In the action-packed comedy Keeping Up with the Joneses, an ordinary suburban couple are unwittingly embroiled in a dangerous and hilarious international espionage plot, along with their intriguing new neighbours.
Star Jon Hamm talks comedy, spies and life after Mad Men with Elaine Lipworth on the Atlanta set.
What stands out about this film and what was the appeal for you?
“There are some very funny actors. It is a good group of folks making the film. The story is heightened and we’re definitely having fun making it, as you can probably tell if you’ve been paying attention to people cracking up here [on the set]. I also think it’s an interesting look at the dynamics of relationships and how things change, how your life changes and how what you want for the future changes as you get older, how your aspirations change as you move through life. I think it’s an interesting examination of people on that level. And then there are jokes and action and all that other good stuff.”
What is Tim Jones actually like?
“I would describe Tim Jones as a reluctant spy. He’s very good at what he does, but he doesn’t necessarily think that spying is all he wants to do in his life. He loves his wife Natalie, but wants to lead a different kind of life. He isn’t really enjoying the life of an international spy at this point, although it might sound like it would be great to other people. So I think there is a restlessness in him, or a desire to move into a different phase.”
Natalie is a pretty serious spy isn’t she? She loves it!
“That’s right and I think that’s a fun dynamic to explore: people who are married and working in the same business, but one half of the couple is not as into it anymore. I think that’s an interesting couple dynamic.”
It is interesting that Tim does not like his job, because you’d imagine being a spy would be the most thrilling job in the world.
“Right, the situation that the movie wanted to posit and flip on its head is the idea that you have to be careful what you wish for, and it asks the question: is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence? That kind of thing. We think there’s some comedic mileage to that idea, as well as trying to find the unlikely friendship between these two couples: the Joneses and the Gaffneys. Tim and Natalie are both confronted with this idea of suburban life in the community they’ve moved into, and it strikes Tim as a little more idyllic or interesting than it does his wife. He really likes it. She doesn’t, because she likes her job.”
What is it like working with Gal Gadot, who plays your wife?
“It is great and it is interesting because she’s now becoming very well known (as Wonder Woman). The first time I met her was on the set of this film. She is obviously incredibly talented, and very young and she’s about to be the lead of a huge franchise, and all that entails, which is a lot. Gal is great. She has her head on her shoulders and is totally regular and she has a family, who are with her here. She’s really good in the film and she’s very funny. She is loose with the language, which is great. A big part of this comedy is improvising and pivoting off ideas and she’s been very capable and easy to work with in the best way.”
Have you ever lived in a cul-de-sac or that sort of suburban environment?
“Growing up, sure I did. We all lived in small neighbourhoods when I was a kid. Suburbia was very much a part of my childhood in St. Louis, Missouri. It was a very midwestern, suburb-oriented childhood. You would ride your bike to friends’ houses. We knew all about the neighbours and were always going to their houses and everyone was in and out of everyone else’s business. That gossipy environment is a real thing in those tight-knit communities.”
How interesting and challenging is it for you doing comedy, after your very dark role as Don Draper in Mad Men?
“I can’t speak for anybody else, but I have found it terrifying to try to create something funny, because it’s not what I normally do. I know people who professionally create comedy, people like Zach Galifianakis, and I know how hard they work at it and I know how much it engages their life. I love watching comedy and I love participating in comedy, but I don’t know how successful I am at it necessarily. I think I’m very fortunate … or wise enough to stand next to a lot of funny people on this film, so maybe I’m funny by association! It is nice to be in scenes like this one today, with people who are naturally funny. Zach is obviously hilarious and Isla [Fisher] is very funny too. The whole film is great, in fact it is greater than the sum of its parts and that’s what you hope for when you sign on to make a film.”
What is it like working with Greg Mottola, the director?
“Greg is another one of those wonderful value-added additions to the recipe here on the film. He is fantastic. His history of making films like Superbad (2007) and Adventureland (2009) mean that he brings a lovely kind of humanity to the story – what could be seen as a high concept project. He brings it all down to a much more relatable level so that the story is actually all about relationships. He is constantly talking about making everything more real, and that’s why I was excited that he was going to direct it. I am enjoying working with him.”
Mad Men was an iconic, indelible show. How meaningful has it been to you in hindsight would you say? People all over the globe miss Don Draper and all those fascinating characters.
“Well I think that’s the hallmark of a story well told, that it sits with you a little while after you’ve closed the book and left the characters too. It’s nice to look back on the show with fondness, certainly, but also to know that the chapter, that book and that story is over. I will look back on it fondly and I understand and appreciate that it’s been a wonderful ride. And a ride that very few people get to go on. So few people have any kind of experience like that in their careers. It was fun and very meaningful to me in many ways and it’s nice to actually have been involved in something like Mad Men that went on for that long, but then had a finite ending.”
What has it been like moving on in your career?
“I think there’s a natural expectation or hope that you get a moment to regain your equilibrium and your composure in some ways after something like that show. You’ve been going at a certain level for a very long time and then naturally you want to take a step back and let it wash over you. I think it all depends upon the opportunities that you get and the things that come your way, and your own life, and how you manage that. For me, it is nice to be able to pick and choose [projects]. And then that presents another set of difficulties. What do you choose? What do you want? People come to you with different projects. You don’t know if they are going to be good or bad. I’ve turned down a lot. There are so many things to take into account as you choose what the next months and years of your life are going to be like. But I am very grateful.”
Finally, what do audiences have to look forward to in Keeping Up with the Joneses?
“There is plenty of action. But it is also just very funny and that’s always a good reason to see a movie – to laugh. That is why we all wanted to do it. It’s a good time, a fun day out at the movies.”