Don Draper Says, "What?" I Say, "Is Jon Hamm a Good Actor?"

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 3 2010 5:49 PM

Don Draper Says, "What?" I Say, "Is Jon Hamm a Good Actor?"

In the weeks since the Mad Men finale , we Mad Men junkies have been jittery, passing around a few last fixes as we acclimate ourselves to a long period of withdrawal before Season 5. There was the charming interview with the actress who plays Megan (from which I inferred that the show’s writers know as little about her as we do). There was Jon Hamm’s turn this past weekend on SNL. ( His impression of Robin Williams auditioning for Back to the Future was mesmerizingly good.) And now there is " Don Draper Says 'What?’  "—a video that splices together scenes of Don Draper saying "What?" in tones incredulous, befuddled, angry, or otherwise.

Watching the video raised, for me, one of the central questions about Mad Men : Is Jon Hamm a great actor? Or is he just a magnetic person who has found the right role? I’ve always been a Hamm defender—I figure it takes great skill to create a Don that we love and root for and don’t simply hate—but I’ve heard people make the opposite case, that he’s a bit of a lump, a handsome, inert entity that the show must shoot around.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

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So which is it? Hamm’s SNL  turns suggest that he has more comedic range than we see on Mad Men . But the "What?" video is strangely flat. Watch it closely: Hamm repeats tics and intonations, and seems to me to have just three or four "What?"s in his repertoire rather than the millions of infinitely shaded "What?"s I’d been expecting.

 

Perhaps any actor would suffer under such oddly narrow scrutiny. I may be crazy to question the greatness of Hamm. But I’m interested to hear what Slate readers think.

Click here for a defense of Hamm's whats.

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