A no-brainer, right? With his handsome face, broad shoulders, strong chin and perhaps the best voice in television, Jon Hamm was born to play Don Draper, the rising advertising executive of 1960, complete with the Grace Kelly-beautiful wife, two kids, a home in the suburbs and a Cadillac. But it took Hamm, 37, more than 15 years to become an overnight success. He had to audition seven times before he got the Mad Men lead, a role that netted him an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe. Actually, little came easy for Hamm or Mad Men, which creator Matt Weiner shopped around Hollywood for years before AMC took a chance on it. But back to Hamm — like his character, he had a less than idyllic childhood. His parents divorced early and were deceased by the time the boy was 20. Perhaps that familiarity with life’s difficulties explains Hamm’s ease at playing the good-guy Draper while always having Draper’s dark side nearby. This ability to be attractive and unattractive is something he shares with another product of a difficult childhood, the actor born Archibald Leach, better known as Cary Grant.
David Duchovny, Californication, Showtime Networks: Watching him as immature, sex-obsessed but ultimately decent dude Hank Moody, you have to marvel as you wonder how much Duchovny is acting. He seems so natural in the role.
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos, HBO: Among Gandolfini’s gifts as the angst-ridden Mafia chief was his ability to create the multifaceted Tony. That was crucial to the series’ immense success. We had to love Tony’s boyish charm almost as much as we feared him. Craftsman Gandolfini accomplished this masterful feat for six seasons.