Old enough to be lucky

Jon Hamm is one of those overnight sensations that took only two decades and one plum role to discover. He was born and raised in St. Louis and has been acting in theater since college. He landed his first television role about 10 years ago. But nothing he's done has hit like Don Draper, the sad ad exec at the center of "Mad Men."

He's won a number of awards for his acting, and his movie star looks recently earned him Salon's "sexiest man living" title.

At 38, he's able to view the hoopla surrounding his breakout role with calm perspective. "Being older definitely gives you a sense of appreciation," he says, "because you realize how lucky you are, and you may not have another shot left, so to get one like this is a real honor."

It wasn't long ago that Matthew Weiner had to fight AMC for Hamm to get the job because the network was hoping to land a bigger-name actor. That attitude seems laughable now; the role seems as tailored to Hamm as Don Draper's suits. And it makes his recent comedic turns that much more entertaining. After hosting "Saturday Night Live" last fall, he was offered a role for a few episodes of "30 Rock" as Liz Lemon's (Tina Fey) suspiciously handsome and wonderful boyfriend. Though it wasn't the first time he didn't have to audition for a role, "it was definitely the first time for something that I actually really wanted to do," Hamm notes wryly.

He recently finished working on the film "Howl," about the obscenity trial that followed publication of the Allen Ginsberg poem. He's been in negotiations to star in "enormous films that have just been exciting and huge and could be amazing and could be miserable flops," none of which he can mention yet.

He's also using the momentum to start his own production company, Points West, with girlfriend Jennifer Westfeldt, the writing-directing-starring dynamo behind the indie charmers "Kissing Jessica Stein" and "Ira & Abby." "We decided to attempt to take our future in our own hands a little bit."

Weiner is thrilled to watch Hamm's career take off. "It couldn't have happened to a nicer person," he says.

-- Lisa Rosen

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