Jon Hamm on Top Gun: Maverick, Shirtless Scenes, and the Complicated Business of Being Objectified

The 51-year-old actor opens up about playing Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson in the long-awaited sequel
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Jon Hamm has played his fair share of what he calls “rule breakers and rule makers”. Though the 51-year-old dove into the criminal underworld in Baby Driver, led a cult in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and philandered in episode after episode of Mad Men, he has, over the years, donned the uniforms of numerous cops, doctors, soldiers, inspectors, and FBI agents (though at least one of those was in The Simpsons). His latest film role is the authoritative cherry on the authoritative cake: as Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson, he’s the force that wants to “ground” Tom Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun’s long-awaited sequel. “You can’t have all mavericks, there needs to be somebody in charge,” Hamm says (personally, he himself feels “equal parts of both”).

In a neat, neutral hotel room overlooking the grand buildings of Whitehall (“Good old London,” Hamm remarks when sheets of grey rain suddenly begin to fall), the actor is in the midst of a Top Gun: Maverick publicity blitz. He’s been answering questions about the film since 7:30am; it’s now 4:30pm, but he betrays no tiredness beyond removing his blue chequered suit jacket. He speaks efficiently, carefully, and with the occasional rehearsed rattle of a Don Draper pitch.

Unlike the New York adman, Hamm is generous with warm, face-crinkling smiles. He’s entered a new decade since the film first began shooting in 2018 (what else but Covid delays). Naturally, he looks older than Cyclone does on screen. “I’ve got a little more salt in my pepper these days,” Hamm says. In that way, he sits in sharp contrast with Cruise – though Top Gun’s sequel comes 36 years after the original, there’s not a single grey hair on Maverick’s head, and body fat appears to him a strange, alien concept.

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“It’s true, man, he is an ageless wonder,” Hamm says, “He’s a few years older than me and somehow looks a lot younger than me on camera.” He says it good-naturedly – Hamm doesn’t appear to be clamouring to hold onto past versions of himself. “I think it’s a nice thing,” he says of ageing, “I think in our western culture and society, we place a premium on youth, but there’s something to be said for the wisdom of time.”

Perhaps this is because Hamm himself hit the big time a little later in life. Working as a waiter in LA, he gave himself until his 30th birthday to succeed as an actor, and he secured the role of Don Draper at 36. He did not, like Cruise, spend his twenties as the leading man in schmaltzy rom-coms, though he undeniably possessed the looks (his very first role was “Gorgeous Guy at Bar” in the comedy show Ally McBeal.) While shooting Top Gun: Maverick, there were plenty of scenes Hamm was happy to leave to “the younger guys and gals” (Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, and Monica Barbaro are among our new set of aviators).

Photo by Getty.
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“The training that the pilots went through is real,” Hamm says, “the rigors that your body has to go through just to be in those aircraft are serious… So, I was very happy that I didn't have to go through that.” I say it must’ve been strange to be in a Top Gun film and not fly; I ask if he snuck onto a plane on set. “I did not get to sneak on a plane, I don’t think they would have looked too kindly on that,” he says (point one to the rule makers).

Hamm was also relieved to avoid another signature Top Gun scene: the sequel pays homage to the first film’s sweaty volleyball sequence with a shirtless game of beach football. “I was very, very happy to leave the shirtless parts to the younger generation,” Hamm says. Undoubtedly, some cinema-goers will be disappointed. Has the actor minded, over the course of his career, being repeatedly objectified?

“It’s all in the doing, right? If it’s annoying and obnoxious, sure,” Hamm says. He becomes philosophical: “I think there is a physical capacity to human beings that we visually partake in. And I think that some people find certain things attractive or pleasant, and some people don’t. That’s part of the wonderful tapestry of life.” But surely, now we are reckoning with how wrong it is to objectify women, we should do the same with men?

“Everything comes out in the wash, doesn’t it?” Hamm says. “Eventually people will kind of figure out that both sides of that argument are sort of silly. And eventually, I think people will start judging people as human beings in their own right. It’s a slow and steady journey, but I think we’re getting to the right place.”

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Sometimes films are part of the journey, sometimes they aren’t. In the age of Marvel, Top Gun: Maverick is a return to an old-school type of blockbuster: Hamm calls it, “a superhero movie where nobody’s wearing a cape.” But unlike many modern reboots and sequels, Top Gun: Maverick does not run much risk of being embroiled in a culture war for becoming too “woke”. The masculinity (although noticeably less homoerotic) is visually the same as the first film’s: motorbikes, (state-sanctioned) murder, mavericks.

Still, Hamm’s antagonist is at least more stoic than admirals of ages gone by; it’s a role filled with tiny jaw twitches and one late-stage voice crack. “The last thing you want to do when you’re playing somebody who’s the guy that makes the rules is to play it as a one note kind of a fuddy-duddy,” Hamm says, noting that the film was screened at various naval bases across the US. “I got a couple of very nice compliments on my performance. People said that’s really the way that your superior officers treat you. Nobody’s got the screaming-in-your-face drill sergeant kind of mentality.”

While filming at the North Island Naval Base in Coronado, California, the legacy of the original film became clear. “I think Naval recruitment went up by something like 500 percent,” he says reverently. “I spoke to quite a lot of the guys, and they said that the movie made them want to be in the Navy, fly and do all that stuff. It was not lost on them how important this story was.”

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Photo by AMC.

Though Hamm has spoken about how he jumped at the opportunity to be in a Top Gun film before even seeing the script or his salary, he doesn’t remotely seem to mind playing a stuffed shirt in a film that celebrates rebels. (About that shirt: He “very much enjoyed” wearing his pressed khaki with its star-studded collar. “Everybody looks good in that uniform,” Hamm says – although, it was “very tight”.)

“There’s a time and a place for the maverick and there’s a time and a place for the more controlled attitude,” Hamm says, exuding the latter. He has grown up a lot since he was an excited 15-year-old repeatedly renting Top Gun from his local video store – and he thinks the franchise has become more enlightened too.

“The world is growing up as well. I think we’re seeing a much less macho iteration of [masculinity] in this film. There’s female aviators. Jennifer Connelly’s character [love interest Penny Benjamin] has agency and has her own thing going on, and she calls Maverick out on a lot of stuff,” Hamm says.

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“I think there’s a lot more nuance to it. Because we live in a more nuanced age – I mean, it's not 1986 anymore.” Although Hamm’s latest uniform is undoubtedly already being pressed on some set, somewhere, the actor seems to welcome a newer iteration of masculinity. “The cultural conversation has certainly shifted, as it should,” he says, though his even-handed nature suggests that he personally doesn't want to give it too hard of a shove. “We’re stumbling towards some goal.”

FromEsquire UK

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