Actor Rich Sommer who plays Harry Crane on AMC’s “Mad Men,” answered your questions about the show, the NBC miniseries “The Storm,” his appearances on “The Office” and more.
Laredo, Tex.: Which scene from “Mad Men” blew you away when you saw it on television?
Rich Sommer: The carousel scene.
And the one where Don goes up Bobbie Barrett’s skirt. Yyyyyyikes.
Washington: Was there ever a plan to have your character’s role expanded on “The Office”? No offense, but you seem underutilized
Rich Sommer: I’m not sure. I was told at one point that it was intended to be larger, but both my “Mad Men” contract and the fact that the audience HATED another potential roadbump for Pam and Jim, might have hindered that.
I was boarding a plane in Ohio with My Lovely Wife & Baby, and a guy leaned into the aisle and said, not joking, “don’t mess with Pam and Jim.”
I mean, they really hated me.
Running Springs, Calif.: Was the “Mad Men” cast ever briefed on the history of that industry and the key people involved?
Rich Sommer: Not briefed, no. We had and continue to have conversations with Matthew Weiner, our boss-man, about the times. We also have a few consultants who are in the ad biz, who confirm whether stories or themes or characters are accurate.
St. Paul, Minn.: Where does having your own Wikipedia entry rank amongst your career highlights?
Rich Sommer: Way, way up there.
Way up there.
At the top.
Boston: Would love to hear some “behind the scenes” details on the The Carousel scene from season 1.
Rich Sommer: It was a rough day, since it was my last day of filming on Season One. We had no idea if there was going to be a Season Two, so I was shooting what was possibly Harry Crane’s final moment of film. That made the emotional aspects of it pretty easy.
Matthew Weiner, our show’s creator, was directing. I have a lot of love for Matt, and getting to work with him in a different capacity was fantastic.
Washington, D.C.: So, did you get to spend any time with Meryl while making “The Devil Wears Prada”? Any cute stories?
Rich Sommer: I did get to read Stanley Tucci’s part when he was unavailable for a readthru, so I got to interact with her across the table.
After this year’s SAG Awards, I approached her. I knew she wouldn’t remember me, but as I got to her, she said, “Mad Men!” And I freaked out. It was awesome. She told me that I was great in “Prada,” and I laid down and went to sleep. Not really, but my mind was definitely in overdrive.
Deshler, Ohio.: You are hysterical. Will you return to comedy soon? Movies, blogs, TV shows, stand up, improv?
Rich Sommer: Oh, I hope so. It’s funny, after I did “Prada,” I couldn’t get a drama script to save my life. Now that I’m doing “Mad Men,” it’s hard to get comedies.
Anyway, I’m getting more involved again at the Upright Citizens Brigade in LA, which has been a blast. I used to be a part of the NYC branch, and it’s been good getting back into the swing of comedy with some of my old buddies who have made the move out here.
Hoping for more funny. Soon.
Bethesda, Md.: Rich, be honest… How many times has real whiskey been used on the set during filming?
Rich Sommer: Three, that I know of. But I’m not there all the time.
Philadelphia: How would you compare the sets of “Mad Men” and “The Office”? Are the actors more serious on one set compared to the other? Do the actors hang out with out more with each other more on one show than the other?
Rich Sommer: We’re no more serious than they are. Our set is a very light place to be, and so is theirs. They’re two of the best sets I’ve ever been on, and from what I hear, they’re two of the best sets anywhere. I am incredibly lucky.
Both of our casts hang out with each other. In fact, at many events, our casts end up hanging out together. We just get along. We’re big fans of their show, and they seem to like ours. It’s nice.
McLean, Va.: If you could sum it up with one word (or two), how would you describe Season 3? What can we expect?
Rich Sommer: Different.
Much of it’s about change, and how people react to change.
So things and people, well, change.
Little Falls, N.J.: Do you see Harry Crane as futuristic, with his eye on television and his respect for his wife (affair aside), or old-fashioned with his bowtie? Where do you seem him in the ’70s?
Rich Sommer: Old-fashioned, I think. The guy’s not too quick to catch up with the times.
I think his TV move was more about self-preservation than it was about being on the cutting edge.
Washington, D.C.: Thanks for coming on to talk even though Tom Shales gave you guys a tough review a couple years ago. I know some people love the show just as a period piece (great clothes, all that smoking), but I see show as illustrating the angst of modern Americans. Here are these New Yorkers selling happiness to people and no one can figure out how to be happy.
What’s your take on the show?
Rich Sommer: I think that about sums it up, at times. No one on this show is happy. Except maybe Ken Cosgrove, but that’s because he doesn’t know any better.
But you’re right. It’s a very contemporary show. We’re looking at the ’60s through a 2009 lens, and that’s important to keep in mind. It’s a fictional show.
Washington, D.C.: Perhaps a silly question but I am curious: Did most of the cast have to learn to smoke or did they already know how (I know that actors in general are quite a smoking bunch) … and are people getting addicted or disgusted by smoking? This of course assumes the cigarettes are real and not those herbal things that are sometimes used on stages.
Also, you’ve created a great character, congrats! I’m guessing that he was not written to be as central a role as you’ve made him turn out to be, thus forcing the producers/writers to have to give you more to do!
Rich Sommer: These ARE herbal. And they ARE disgusting.
I appreciate the kind words. I don’t think they planned on any of us lower-tiered guys to be as present as we were, so we are consistently grateful to the writers for keeping us in the action.
Washington, D.C.: In terms of your character’s arc…do we see a lot of parallel’s between Harry’s new baby and Don and Betty’s new baby? Do we see Harry grow a bit beyond the maturity level of Ken and Paul?
Rich Sommer: Hm. You will definitely see how The Boys change when people’s status changes. Vague enough? 🙂
Kalamazoo, Mich.: Rich, love following you on Twitter! Half the fun of watching “Mad Men” is figuring out what Matt Weiner really meant. Does the cast do that, too? And, was there an episode that puzzled all of you?
Rich Sommer: Thanks! Twitter (http://twitter.com/richsommer) has been a fun break in my days.
I have no idea what Matt means in many of these scripts, but I don’t think it matters. I had a professor tell me in grad school that theme is not the actor’s job, so I took that to heart.
Sometimes, Matt will grab me and say, “you know this episode is about X, right?” And I will say, “sure, sure.” And it’s always enlightening, because it feels like a code being cracked. But I don’t work too hard on trying to figure it out on my own, because I’m not that smart. 🙂
Rochester, Minn.: The writers and producers seem to consider accuracy very important in providing historical context for the series. A good example is “Flight 1” in which the airline disaster and John Glenn’s ticker-tape parade allowed viewers to know the exact date (3/1/62) of that episode. Will this continue into season three and beyond?
Rich Sommer: Absolutely. Each day on the show takes place on a real date in history, and it’s very carefully planned that way.
Sioux City: What differences have you noticed between now and filming for Season 1?
Rich Sommer: I remember turning to Christina Hendricks as we watched a screening of one of our first episodes and saying, “this isn’t our little secret any more.”
I think that’s the difference. It used to be small and private and secret. Now it’s not. Not that that’s good or bad (it’s good!), but it’s definitely different.
Spicer, Minn.: Mr. Sommer:
I understand that your obsession with board games is spotlighted in the current issue of Geek Monthly. Why board games? Are any of the other cast of Mad Men “boardgame geeks?”
Rich Sommer: (This question is clearly from my best friend back home, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take the chance to discuss board games!)
The board games I play are mostly strategy games, so there’s a lot of thinking involved. I like that it’s like doing a 3-hour math problem, but with pretty pictures and good friends.
I have been working on the boys on the show, and I’ve gotten two or three of them to have a few board game nights. Anyone who’s introduced to these games is intimidated at first, but generally enjoys them once they get going. You just have to have a pied piper. 🙂
Go here to see the games I play: Rich’s Games
Los Angeles: First of all my hat is off to you and everyone else on the show. Such first-rate work deserves a cyber-standing-ovation.
What’s the skinny on Salvatore? Will the other guys find out about him, and if they do, what will happen?
Rich Sommer: Thanks for the kind words about the show.
As for Salvatore, I don’t know. I don’t know that Sal even knows about Sal, so it’s hard for The Boys to see what’s going on. Plus, the way they reacted when they found out about Kurt probably killed any chance Sal may have had to open up about himself.
Bethesda, Md: For some reason, the part that I remember most from “Mad Men” is when you “accidentally” open your coworker’s check and then realized you ruined the envelope. I could actually see the sweat bullets coming off your face. As an actor, do you call up a time in your life when you were panicky nervous for such a scene? Or do you just ‘wing it?’
Rich Sommer: I loved that scene. I have certainly had moments where something fell in may lap that shouldn’t be there, and I was faced with the choice of doing the right thing or doing the shady thing. Good ol’ Harry let me play out the shady thing.
But as far as any sense memory or anything like that, no. I think the situation we had set up was tense enough, so it made my job easy.
Have I mentioned that our writers are amazing? 🙂
Allentown, Pa.: Hi Rich! Big fan. I’ve been keeping up with your twitter. I love your thoughts on Jon Gosselin. Any other pop culture commentary you can offer?
Rich Sommer: Jon Gosselin. Oof, that whole situation makes me sad.
Pop culture commentary? I think the new lead singer of Journey sounds really, really good. That’s current enough, right?
20036: Howdy. So, what happens this season with Don and Betty? Does he have more affairs, or does he stay faithful? It’s okay — you can tell me. I won’t tell anyone else.
Rich Sommer: Promise you won’t tell?
Okay, if you promise…
[CENSORED BY AMC]
Washington, D.C.: Love the show. In case someone else doesn’t ask – what’s new this season?
Rich Sommer: New characters, new relationships, new clothes. Oh, and new stories.
It’s really great so far. I think, and I know I’m biased, it’s our best season yet.
Finland, Minn.: You’re a Midwestern guy at heart, but have you let any of your “fame” get to your head?
Rich Sommer: Let me have my assistant get back to you on that. Give him 2-3 weeks.
(P.S. — I don’t have an assistant.)
(P.P.S. — I hope I haven’t let any of it go to my head. I try very, very hard not to. It’s really important to me.)
Millbrae, Calif.: Will we see a larger role for you as the Director of Television in the upcoming season?
Rich Sommer: I hope so!
former smoker hoping to stay that way this season: As a former smoker, it’s sometimes tough watching “Mad Men” with all the smoking going on without wanting to have one. I’ve talked to others who have this problem. What’s it like being on the set?
Rich Sommer: It’s gross. And it smells terrible. At least they’re not real cigarettes on set.
But I’ve heard from people with similar problems — that watching the show makes them want to smoke and drink. My Lovely Wife and I had a glass of red wine and some pasta whenever we watched “The Sopranos,” so I can’t blame them.
Washington, D.C.: Rich – I tried drinking at lunch once, and ended up falling asleep for most of the afternoon. How did they do it back then?
Rich Sommer: I think they went ahead and fell asleep.
I have no idea! I couldn’t do it. I’d be useless.
Weird business.: Nice work if you can get it, huh?
Rich Sommer: Yeah, it’s not too bad. 🙂
This is the best job I will ever have. It’s all downhill from here, so I am certainly appreciating it while I can.
Bardonia, N.Y.: We saw you do a reading of “Jacob’s Ladder” in New York City. Any future theatrical plans?
Rich Sommer: I am always hoping to do a play. I would love to bring my tiny family out to NYC for the hiatus. It would be lovely. But we’ll see.
Baltimore: The show is so intricately woven, the characters, the costumes and the advertising are so interesting, but how historically accurate is the show? How did you prepare to portray your character?
Rich Sommer: It’s my understanding that the writers do a helluva lot of research to ensure the show remains historically accurate. Each scene in the show happens on a particular day in history, so the characters are impacted by what’s happening around them.
I read a book or two, but mostly I’ve depended on the amazing writing, costume, and set staffs to create the feel of the period. I just say what they write down, and they make it look AMAZING.
Basket of Kisses, N.Y.: Do we get to meet the new baby on-screen?
Rich Sommer: Now, if you’re from Basket of Kisses, you KNOW I can’t answer that!
By the way, Basket of Kisses is a fantastic “Mad Men” fan site. Check it out here: Basket of Kisses
Out West: Did you already know how to tie a bow-tie or did you have to learn?
Rich Sommer: I did not know. I learned for the Emmys last September, so I am happy to say that any ties tied this year are Sommer Originals.
…but I can’t say that about the first two seasons.
San Jose, Calif.: Rich, do you think Harry likes Don and wants to emulate him, or fears him, or doesn’t understand him, or is too low on the totem pole to even think like that?
Rich Sommer: Fear. Fear and low on the totem pole.
Maybe like, but mostly fear. I think.
Bellingham, Wash.: Can you clue us in to when in time Season 3 starts??
Rich Sommer: Sometime after November, 1962. 🙂
Frederick, Md.: Has your sense of style changed since being on the show? Or do you just long to unslick your hair and put on jeans and a pair of flip flops as soon as shooting ends for the day?
Rich Sommer: My style has changed, but that doesn’t mean I don’t race to unslick my hair and put on my flip flops. It’s more that I think about clothes for forty seconds instead of four seconds.
theme is not the actor’s job,: I don’t understand: you have to understand the context, right?
Rich Sommer: Sure, but only the context of your character’s situation. If the theme is “change,” I can’t play, “change.” I can only play how the character reacts to what the character is encountering.
I don’t worry about how my story parallels Don’s, or how my actions may inspire Don to talk about a projector. I can only worry about the here and now of a scene.
Know what I mean?
Bethesda, Md.: RE: Revealing plot point… are you required to sign non-disclosure agreements?
Rich Sommer: I’ve never signed anything, but my friends and family have had to sign when they visit the set.
That being said, my “non-disclosure agreement” is the fact that I want to keep my job. 🙂
Happiness: I forgot about Kosgrove. Good point!
Rich Sommer: That guy, right? He’s got it pretty easy.
N.Y., N.Y.: I’m scared for Pete! Please tell me he’s not going to get any crazier or do something drastic this season.
Rich Sommer: Pete. Good ol’ Pete.
Pete is Pete, that’s all I can say.
Maybe like, but mostly fear: Envy is the cross of those two
Rich Sommer: Is it?
I guess so. Maybe.
That might make some sense.
Minneapolis: It seems like a cast of very talented, smart, grounded folks. Are there any signs that egos are growing?
Rich Sommer: Not that I’ve seen. Jon Hamm remains one of the greatest guys in the world to work with, and one of the greatest to grab a beer with after work. The same can be said for the whole group.
I work with amazing people. They blow my mind every day I have the chance to be around them.
Michael Gladis and I went to play pool yesterday, and then decided, on a whim, to track down a Bingo game. We ended up at a hall in Canoga Park, Calif. It was awesome.
Wait — did I get off track there?
No. No egos.
Alexandria, Va.: Hi there. I have a deep affection for Harry — he seems like one of the few decent, normal people on the show (even with the one-night stand), and I think you’re wonderful in the role. My question: Did you see the “Carousel” spoof on SNL, and if so, what did you think? It must be pretty cool to have made it into that sketch.
Rich Sommer: That was incredible.
The guy who played me, Bobby Moynihan, is a friend from my improv days at the UCB in New York. I was there, in the audience.
Other than my wedding night, that was the best night of my life. Seeing a friend play me, in a sketch about the show I work on, hosted by a friend, with other friends guesting, in the audience for the first time… Mind. Blown.
Anonymous: Was the casting of Robert Morse as Bertram Cooper a stroke of genius (since he played Finch in the movie version of “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying”) or just a coincidence? How is he to work with?
Rich Sommer: Even if it was coincidence, it was a stroke of genius.
I love Robert. He is great fun to be around, and he’s always singing.
That guy knows a lot of songs.
St. Paul, Minn.: How excited are you for your sister-in-law’s wedding? Also, do you wish that the bridesmaid that you will be walking with were Jen?
Rich Sommer: I’m very excited.
And I cannot comment on the second part of that question, because I want it to be a fun night. 🙂
Ohio: I really like Elisabeth Moss and the way she has developed her character. I believe she has been nominated for an emmy? Is she pretty jazzed about it?
Rich Sommer: Elisabeth Moss is really, really good. Really good. I love watching her in the show, and I’m always excited to get to work with her.
She is nominated for an Emmy this year, and I think I can safely say that she is “jazzed.” I could not be happier for her. She is fantastic. She deserves it. And look at that category! She is in some pretty amazing company. So, so good.
Kalamazoo, Mich: Other than Harry, who is your favorite character? What actor would you most like to have a scene with on the show that you have not had a scene with?
Rich Sommer: I love Freddy Rumsen. That’s a guy I would love to have a scene with.
Beyond Freddy, I’ve had some great scenes with the guys I would most want to have one-on-ones with: Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Robert Morse, Bryan Batt, Vincent Kartheiser. It would be great to have some more one-on-ones with the boys, Aaron Staton and Michael Gladis. But I’ll take whatever they give me!
Basket of Kisses, NY: Fine. Be that way. Thanks for the shout-out.
Do you have any upcoming film or TV after “The Storm”?
Rich Sommer: Other than “The Storm” (whose thrilling conclusion is this Sunday night on NBC), it’s “Mad Men” all the way. I’ll have more time to work when we wrap in September, so I’m crossing my fingers.
Miami, Fla.: The Mad Men already seem a bit behind the cultural curve of the ’60s, perhaps because they are already in the work world. Will this season bring us more of the changes swirling around in the culture?
Rich Sommer: This season fully encompasses the time in which it is occurring.
(I can’t wait until the first episode airs, so we can actually talk about it!)
Uptown: Is there a better opening credits theme than “Mad Men”?
Rich Sommer: Not for my money.
It won an Emmy! I mean, come on!
San Bruno, Calif.: How do you prepare for your role in “Mad Men”?
Are there any specific books or movies of the era that you refer to?
Have you talked to the Mad Men of that era?
Rich Sommer: I skimmed the Mirror Makers (is that what it’s called?), and I finally watched “The Apartment.”
But, no, I didn’t do much research beyond specific things mentioned in the script. Like I said earlier, I think we’re at our best when we’re playing the characters in the context of their current scene, and worrying less about the times they’re in. Does that make sense?
Rialto, Calif.: Describe your time at Infinity Ward studios and can you describe “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” mp?
Rich Sommer: Last week, a few of the guys from the show visited the studio where they’ve been designing and programming the upcoming video game, Modern Warfare 2. I had the distinct pleasure of trying out the multiplayer game, which I was very excited about, since their first Modern Warfare game is one of my favorites.
I can’t say anything about it, since they’re as secretive as my boss is. I can tell you that they are an amazing group of people, and the game they are releasing changes the whole platform. It’s. Awesome.
Rixeyville, Va.: Rich, did anyone on the set of “Mad Men” start smoking as a result of filming those scenes?
Rich Sommer: No, no. Trust me: If you smoked those herbal cigarettes, you would not be inspired to take up smoking. Bleah.
Thanks, everyone! This was great. Can’t wait for you all to see the premiere — it’s GOOD.