By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Is Jon Hamm stuck in the ‘60s?
In his first post-“Mad Men” project to be released since that acclaimed AMC series wrapped this spring, the square-jawed actor best known for his role as uber-brilliant ad man Don Draper, Hamm joins the voice cast of “Minions,” the third installment of the popular animated franchise “Despicable Me.” A prequel, the kid-oriented animated comedy from Illumination Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures reveals the origins of the lovable yet mischievous yellow pill-like creatures that served Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) in the previous two “Despicable” films.
Hamm, 44, plays a skinny hipster with a passion for invention called Herb Overkill, whose ambitious wife Scarlet (voiced by Oscar winner Sandra Bullock) aspires to become the world’s first female super villain. The year is 1968, and her goal is nothing short of world domination, starting with stealing the crown of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. She plots her strategy by enlisting the leader-less Minions, who can only survive under the servitude of an evil leader. When Scarlet’s selfish ambition threatens to annihilate the servile creatures themselves, the Minions have to reappraise their allegiance.
Like Don Draper, Herb Overkill is well dressed and creative, but unlike that flawed human character, he’s also a very loving and supportive husband, albeit quite evil.
The actor, who previously voiced a character in “Shrek Forever After,” and has guest starred on various TV animated shows including “Bob’s Burgers,” “Archer” and “The Simpsons,” explains that doing voiceover work is liberating as an actor.
“You have total freedom,” he says, dressed for an interview grey slacks, a dark shirt and brown jacket. “You’re not constrained by what you look like, what your hair looks like that day and whatever haircut you’re stuck with from whatever (role) you just finished.”
For those who miss seeing Hamm’s handsome mug on the small screen, the remarkably funny actor—remember his appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock”?—is slated to join the cast of “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” alongside Amy Poehler, Janeane Garafolo, Jason Schwartzman and his real-life buddy actor Paul Rudd (“Ant-Man”), premiering on Netflix Friday, July 31. With the series set in 1981, Hamm appears to be advancing toward modern times.
Q: Herb Overkill is a little odd. Did you have much input into the character because he has an unusual sense of humor?
Hamm: Totally. You have total freedom. Part of it, for me, was getting the artist’s rendering of the character. I was like, “Oh, wow, that guy is so cool. I wonder what he sounds like.” Then I just messed around with voices in my head, like a crazy person or like a child. I flashed back to just being a kid and watching cartoons, and thinking, “I wonder if I can do that?” I was talking to myself, and things I do normally in my day-to-day life. I talk to my dog and I talk to myself. I talk to myself on elevators, and people say, “Are you okay?” It’s my process. It’s really fun, and it’s completely creative. When you’re working with people who are completely collaborative, it’s just like, “Go!” and so you get to go.
Q: Have you seen the film yet? What do you think?
Hamm: I have not seen the entire film yet; I’ve seen the stuff that I’m in. But I’m very much looking forward to seeing the whole thing with an audience, especially an audience of a bunch of little kids. I think it’s really going to be fun to see what their reaction is because I happen to find it pretty funny. I know that butts and farts are funny. Sorry, they are, especially when you’re a little kid they’re super-funny. So I’m really looking forward to seeing how that plays in a big auditorium full of people.
Q: Your character is pretty suave, like Don Draper.
Hamm: Sort of. That’s a stretch. Herb definitely has his own style. I don’t think it’s very similar to Don’s. If there is an analogy to be made, I think Herb is closer to Austin Powers, at least from a sartorial sense. I didn’t want to veer too far into Austin Powers territory, but Herb’s very comfortable in his world. He’s a hepcat. He’s very comfortable with who he is and he loves his wife, and she loves him right back. That’s the really kind of lovely part of their relationship. It’s almost subversive, in a way. It’s couched in this cartoon-y, evil sense but its very progressive.
Q: You mentioned watching cartoons as a kid. What were your favorites?
Hamm: All of them. Growing up in the ‘70s, it was all about Saturday morning cartoons. I just wished every day could be all cartoons. (I thought) if only there could be a time in my life when there would be a network devoted to cartoons. I thought that would never happen in my lifetime, but if there was a way to only watch cartoons. Like, if there would be a device that you could open up and just type in something in so that only cartoons would come up. But I thought that could never happen.
It’s hard to describe to people how terrible it was when you could only watch cartoons on certain days in your life. But, no, I would watch all of them. The Warner Bros cartoons—Bugs Bunny, the Tex Avery stuff—they were so incredible. Looking back on them now, they were subversive for their time. When you’re a kid, you just think, “Aw, they’re just making jokes,” but as an adult you think, “Oh, they were actually talking about some pretty deep stuff.”
For example, I wouldn’t know anything about opera music if it weren’t for Bugs Bunny. That was my entire introduction to opera music. I wouldn’t know anything about classical music if it weren’t for (Disney’s) “Fantasia.” They didn’t have to do that stuff; they chose to base this ridiculous, funny, intriguing creative story on this beautiful classical music.
So it’s the combination of the high and the low that I thought was very cool, and I had no concept of it as a kid; I just thought it was funny. It was hilarious that the brooms are carrying buckets of water. That’s funny. And that Bugs Bunny is a lady Viking. And then, later on, you realize this is a famous opera. Why do I know that? Why do I know all the words to “The Marriage of Figaro?” Oh, because it’s Bugs Bunny.
Q: Were you always a fan of the Minions?
Hamm: Yeah. When I signed onto the project, the second movie hadn’t yet come out. I’d only seen (“Despicable Me”). So when I met with all the powers that be who determined whether or not I’d be chosen (to be in this film), they showed me clips from the second one (“Despicable Me 2”). I was so excited. I was like, “Please pick me! Please pick me!” because it’s just so creative, unique and different. It’s not based on a toy. It’s not based on something that’s already existed. It’s completely sprung out of this incredible weird genius’ mind—these little agents of chaos that are polyglots and are fascinating things.
I don’t even know how to describe them, with their terrible hair and cute butts. They wear overalls but they don’t have shoulders. How does that work? But I think it’s great. It’s the best part of Hollywood’s creativity coming out.
Q: Would you want to have your own Minions?
Q: What would you have them do for you?
Hamm: Knowing how effective they are at doing their jobs, I probably wouldn’t assign them any task that really needed to be done well. They tend to mess up everything that they get involved with. But it would be great if you had one around just to hang out with.
Q: To pick up your dry cleaning and chores like that?
Hamm: Yeah! But then, all of your clothes would be ruined. You’d say, “Go mow the lawn,” and the lawn would be lit on fire. I would just want to hang out with them and play. That’s what happens to Herb. He’s supposed to kind of torture them and do all of these things but then he realizes, “They’re kind of fun. Maybe we should just have fun, but, oh, I have to be mean. And then he thinks, I really just want to play.” That’s probably what I would do if I had Minions.
Q: You and Sandra Bullock play husband and wife in this. Did you talk about your characters with each other?
Hamm: Not at all, but it’s because of our schedules. You know, Sandra Bullock is doing really well. I’m really happy for her. She’s so busy. It’s schedules, honestly. These movies don’t happen overnight. They take a long, long time to complete so when they have enough stuff for you to do they call you to come in and record if you happen to be available. So, unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to record together. As the process goes on, you start to hear (the rest of the cast’s) stuff in your headphones, and you think to yourself, “Oh, that’s what she’s doing so maybe I’ll tweak my sound a little bit.” But, no, we both came up with our characters independently, and really trusted the director (Pierre Coffin) and the writer (Brian Lynch) to make sure there was a consistency throughout. So, yeah, it was great, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all cuts together at the premiere.