The 43-year-old actor spoke to TIME on set ahead of the series' seventh season premiere on Sunday. Draper was last seen at the end of season six as he revealed his true origin to his children, Sally, Bobby and Eugene. The character is well-known for his patterns of self-destructive behavior, but Draper seemed to have made a change for the better in the season six finale.
"I think part of why the character is so interesting is that he is a person that has habits, and not all of them are good," the actor says. "And yet he has shown the ability to surprise you every now and again."
"I think events leading up to the end of last season and Don's confession [about his past]...was a watershed moment in his life," Hamm continues. "I do think that was a big step... I hope for Don that he is able to find some measure of peace with not only who he is and who he was but who he wants to be."
The star says he is still able to find Don admirable even though the character often takes "two steps back for every one step forward."
"What I find admirable about him is that he's a creative guy," he elaborates. "In his own way he's an artist and he wants to be taken that way, even though he works in a very commercial, no pun intended, medium."
"People like Walter White, too, and the guy's a murderer," the actor adds. "People like Tony Soprano, another murderer. There's a vicarious thrill to seeing these people do bad things on television and mostly get away from it... You like the bad guys sometimes if they're not too bad or if you feel like there's a heart of gold somehow."
Hamm says, however, that he is "always surprised" when people tell him they want to be "just like Don Draper."
"I don't think you want to be anything like that guy," he asserts. "You want to be like the guy on a poster maybe but not the actual guy. The actual guy's rotting from the inside out and has to pull it together."
"But...that's one of the biggest themes on the show," the star acknowledges. "The outside looks great, the inside is rotten. That's New York City. That's America in the sixties... It's advertising."
Catch Jon Hamm as Don Draper on Mad Men's seventh season premiere, 10 p.m ET Sunday, April 13 on AMC.