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Q&A – Harry Hamlin (Jim Cutler)

In this interview, Harry Hamlin (Jim Cutler on AMC’s Mad Men) talks about his personal experience with the energy serum from “The Crash.”

Q: Congratulations on your recent Emmy nomination! What were you doing when you found out you the news?

A: Thank you. I was sleeping. The phone rang and I knew the Emmy nominations were going to be that morning, but I didn’t think that I was going to get a call. The fact that I’ve gotten an Emmy nomination is just bizarre to me. I show up on time, I try to have the words all memorized, I try to stand in the right spot and I try not to bump into any furniture. It’s just such a great honor to be working on the show.

Q: You initially read for the role of Megan’s “swinger” boss. How did you end up playing Jim Cutler instead?

A: I did go in to meet with [Matthew Weiner] for the swinger boss part, which I thought was a fun role. When they called me about Jim Cutler, they didn’t tell me the character’s name, they didn’t tell me what he did and they could only guarantee one day of work. I asked if there was a script, and they said no. I usually know who I’m playing or have an idea of what I’m doing when I go in to do a job. So, I said no at first, but [my wife] Lisa said, “Harry, it’s Mad Men, you should.” So, I did.

Q: Where did you draw inspiration for your character from?

A: I wrote little biographies for him, but I had to keep updating them because every week I found out something else about the character. I didn’t know, for example, that I was in the Air Force. I didn’t know that I had a wife. I kept re-writing my interpretation of the character. He kept evolving. I did always perceive the character as being at not exactly right angles, but maybe 30 degree angles to reality, and I crafted the character that way.

Q: You’ve mentioned that the energy concoction from “The Crash” was actually a part of your life growing up. Can you tell me more about that?

A: There was a doctor from Germany in the ‘50s and ‘60s who distributed a concoction. His name was Max Jacobson. There is a book that was recently published about him called Dr. Feelgood. Kennedy took this drug and as a matter of fact, Jacobson credited Kennedy becoming president on his drug because Jacobson gave Kennedy a shot of the drug on the day that he had the first televised debate with Nixon.

It was ironic that I was the one that introduced it in the show because I grew up with that drug in my house. My father happened to be in the space program during the ‘50s and the ‘60s. All the people in the space program were given this drug and as a result, my father became addicted to it. None of us knew at the time that it had speed in it. Everybody called it their “wakeup juice.”

VIDEO: Inside Episode 608: The Crash

Q: Was it fun racing around with Jay R. Ferguson on set?

A: Yeah, that was fun. A lot of people come up to me and talk about that scene and say that it was one of their favorite scenes of the season. It’s always fun to run around. [laughs]

Q: Peggy describes Jim as Roger with bad breath…

A: Well, it’s the bad breath part that I’m trying to figure out. If in the long run, Matthew Weiner takes from the people that he meets and writes that into the character, then I must have had really bad halitosis!

Q: Your wife Lisa Rinna said that keeping your role a secret was torture. Was it just as difficult for you?

A: It’s a bit unusual to work on something for months at a time and not be able to tell anybody what you’re doing. That was strange. I would not be available for one thing or another, I’d say, “I have to go to work,” and they’d say, “What are you working on?” “Hmm, well, actually I can’t tell you.” It was a little odd.

Q: You were a big part of the L.A. Law series. Do people recognize you more from Mad Men now?

A: More for Mad Men now. It’s contemporary and L.A. Law was almost 30 years ago. That’s a long time. L.A. Law was at a time when you still had an audience of 20 or 30 million people every week watching your show. It was a whole different thing. There’s a whole generation of people who haven’t even heard of that show, but they do watch Mad Men.

Click here to read an interview with Mad Men series creator Matthew Weiner.

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