News Column

Jon Hamm talks accents, Daniel Radcliffe in 'Young Doctor's Notebook'

October 1, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 01--For those who tune in to the British miniseries "A Young Doctor's Notebook," you won't see just a different Jon Hamm. You'll hear a different Jon Hamm -- one with a British accent.

So the 42-year-old actor offers this self-effacing warning ahead of its Wednesday rollout on the Ovation network: "Well, I tried."

"I've been a bit of an Anglophile my whole life," he added during a recent Q&A with reporters. "It is very daunting to walk into a room full of English people as the only American and attempt to do that.... I'm not Meryl Streep. But they were very supportive."

The four-part miniseries is an adaptation of Russian writer and playwright Mikhail Bulgakov's book of the same name. Hamm costars with Daniel Radcliffe (a pro with the accent) in the dark dramedy about the misadentures of a newly graduated, self-doubting young doctor (Radcliffe) who lands a gig at a small hospital in a remote part of Russia in 1917. It's told from the viewpoint of his older, morphine-addicted self (Hamm).

That self-reflection aspect had Hamm, skilled in playing the tortured lead with his bout as Don Draper in "Mad Men," intrigued enough to pursue it as a side gig.

"The writers did such a wonderful job of kind of bringing this out of the book and putting it into the series -- this sort of 'what do you think of when you think of your younger self?' " he said. "Most of us, generally, eliminate the uncomfortable parts and only concentrate on, like, 'I was an awesome baseball player when I was young.' No, you weren't. You were average at best. But in your mind, you were amazing. So if you have the ability to go back and actually see how you were, there's going to be a lot of awkward, embarrassing things. And that's kind of the tone."

The series, initially broadcast on Sky Arts in Britain last year, became the highest-rated program in the network's history. As its first season makes its stateside premiere on Ovation (the young network that saw its name make the rounds earlier this summer when it added James Franco to its roster), production has already wrapped on the second season of "A Young Doctor's Notebook." That offers some assurance that people could buy Radcliffe as a younger Hamm, right?

"Everyone was, like, 'How are you and Dan Radcliffe playing a version of the same character?' " Hamm acknowledged of the discrepancy. "We're like, 'Well, it's the imagination of when he was younger. And when you're younger, you think of yourself as shorter? I don't know.' Bulgakov's work is this sort of fantastical realism or magical realism, which is an oxymoron, but his work exists in that weird nether space that is not quite real and not quite fake. And the [doctor] is also doing a ... of morphine, so his memory is probably not that great. At least he wrote it down! I'm surprised he can read his own writing."

And, hey, it all leads to a hard-to-forget bathtub scene between the two, which is probably more than enough reason some need to watch.

"Thankfully the water was warm," Hamm said. "The bathtub was probably the size of two of these foot stools. I'm about 6 foot 2, 200 pound. And Dan is smaller than me. But two men in a tub is, uh, a tight squeeze. It was great fun. Yeah, I'm just so thankful it was warm."

It didn't take much persuading to get Radcliffe to sign on. The 24-year-old "Harry Potter" alum has been vocal about his admiration for Bulgakov. Filming of the second season coincided with his West End run in "The Cripple of Inishmaan" earlier this summer.

"We would wrap at 5 o'clock, and he would get in a car, drive to the West End and do a two-hour show," Hamm said. "I was, like, 'Dude, how old are you? Because when I was your age, I was not working that hard.' It's impressive. And he is impressive. He set a very high bar. I'm used to, when I work on 'Mad Men,' I'm used to working very hard and setting the example. And so I was very pleased that I got to work with this young actor who doesn't have to work this hard, honestly. He can take a few decades off."

Promoting the moonlighting gig comes as interest surrounds "Mad Men" at new heights. It was recently announced that the AMC drama's seventh and final season will be split in two, with the final batch of episodes airing in 2015. Hamm said it's unlikely he'll be directing an episode in the season. ("This season I probably won't because I want to focus on just being an actor," he said.)

As for his penchant for playing dysfunctional characters, Hamm wouldn't have it any other way.

"I don't know if I'm drawn to them. Maybe they're drawn to me. No one wants to watch a TV show about a person who makes all the right decisions. It's a pretty boring hour or half hour of television .... We're living in a pretty great era of Television Bad Decision Makers."

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