'Tag' star Jon Hamm on his struggle to find success as an actor

"I was like, 'I'm making a living as an actor.' And I did it," Hamm said.

June 22, 2018, 2:24 PM

Jon Hamm started his acting career like so many others: waiting tables while hoping for his big break.

"I moved out to L.A. when I was 25, and I was like, 'If I'm 30 and I’m still waiting tables, it's time to move on to something else,'" Hamm said in an interview for ABC News' "Popcorn With Peter Travers."

That, of course, didn't happen.

"I remember I turned 30 on the set of 'We Were Soldiers.' I was totally thrilled. I had a bunch of my friends fly down to come see me, and I was like, 'I'm making a living as an actor.' And I did it. I made it under the wire," said Hamm.

Jon Hamm discusses his movie "Tag" and his career on ABC News' "Popcorn With Peter Travers."
Jeff Swartz/ABC News

The Emmy award winner's new film, "Tag," is based on a group of a real-life friends who continue to play the game well into their adult years.

"We met them," Hamm said. "They came to set a couple times, and you can just tell they were just so geeked out about how this weird, little tradition that they have has been made into a film. It was so lovely."

Hamm made a name for himself playing Don Draper on the AMC hit "Mad Men."

Jon Hamm attends the Premiere Of Warner Bros. Pictures And New Line Cinema's "Tag" at Regency Village Theatre, June 7, 2018, in Westwood, California.
Jerritt Clark/Getty Images

"I'm fortunate enough to have kind of credibility on both sides of the aisle in that way. It's one of those things where you tend to get pigeon-holed into the one thing you got famous for. And so for me that was Don Draper. So everyone was like, 'OK, you're the serious, brooding guy,'" Hamm said.

But Hamm said an opportunity from Lorne Michaels to host "Saturday Night Live" allowed audiences to see him differently.

"That kind of enabled most people to see much closer to who I really am," Hamm said. "You know me off-camera. I'm kind of a goofball and I enjoy that part of it. But I'd like to get to do both."

Hamm has earned the unofficial title of "King of Cameos" with his appearances in movies and TV shows across all genres, like HBO's "Barry" and the Netflix hit "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."

Download the "Popcorn With Peter Travers" podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Tunein, Google Play Music and Stitcher.

Jon Hamm is seen in "Unbrekable Kimmy Schmidt."
Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

Hamm also opened up about how his parents' deaths inspired him to become a teacher before he got into acting.

"Teachers mean the world to me. Losing your parents, you find other people to take their place, and teachers were a big part of that for me. I love school. I love learning. And I wanted to do something that would give back the experience that I had," he said. "I didn't have any money. I couldn't build a wing on the school or anything. But I knew I could give my time and my experience, and that's what I did. And it was wildly fulfilling."

Hamm played Don Draper for seven seasons and said he and his castmates "kind of moved on."

Jon Hamm is seen as Don Draper in "Mad Men."
Frank Ockenfels/AMC

"Everyone's done different projects and, you know, it was three years ago a least that we've finished it, and that's enough time," he said.

But he did take some things from set: "I have Don's chair from his living room, and I have a couple little things here and there."

Hamm has come a long way from his days as a struggling actor.

"Mostly you pay off bills, and you pay of debts, and you buy nice things for the people in your life. And you're able to buy a car that starts every time you turn the key, rather than every third time. And you can have a nicer place to live. And that's really about what it is. It's mostly just about upgrading stuff," Hamm said.

Jon Hamm discusses his movie "Tag" and his career on ABC News' "Popcorn With Peter Travers."
Jeff Swartz/ABC News

He continued, "I didn't go crazy and buy some plane or anything nonsensical. Because I'm really not, that's not my thing. I don't love stuff. I have too much of it and it kind of just accumulates and gets in the way. So I've just kind of tried to definitely put some of it away for a rainy day and then try to make life more comfortable."

And he spends the majority of his free time away from the cameras.

"I love being outside. That's why I live in L.A. I can walk out and be in the park two minutes from my front door. And I like to play tennis. I play baseball with a couple of my friends," he said. "I've got a bunch of good friends that I know, and we'll go get dinner. We'll do this, we’ll do that. But I just love being outside."

Watch the full interview with Jon Hamm and Peter Travers in the video above.