Jon Hamm Goes Action Hero in New Thriller ‘Beirut’

jon hamm in beirut movie
 Credit: Bleecker Street

Jon Hamm has always looked like he would fit as the leading man of his own action movie. There was a glimpse of it in his portrayal of FBI agent Adam Frawley in Ben Affleck’s The Town, and since then it felt like only a matter of time until he got to helm one of his own. That opportunity came two summers ago in the form a screenplay from Tony Gilroy called Beirut.

“I was surprised to find out how long this script had been around,” Hamm told Men’s Journal during the Cinema Society premiere for the film. “Here was this amazing old-school thriller that looks at that time and asks how we got where we are now.”

If you aren’t familiar with Tony Gilroy’s name, you are at least familiar with his work. The man is the writing mind behind epic spy thrillers Michael Clayton, State Of Play, and the first four Bourne movies. But a decade before he scripted out the characters of Jason Bourne and Michael Clayton, he created fictional U.S. diplomat Mason Skiles for Beirut, a drama that hits theaters this weekend.

The script eventually found its way into The Machinist director Brad Anderson, who had Hamm at the top of his list to play Skiles. “I needed a guy who had that suaveness that you would expect from a diplomat,” says Anderson. “Not only that, but he is able to play a character who is struggling with his emotions. I mean the guy is just so incredibly watchable, you put a camera on him and you are going to get something good.” So they flew to Morocco, where they spent five weeks doing car chases and espionage-style action.

Men’s Journal got to catch up with Hamm in New York to discuss that experience, hanging out with CIA personnel, and if we can expect more action roles in his future.

What intrigued you about the script?
One of the things that I responded to in the script from the beginning was the fact that it is the kind of movie that just doesn’t get made that often anymore. It isn’t based on one true story, but more of an amalgam of stories that he came across during his research.

How did you come away feeling?
The movie leaves it a bit open ended, and I think that is appropriate. I liked that about the script.

What did you like about the character of Mason Skiles?
I think the idea of a smart, engaged participant in the global community is the kind of person that we can all aspire to. He suffers a profound tragedy and it takes him a little while to pull himself out of that.

What kind of research did you do into negotiating on that level?
I did meetings with a lot of CIA people. I heard some pretty amazing stories. I met with a number of negotiators to get their experience in those high-pressure situations. I came to discover that their mission is not necessarily to solve a problem in one fell swoop. Using a baseball analogy, they don’t go in there to hit home runs. They are looking to hit enough singles so that they can perhaps move the needle in their favor. Their idea of success is a lot different than most of us would expect, but that is the realities of the job. For the world looking from the outside in it may seem like they didn’t do anything. But they have been fighting for this small bit of change. They are happy to get that, and hopefully the next situation they get in they can help move the needle just a little bit more.

What really surprised you about dealing with those situations?
I have to say I found the process extremely interesting. Going into a room. These kinds of discussions aren’t done over the phone or on a text. You can see it play out in the movie. Because there is a nuance to what is being done that being there in person is the only way about it. That is why the character is saying, “Get me in a room with that guy. I don’t care what it takes.” That is where everything happens. And that is the only way anything is going to happen. That is how you solve problems, face to face.

What was the experience like filming in Morocco?
I have to say it was absolutely crazy. There were three languages there on set in Morocco. We were shooting six-day weeks. There were challenges when it came to communication because of that obviously. But, again, that is part of the whole reason I do it. That is the adventure. Those experiences are the ones I want to have as an actor.

Did you have to do any specific training to prepare for the role?
I didn’t have to do any crazy stunts. I was able to avoid that whole program. This isn’t another one of the Bourne movies. I didn’t have to get into Tom Cruise or Matt Damon kind of shape. [Laughs]

The end is left open, so can we expect more of these movies in your future?
I would love to revisit this character. I have to say it was certainly fun to play the guy. There are so many stories to tell in this world. I think we all know there are serialized stories about these kinds of guys, whether it is Jack Ryan or Jason Bourne. But that decision is way above my pay grade.

Beirut hits theaters this weekend.