If there’s ever a man to make Russian literature sound sexy, it’s Jon Hamm.
‘It’s always interested me,’ says the 41-year-old, after greeting me with a charmingly old-fashioned ‘How do you do?’ ‘It started when I was in high school and I continued studying it when I majored in English at university.’ That smoothly enigmatic, cultivated voice you hear in Mad Men? It’s not put on. ‘This project was something that was out of my comfort zone enough to be exciting. And it’s something that you don’t necessarily think of when you think of me. Or Dan, for that matter.’
That ‘project’ is Hamm’s new Sky Arts comedy, A Young Doctor’s Notebook, based on the stories by Mikhail Bulgakov, the author of 20th-century Russian masterpiece The Master And Margerita. ‘Dan’ is Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, who plays a younger version of the doctor of the title: young, bright and hopelessly out of his depth in a hospital in the bleak Russian countryside of 1917. Hamm plays the older, more jaded, morphine-ravaged version of the doctor, appearing to and mentoring his younger self in reality-bending scenes that are darkly absurd.
Radcliffe looks nothing like Hamm, of course – and is seven inches shorter. But surrealism is the point with A Young Doctor’s Notebook. And Hamm wanted Radcliffe on board from the get-go, pitching what he describes as a ‘crazy little bon bon’ to Radcliffe in his New York flat just a few weeks after they met for the first time at the Baftas. ‘For me, he was the perfect combination of intelligence, naivety and youth,’ says Hamm, who got a bee in his bonnet about the project after a chat with a British producer during a Mad Men promotional tour in London. ‘He also has a preternatural confidence that you can see being completely subverted by the fact that his character is in far, far over his head.’