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Rub-a-dub-dub Jon Hamm & DanRad in a tub

Mad Men's Jon Hamm and Harry Potter star join forces in Russian classic

A fervent passion for the work of author Mikhail Bulgakov has brought the actors together to play the same doctor in a TV series based on the writer's first book

Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe star in A Young Doctor's Notebook.

He is best known for his portrayal of Mad Men's Don Draper, a slick advertising executive obsessed with women, whisky and winning accounts. But Jon Hamm's latest role reveals the actor's true passion – a love of Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov.

Hamm appears in a television adaptation of Bulgakov's first book, A Young Doctor's Notebook – set in 1917 Russia – which will be screened in December and is the result of a project initiated by the actor himself.

Hamm said: "I loved the tone of it all, the mystery and sense of 'other' it engendered. The world was very foreign, yet very relatable, in a fish out of water sense. Bulgakov's writing is very emotional and evocative."

The idea for the four-part series was sparked when Hamm came to London last February to publicise the latest series of Mad Men. His hosts at Sky Television, which had snatched the series from the BBC, found his conversation kept returning to Bulgakov, who is increasingly recognised as one of the great 20th-century Russian writers. James Hunt, the head of Sky Arts, said: "All he wanted to talk about was this book, A Young Doctor's Notebook."

This semi-autobiographical series of encounters, set in 1917, stemmed from Bulgakov's work as a doctor during the dawn of the Russian Revolution. They recount desperate conditions in a small hospital serving a Russian village, Muryovo, a place of superstitious peasants and strange nurses.

Seizing the opportunity, Sky called in one of Britain's top comedy producers, Big Talk Productions, the company behind BBC2's award-winning Rev, to work with producer Clelia Mountford.

Sky drama executive Saskia Schuster said: "We have this commitment to work with the best talent in Britain. But this approach from Jon Hamm, it was his passion project. It was a no-brainer."

Then they got lucky again. Daniel Radcliffe, now 23 and free of Harry Potter, is also a fervent Bulgakov fan: he even spent his 21st birthday in Russia on the Bulgakov trail.

The conceit of the comedy is that Radcliffe plays the young doctor, while Hamm, 41, is his older self, who tutors him and plays to his deepest insecurities. Hamm's version "voices all the neuroses of the young doctor, he becomes the voice in his head", explained Radcliffe.

Radcliffe's character is straight out of a top Moscow medical school and assigned to a remote hospital, where he is the only doctor for miles. He is often on the edge of panic, inexperienced in the realities of medicine.

"He has learned his medicine in books; he is confronted with the reality," said Radcliffe. Or, as his character observes by episode two, being a doctor is a mix of "butcher and seamstress".

Hamm dispenses sardonic advice, for example, on how hard it is to amputate a crushed leg, but also starts to display the drug addiction that undermined the real life career of Bulgakov. The writer became addicted to morphine to dull the pain of a wound sustained around 1917.

Hamm found a 20-day gap in his schedule for filming last summer, and scripts for the four-part series were rushed out in ten weeks by British writers. It will be screened in December.

Hamm said: "I am thrilled to get the chance to work on such rich material… bringing something original, dark, funny and moving to light. Madness and the macabre."

Big Talk worked with Hamm's production company, Point West Pictures, created with his long-standing partner, Jennifer Westfeldt.

Acted with a degree of slapstick and gore, the adaptation includes a tooth extraction from hell, an eruption of pus like a water cannon from an infected eye, and that horrific leg amputation, with a blunt saw.

Radcliffe admitted: "The amputation was rough, you see me hacking away." He added: "I am an obsessive Bulgakov fan, since I read the book when I was 18. It is so compelling and exciting. This is his first book, and he can't help his own crazed imagination coming through. At the first meeting Jon and I had, I said, yes, let's do it."

As for the gore, Radcliffe said: "That had to stay. It is pretty graphic in the book, and you can't do justice to it without that. By episode four we were running out of blood."

He also had the challenge of sharing a bath with Hamm, as he tries to cope with the Russian winter. "You know you are the envy of every woman in the world," Radcliffe said, "but the bath soon turns cold." Hamm, he said, is "really funny, one of the best technical actors around".

The series is a centrepiece of Sky Art's series of Playhouse Presents, which attracts high-profile actors to their passion projects, such as Chekhov's Comedy Shorts last year, headed by Steve Coogan, Johnny Vegas, Julia Davis, Sheridan Smith and Mackenzie Crook.

A Young Doctor's Notebook was Bulgakov's first book. His later masterpiece, The Master and Margarita – a violent and poetic novel indicting Stalinist Russia, which was only published after his death in 1940 – was a hit when adapted as an adult drama for the Barbican earlier this year and is returning in December.

Behind the scenes pics from the set of Horns in Vancouver.



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