; anytime he takes on a serious role, he seems to offset it with something silly (around the time of Town's release, he'll also voice an FBI agent on The Simpsons). Third, the press is smitten with him, so casting him practically guarantees a shot of good publicity for a movie.


Mad Men (2010): $125,000/episode


But when and if he does succeed — do Mad Men fans really want to see him in schlocky tentpoles? Wouldn't it be a shame if he had to hide all that nuanced intensity under a superhero mask? Here's hoping Hamm can find a fun, smart franchise, like Clooney's Ocean's Eleven, to finance some riskier, less commercial pursuits. Last year, he and girlfriend Jennifer Westfeldt founded their own production company which could facilitate a "one for them, one for me" approach, should his career hit the next level.


Howl (2010): Schedule F (SAG scale)


PEERS: Says a top agent: "The movie business is centered around the expensive tentpole and studios are reticent to cast stars that aren't Bale, Washington, Clooney, Pitt, Damon, Depp, Downey Jr., Hanks, and Smith in those movies. Everyone, even the biggest studio, like Warner Bros., is making fewer movies. Maybe ten years ago, there were enough movies being made that he’d automatically get his shot. Now, it’s super-competitive for the leading male role." So while Hamm bides his time in supporting roles, he's battling other handsome second-tier actors like Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Bettany, Matthew Fox, and Karl Urban for a chance to be fitted in a motion-capture unitard for the next CGI extravaganza.


MARKET VALUE: Right now, Hamm's a premium brand with untested mass-market appeal. To Mad Men's upscale viewers, he might be the second coming of Clark Gable — but they can't make him a movie star in flyover country, where he's still virtually a nobody. (For as much media gushing as Mad Men receives, its ratings would make it a bubble show even on the CW.) As he dips his toe into movies, though, Hamm has a few things working to his advantage. First, lots of cool people want to work with him: look for him soon as Allen Ginsberg's lawyer in James Franco's Howl, an FBI agent in Ben Affleck's This Town, a brothel owner in Zak Snyder's Sucker Punch, and a wedding attendee in Kristen Wiig's Apatow-produced Bridesmaids. Second, he has a broad range and he seems intent to prove he can do more than just brooding ad-man types; anytime he takes on a serious role, he seems to offset it with something silly (around the time of Town's release, he'll also voice an FBI agent on The Simpsons). Third, the press is smitten with him, so casting him practically guarantees a shot of good publicity for a movie.


WHAT HOLLYWOOD THINKS: "It's not a strategy to do so many smaller roles and so few [leads] — it's a reality he's facing," echoes a manager. "If they had the ability to put him in as the lead of Mission: Impossible 4 or Men in Black 3 opposite Will Smith, they would. But word is that The Town is fantastic and so is his performance. We’ll see if that gives him the boost he needs to grab some of those bigger roles. But we're not in a sprint here. He's only 38. It may just take smart choices that aren’t necessarily the lead in everything." An agent concurs: "For someone like Jon, he needs to find that supporting secondary role that he can really shine in that will elevate him to that next level. Or, he has to get lucky with a smaller indie movie like Taken." A publicist offers suggestions on how to break Hamm between coasts: "You can’t just take him and put him on talk radio and expect rural America to embrace this guy. Because people in Kansas are probably not watching Mad Men. And I can’t imagine a more elitist gig than doing the voice-over for a Mercedes hybrid. Is it a matter of working out a promotion with a consumer product and NASCAR? He's been an athlete. He's an NHL fan. He used to play baseball. Use that. Justin Long broke out because of his Mac commercials. Hamm needs to figure out how to do something like that, with red-state appeal — but not in such a way that it looks ridiculous. Bull-riding is out."


THE ANALYSIS: He's handsome and talented enough to be the next George Clooney if the right opportunities present themselves (though Mad Men isn't nearly the launching pad to fame that E.R. was, and Hollywood is green-lighting fewer of the adult-aimed dramas that Clooney is best known for). Then again, if he has enough fun with the Apatow guys on the set of Bridesmaids, he could surprise everybody and become the next John C. Reilly. But you'd probably have to think back as far as Michael Keaton (pre-flameout) to find an actor who successfully juggled big roles in drama and comedy early in his career; Hamm needs to pick a horse and stick with it. "Right now, everyone views him as a dramatic actor," says a manager. "If we’re talking about taking a leap to do a comedy with him based on some episodes of 30 Rock, I don’t think that pushes it over the top to a green light."


To take the next big step, he needs a great breakout supporting role. Maybe it's September's The Town. But even if it isn't, his part on TV's hippest show — which he'll have for at least two more seasons — should guarantee him more chances.


To take the next big step, he needs a great breakout supporting role. Maybe it's September's The Town. But even if it isn't, his part on TV's hippest show — which he'll have for at least two more seasons — should guarantee him more chances.


THE BOTTOM LINE: He may not get his shot at the big time right away, but he's good-looking, versatile, and young enough that a long-term investment in him could be like buying Starbucks at $5 a share.


BUY/SELL/HOLD: Buy!


Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images