Mad Men's Rich Sommer: The TV Squad Interview
Mad Men is that rare show that is damn near perfect. Of course, I say "near" perfect though I can't figure out what fault the show has. Everything, from the acting to the writing to the direction to the set design to the music to the costumes - is so well done. Heck, even the secondary characters are drawn in a way you hardly ever see on a television drama.
OK, it is perfect.
Rich Sommer plays Harry Crane, the Sterling Cooper ad exec with the glasses and bow tie. The character is so well written and Sommer plays him so well. You know guys like Harry, whether it's 1960 or 2008. He's the nice, married guy with glasses, but he's not so nice that he isn't above joining in on the sexist talk with his buddies and drinking too much.
Rich was nice enough to talk to me via e-mail while he was filming the second season of the show, which debuts this Sunday (new day) at 10pm on AMC.
So how has it been filming the second season?
It has been incredible so far. We're only four (and a half) episodes away from being done with the season, which makes me very sad. I love working with these people, and we love getting to work on this project. It's amazing how quickly it goes by.
Any tidbits that you can share that won't get [creator] Matthew Weiner mad at you?
Hmm. I think I can officially say that there are no tidbits I could share that wouldn't get Matt mad at me. But even if he gave us the okay, I wouldn't. I want every single bit of it to be a surprise. I like keeping it all a secret as long as I can.
What do you think of the huge, $25M push that AMC is giving the show? It's rare that a drama on a cable network gets this much press and marketing, so I think it's incredibly cool that AMC has so much faith in the show.
I love that AMC has enough faith in the show to throw that much money at it. And almost every day, I hear about a new billboard, commercial spot on some other network, or subway car falling on new eyes and ears. It's fantastic. I hope it translates to folks tuning in on July 27. We have a very modest but loyal audience built in from last season; it would be great to see those numbers increase.
I read somewhere on the interweb that Harry was actually supposed to die in the first couple of episodes, maybe even jumping off a building a la the opening credits? Is this true? (Also, I'd just like to say that I've seen The Devil Wears Prada approximately 37 times because HBO keeps running it, and I just realized now that you played Doug.)
I don't think it was supposed to be in the first couple episodes, but I definitely heard that rumor, too. And I only feel okay talking about it because I was not the one who put that out into the world. It was my understanding that Harry was to commit suicide. Um, thank God he didn't.
Prada has been on so much lately. I love that. My Lovely Wife turns it on almost every time it's on, not because I'm in it, but because it's a good movie. And I'm not shocked that you didn't make the connection. Few do, I think, because of my look in Mad Men being so different from my normal look.
Yes, Mad Men's better with Harry not dead.
So I'm reading the Boston Globe today and the TV critic there is scared that the show is going to become too popular.
He loves the show and is imploring everyone to watch it, but at the same time he wants to make sure it doesn't get too big, too popular, to the point where it's overexposed and watered down. He says he doesn't want people watching "his" Mad Men, heh. What do you think?
I've read that piece, and I think the author is selling both our writers and our viewers a bit short. The writers would not "dumb the story down" in order to appease new viewers, nor would our viewers need them to do so. Mad Men is certainly intelligent and requires almost interactive viewing to catch everything, but that doesn't mean that there isn't something for everyone.
I can guarantee that Matt would never change the show to make it anything it isn't already. It's a show made by artists, and the integrity inherent in that is not lost on any of us. No one involved in the show would be willing to compromise that, for any reason.
So give us a quick rundown on how your week goes, from getting the script to rehearsals to how long filming takes, etc.
In general, I get my script three to four days before the read-through for the episode. We do the read-through at lunch on the last day of the previous episode, and then we start bright and early the next day. We shoot the show over seven days, excepting weekends. I usually work one to three days of that, depending on how many scenes I'm in that week and how the scheduling shook out.
I've been telling people that the show is so great that it makes me want to take up smoking and drink all day long. Are you a smoker in real-life? How are those herbal things the cast smokes? I know January Jones said recently that the show made her go back to smoking again.
There are actually very few members of the cast who are full-time smokers.
The herbal cigarettes are horrible. Their only benefits are that they are completely non-addictive and non-stimulating, but that's where the fun ends. I said in some interview last year that smoking them is like smoking knives. I think I can stand by that.
Listening to the DVD commentaries, a lot of the women in the cast say that the dresses and girdles they have to wear aren't too comfortable. I'm sure you guys have it easier, but do you get to keep any of them clothes you wear? Why does Harry wear a bowtie (you and Robert Morse) when the other younger guys at the office wear regular neckties?
No, we never get to keep the stuff. Most of it is vintage. There have been plenty of pieces I would have loved to keep, but none of it is too "in" these days anyway, so I've found ways to cope..
I think Harry wears the bowtie because he's trying to seem older. Or more mature. I think Harry is the least up-to-date guy anyway. He's always struck me as rather old fashioned, regarding family and such. He fell off the wagon in that respect, so to speak, but I think he has a rather inflated image he's trying to uphold. A mold he's trying to stuff himself into. Not that he's that successful at it, of course.
So tell us some secrets about some of the castmates. Hopefully something surprising and/or embarrassing.
God, there's plenty I could tell you. But they all have plenty to hold over my head, so in the interest of self-preservation, I may have to decline.
Oh, and Michael Gladis is a huge chess dork.
Speaking of Michael, I see he has a new beard this season! What's going on there? Was that Michael's choice or plot-related? Becoming a beatnik? Did the Gillette account leave Sterling Cooper and he ran out of razor blades?
I wish we were allowed to choose our hair, facial and otherwise. Michael had a beard in the off-season, and the producers asked him to keep it.
Hey, congrats on the Emmy noms! 16 of 'em! That must feel good.
Totally unbelievable. Of course, I wish Christina [Hendricks] and Lizzie [Elizabeth Moss] were on the list. In fact, I'm totally shocked that neither of them are. They're both amazing. But I am so happy and proud of Jon, John, Robert, Matt, and the whole gang. Really phenomenal to be a part of this group of people. We always felt it was a special show, but to have it called out like this... It's wonderful.
Yeah, they were both in the "semifinalist" round but didn't make the top 5. Oh well, there's plenty of time for both of them in the coming seasons. Do you think with all of the recognition you're getting it puts more pressure on the show, or are you just going to do what you did the first season?
Oh, I think there's a little bit of pressure, but it hasn't changed anything. The writers are still giving us amazing material, the shows are just as lovely to look at, and we're still doing what we can on our end. The pressure is there, but it's not daunting.
Will we see how Harry's wife found out about his one nighter? If I remember correctly, we never found out how his wife discovered that he slept with Hildy, so I think it's assumed that Harry told her?
Harry definitely told her when we weren't looking, sometime between episodes 12 and 13 last season.
You sap! I mean, that was a very honorable thing for Harry to do...
Is it weird that I watched every episode of the DVD a few weeks ago and then yesterday also watched every episode of the marathon on AMC?
Nope. I did essentially the same thing.
I'm a huge fan of this show. It's very easy to separate the fact that it's my job and I'm in it, and the fact that it's just a really, really good show.
That's great to hear that someone in the cast of a TV show is also an actual huge fan of the show.
I read on your blog that you're doing the monologues for some Upright Citizens Brigade ASSSSCAT shows in L.A.?
I did the Asssscat monologues on Saturday. It was amazing. I used to intern at the UCB, sweeping floors and taking out the trash in exchange for free classes. Doing the monologues was something I wanted to do on day one of that job. It's an entirely unique experience, and I had a ball doing it. I'd love to do it again sometime, if they're open to it.
Are you noticed more now since Mad Men started, on an everyday basis, in the supermarket, at the post office, or are things still rather low-key because in the show your hair is different, you have different glasses, you where a bow-tie, etc?
It's pretty rare. It has happened a few times; I've been approached at Target once or twice, and someone once wrote on Defamer about how I looked "distracted and fidgety" at the grocery store. All in all, it's uncommon. I look pretty different from Harry, and if people at work have trouble recognizing me out of costume, I figure I'm pretty inconspicuous out in the world.
Wow, there's my headline for the interview: "Rich Sommer: Distracted and Fidgety." (Just kidding.).
Birthdate/place: February 2nd (Groundhog Day) in Toledo, Ohio
Family: Mom in MN, Dad in OH, brother in Iraq. Lovely Wife & Daughter in my home.
Favorite TV Shows/Books/Movies: The Office, Life of Pi, The Departed
Web Sites You Check Every Day: Lifehacker, BoardGameGeek, Metacritic
Favorite Place To Vacation: Minnesota
Favorite Food: Hmm. Pizza? Sure.
Favorite Drink: Coffee
Dream Car: Not really a thing I think about, but maybe a VW Beetle
Favorite Cereal: Um... Golden Grahams are good. But I don't eat a lot of cereal.
If You Weren't An Actor You'd Be: A teacher. And almost as happy.
The Best Advice You Ever Received: Enjoy yourself.
And The Worst: "Fill out this credit card application."
What thing (item, attitude, tradition, hobby, appliance, whatever) from the early 60s would you like to see today? Even though I am lazy, I think being presentable is a lost art.
You'd Make A Good James Bond Because: No, no. I wouldn't. Not crafty enough.
What Are Five Items In Your Glove Compartment Right Now? Only the registration and a bunch of CDs.
Your Idea Of Sexy Is: The Lovely Virginia (my wife)
Mac or PC? PC, baby.
Leno Or Letterman? Letterman.
And, most importantly, paper or plastic? Paper, if I have time to argue.