- 15 Jun 18
The Mad-Men star discusses his rip-roaring new comedy, in which a group of adults meet up to continue playing the kids game they've been playing since childhood.
For one month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running in a no-holds-barred game of tag, which they've been playing since the first grade. They risk their necks, their jobs and their relationships to take each other down with the battle cry: 'You're it!' This year, the game coincides with the wedding of their only undefeated player, which should finally make him an easy target.
But he knows they're coming - and he's ready. Based on a true story, Tag stars Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Burress and Ed Helms. Meeting Jon Hamm in a bar in Atlanta, Georgia during filming, the 47-year-old actor is having a blast improvising with Helms and Burress. Watching him in his element, it would be easy to forget how long he struggled to get his big break.
In the mid-'90s, Hamm scraped by on blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearances in shows like Gilmore Girls, Ally McBeal, Providence and Related, before getting his first film roles in Space Cowboys and Kissing Jessica Stein, an indie comedy written by his then-wife Jennifer Westfeldt. But in 2007, that all changed when he took the role as mysterious advertising executive Don Draper in the highly acclaimed drama Mad Men, a part he played for eight years.
The part shot him to the A-list and he suddenly had his pick of roles - but he always gravitated towards comedy, appearing in the likes of Bridesmaids and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Cam. What draws him to comedy, and Tag in particular?
"Comedy is so subjective and different people find different things funny," muses Hamm. "It depends on your history, your culture, so many different things - that's why they famously say that comedy never travels. But the interesting thing about this film, and what we tried to hit home with, is that even though we're making a very adult, R-rated comedy, it's really about a fairly universal, silly game that children play. A game that this group of friends has continued to play well into their adulthood."
"If we do it right, and the movie comes out with as much heart as we intend it to have, it will not only make people laugh at the ridiculous and hilarious situations our characters find themselves in, it'll also make them think about the idea of sharing a friendship and history with a group of people since childhood. I think there's something to be said for that, infusing nostalgia into what is a very broad comedy."
Hamm has previously admitted to having a competitive streak, and admits he used to walk on the Mad Men set thinking, "I'm going to be the best person on this show." But while surrounded by comedy heavy-hitters, does he still have that sense of internal swagger?
"I'm less confident about this world," he admits. "I'm not un-confident, but I pretty much have that streak about everything I do. I want to try my hardest and do my best - I can't say I succeed one hundred percent of the time, but I do always bring that in the morning when I wake up. I say, 'Okay, let's do this the best we can' - and I hope that everyone else is on the same page. Everyone is trying to compete in one way, but also to collude - maybe I shouldn't say 'collude' in the current climate! (Laughs).
"'Conspire'? Also not a good word! Help each other, I mean. We want to help each other make the funniest film we can. We all have very different senses of humour, but they're specific senses of humour and when they spark correctly, it makes a really interesting pattern."
Tag isn't the first time Hamm has been surrounded by a team of comedy veterans; he has performed with the likes of Amy Poehler, Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari and the crew of Parks And Recreation, and Tina Fey, Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
"It's fun to be around people who are at the top of their game comedically," he says, "whether it's Tina Fey or Maya Rudolph or Bill Hader. There are people I've worked with who I am in awe of, comedically. What I've learned from them is to just stay out of their way! Let them do their thing and jump in when you can, but know that your place is the spice, not the soup."
On set, Hannibal Burress is the co-star most likely to make him corpse laughing.
"Hannibal can come up with some stuff that is so out of left field!" Hamm laughs. "He always gets that really genuine 'What did you just say?' laugh! And he's so quiet and unassuming, that when he does say something so outrageous, it's doubly effective."
However, Hamm did embrace his dark side last year, playing a menacing professional criminal in Edgar Wright's Baby Driver. "It's obviously not my mode of being in the world,' notes Hamm. "I'm not violent, I don't like guns - but that's part of why I became an actor, to explore different ways of being and doing things I don't get to do."
Hamm thinks Tag will get audiences both in the funnybone and the feels, as it celebrates embracing a bit of childish whimsy in your everyday life. "Fun and mischief often gets deprioritised once you get married and have kids," he says.
"And I hope the message of the film is to not eliminate that, to still have fun and reconnect with your childhood and ability to play. I think it's necessary. There's enough stress and anxiety and just nonsense in the world, that escaping that every now and then is important in order to survive it. There's a line in the film that goes, 'You don't stop playing because you get older, you get older because you stop playing.' I think that's true."
Tag is in cinemas from June 29.