Ever since his Saturday Night Live debut in October of 2008, Jon Hamm has kept audiences on their toes as he jumped from one expectation-shattering project to another. But whether he is delivering a dramatic chill-inducing monologue or nailing a joke's punchline, the one constant has been Hamm's knack for stealing scenes without coming across like a camera hog.
He puts that effortless electricity to perfect use in Friends With Kids, a witty relationship comedy written by his longtime girlfriend, Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein). The project reunites Hamm with his Bridesmaids' bedbud Kristen Wiig and dissects the fallout after two platonic friends decide to conceive and raise a baby together.
Hamm also served as a producer on the project, and took time out of his busy schedule to talk with ETonline about avoiding the pitfalls co-star couples face, why working with the same team is ideal and why he has no plans to follow in Westfeldt's footsteps.
ETonline: There are four roles you could have conceivably played in this film. Was Ben your first choice? Jon Hamm: I think it was the best fit. We had several versions of this cast over the years – we had an original group that sat around our dinner table for the first reading, and in that version I played Kurt [Ed Burns' role]. Then we did a workshop of the film and at that point I was scheduled to play Alex [Chris O'Dowd's role], but then our Kurt dropped out, so I had to play that part. But when all the pieces began to fall into place for the movie, it was clear that I was the better fit for Ben. When we finally got Kristen, we knew it would be a nice pairing because we work together very well.
ETonline: In addition to Jennifer and Kristen, you have known Adam Scott and Maya Rudolph for a while. What's the advantage of working with your friends? Hamm: Obviously there's a shorthand that goes along with knowing your co-stars. You can cut through the bullsh*t you sometimes have to do with actors you don't know. Also, I think it's more of a sense of fun and family and excitement rather than work. That's really the best part of working with people you know – it's like going to camp for a month with your friends.
ETonline: What about on the flipside? Is there an advantage to working with strangers? Hamm: I don't know if there's an inherent advantage – it's the devil you know versus the devil you don't. Any time you're making a movie, all you want to do is reduce the variables of things that could possibly go wrong. I think that's why we work with the same people over and over again. Clint Eastwood has worked with the same crew for years – there's no mystery, there's no variable in it.
ETonline: So many actors before you have refused to work with a significant other. How did you and Jennifer Westfeldt avoid the Gigli-curse? Hamm: We were very cognizant of that – there was never any discussion of me playing Jason [Adam Scott's role], for example. Us playing opposite one another just needlessly muddies that water. And not just for us, as people in a relationship, but it's also kind of confusing for the audience. There's no upshot there. To work together is challenging simply because you're in eachother's face 24 hours a day. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
ETonline: How did working with Westfeldt on this film compare to 2001's Kissing Jessica Stein [which she co-wrote and starred in, alongside Hamm]? Hamm: It was interesting. We made Kissing Jessica Stein 10 years ago … that's weird to say out loud [laughs]. But it was very early on in our careers and our relationship. Everything was brand new in every way. Our relationship was 10 years younger, her career was 10 years younger and I had essentially no career. Now, everything we've gone through doing this two other times makes this easier. Doing this twice before was the single thing that enabled her to actually take on the challenge of directing this, as opposed to just being the writer, director and star.
ETonline: You made your directorial debut earlier this year with an episode of Mad Men -- any desire to try your hand at directing a feature film? Hamm: Not really. The difference between directing film and directing television is so stark simply because TV is a living breathing organism already when you direct an episode. That was certainly the case with Mad Men. I was very much trying not to run that train off the tracks. With film, you're trying to come up with every single thing in every single shot. Everything needs to be established -- that's a far greater challenge and one that I'm really not interested in taking on. But [Mad Men] has been an incredible experience, and I look forward to seeing what the next journey is.