'Mad Men' star Rich Sommer on the show
- TV Show
With Season 5 of Mad Men still months away from going into production, these are dark times for fans of the show. Rich Sommer, who plays good-guy-occasional-bonehead Harry Crane, SCDP&C’s reigning Head of Media, to the rescue! In a recent interview with EW, Sommer proved that he is as big a geek for the show as the most passionate of fans: He defends the honor of Betty, sings the praises of Pete and Trudy, and picks the one line of dialogue that best captures Don Draper’s brokenness. And he addresses his infamous tweet that got everyone riled up about the possibility of no Season 5 in the first place. “I have no idea if there will be a season 5 of MM,” Sommer tweeted back in November. “I am operating under the assumption that there won’t be, until I hear otherwise.” Oops. That didn’t go over very well with his bosses. Enjoy, Mad Men fans. Then dive deep into your DVD box set of Season 4. (And lest he inadvertently start another uproar, let’s just be clear up front that he’s kidding about Harry going to jail in Season 5.) Warning for those not all caught up with the show: SPOILERS follow.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Has enough time passed that you can laugh about your tweet that first got everyone fretting about Season 5?
RICH SOMMER: I thought it was sort of funny when it was happening, other than the fact that everyone was so mad at me. I still kind of feel like I didn’t really do anything. I would run a similar tweet before any time I have my name signed on anything ever. I have a family, an eight-month-old and a three-year-old.
Oof, let me quickly interrupt. Aren’t you just tired all of the time?
Constantly. Constantly! Which is why I say stupid stuff sometimes in interviews and on Twitter. But yeah, I have young’uns. So I am not only unwilling but unable to expect things to come to my way. I have to remain actively pursuant of other opportunities. I had to move forward with the possibility that the show was not going to come back. If I just expected it to come back then I think that’s how people become broke in this business.
Who got mad at you?
People around the show. They called me and basically said they were all the sudden getting all these phone calls saying “Did this actor just let loose that the show is over?” I think people were just looking at it as me starting s—. Basically the whole mess started because I would get questions constantly “When is season 5? When is season 5? When is season 5?” And I sort of had shrugged my shoulders one too many times and was like “Look, I don’t know. I promise you, you will hear the same day I will hear.” It was me trying to make a blanket statement in 140 characters which is apparently not always a good idea.
When news finally came this spring that there would indeed be a Season 5, how did you celebrate?
I was in Toronto shooting an episode of Nikita and was with another actor named Noah Bean. We had shot the whole day and I came back to my trailer and found a litany of texts and emails saying the show had been picked up so Noah and I went out raised a couple glasses. Then I went back to my hotel room at about 3 in the morning Toronto time, ordered room service and called Matt Weiner and celebrated with him over the phone.
We didn’t see a lot of Harry in Season 4. Were you nervous you were getting ready to be shoved overboard?
The first season mainly is where I was constantly biting my nails. When we first started, I used to talk with a couple of the actors on my level on the show about the business of the business. It was stuff like, for example, “I wonder which of us” — it’s really dumb, it’s actor talk — “I wonder which of us is going to get written off the show first.” And finally I said, “Listen guys, I can’t have this conversation anymore. I can’t talk about money, I can’t talk about what the network is doing, what choices people are making, casting decisions, any of the business stuff. I need to come in and say my lines and go home.”
Poor thing, you really are tired. What’s a favorite Season 4 moment of yours?
There’s a moment in episode “The Summer Man” where I am trying to to sell Joey…
Right? D bag. I’m trying to sell Joey on this soap opera and I got to smoke a cigarette while peeling and eating an orange. Which, yes, is truly disgusting, but it was a very fun moment for me to have on film. It wasn’t a great time to eat 900 oranges and smoke 900 cigarettes and have it all on my hands at once. But it was a really goofy moment for Harry.
What do you think of Harry’s evolution over the last four seasons. He remains a fairly good husband, at least compared to the rest of these guys.
I don’t know if he’s the perfect husband. Though yes your choices are limited. But of happily married couples….
Pete and Trudy!
I love them! God, talk about the evolution of a character. We wanted to kill that guy in Season 1. Wanted to kill him. And now he’s frankly lovable. He’s smarmy still, but he’s lovable. I love their relationship. I love that Pete went from zero to hero and I love Pete and Trudy together. I root for them! As far as Harry, he’s definitely evolved. He got on that TV thing and he became a VIP in the office. Which I know he always wanted to be, I just don’t know if he ever expected to get there. Those first three seasons, from 1960-1963ish, he’s biting his nails and nervous that the other shoe is going to drop. Now in Season 4 he’s the head of media and he knows that that’s an important job. With the calm of that came a sort of awareness of power and him sort of trying to swing it around a little bit.
Do the actors ever dare suggest to Matt Weiner or any of the other writers ideas for their storylines?
Personally, I keep my mouth shut. I like having a job. That writers’ room, they have more ideas than I could ever come up with. The only idea that I sort of once said to a couple of the writers was, “I don’t want a crew cut, but I think Harry should get a crew cut.” And they were like, “Oh yeah? Well…probably not.” And I was like, “Yeah, you’re right, you’re right. Definitely not.”
What was your favorite episode of the season?
“The Suitcase.” It’s my favorite episode of the series for sure. First of all, Jon [Hamm] and Lizzy [i.e. Elizabeth Moss], their performances are remarkable. That they weren’t just handed Emmys on the way out… I really, really believe that it’s their finest work. You see the characters going down to their darkest moments and you see Don Draper, we think over and over that we’ve seen this guy at the bottom of the barrel. He’s just been in a fight with Duck, he’s got puke on his collar, he’s clearly deeply and darkly intoxicated and he sits on the couch and says, “Get me another drink.” Will. You. Ever. Stop?! That moment for me is Don Draper distilled down to one line. “Get me another drink.” It was remarkable, and I think that the way they played the episode was fantastic.
How do friends on a cast celebrate performances like that?
After it aired, I sent Jon texts like “Holy s–, that was amazing.” I think Lizzy was here [with me], actually. Lizzy watched a lot of the season at our home. We have a little mini viewing party with Lizzy and often Michael Gladis who played Paul Kinsey on our show.
I know. I miss him too.
How surprised are the actors on the show by plot developments? In particular, was the finale with Don and Megan as much a surprise to you as it was me?
Well, the only insight we had into that was that Jessica Paré who plays Megan was around a lot more. But we didn’t know anything going in. We get the script the day before the table read, and we do the table read the day before we start shooting. I think Hamm might have a little more insight because he’s got a lot more stuff to play. Or, like, Lizzy knew in Season 1 that she was pregnant long before I did. We’re constantly like, “What’s going to happen?! What’s going to happen?!” We actors talk about the show like I imagine viewers do around the water cooler. We have a little more insight, but really not that much.
So what’s something you wrongly predicted in Season 4?
Let me think. [Pause] I thought Roger was going to be dead by the end of Season 4. That was the vibe I had. That was wrong. Oh, and here’s how dumb I am! We were at the table read for the finale and there’s that revelaton that Joan is pregnant.
You didn’t call that?!
Not only did I not call it, but we did the table read and afterwards Aaron Staton who plays Ken Cosgrove says, “Wow, Greg’s not that good at math.” Because they made some comment about how far along Joan was in her pregnancy. And I was like, “Huh, what do you mean?” And he goes, “What do you mean, what do I mean? Greg doesn’t get whose baby it is.” And I was like, “Whose baby is it?!” “It’s Roger’s, you dumb ass.” “Whoa!” Everyone looked at me like, Are you serious?
Betty’s got to be the most polarizing character on the show. Where do you stand on her?
Of course I find her endlessly infuriating, but I also love her. I guess I get why people are bothered by her, because she makes some pretty terrible decisions, but no worse than anyone else on the show.
Certainly no worse than Don.
And Don gets a pass. You can into the whole gender politics of the thing, but we let Don off because he’s a guy and we really are hard on Betty because she’s not. And I think that that’s dumb. Yeah she makes some poor decisions absolutely, and she’s not been the nicest mom in the world, but she is trying and she is also in a s—-y situation and has been from day one. I can’t imagine Don, I can’t imagine the show, without Betty.
Even now that she’s remarried?
More so! It creates a bigger conflict for Don now that Henry Francis is in the picture, who is awesome by the way. I love Henry Francis and I love seeing him with Betty and I love seeing a guy who is trying to make it work when we saw a guy for a long time who didn’t seem to care if it worked or not. And now we see a guy who’s actually trying to fix this situation and help this woman. He’s assertive with her but he’s not generally condescending like Don was. Don treated her like a child. Henry will tell her she’s acting like a child, but he won’t treat her like one, which I think is important.
How are you filling up these freed-up months before getting back to the show?
I was the killer in a CSI [episode]. My character strangled a hooker in a vacant lot. That was really fun. Then I shot an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm which will be on this summer. I played Jeff Garlin’s veterinarian, which was unbelievably fun. I shot two independent films, one with Jenna Fischer from The Office. Her husband Lee Kirk wrote and directed a movie called The Giant Mechanical Man. I went straight from there and shot another movie with Chris Messina called Fairhaven. Then I came back to LA and shot a short film that just premiered in tribeca called Mr. Stache which is available on YouTube now. Then I just got back from three weeks in Toronto where I did the two final episodes of Nikita.
Do you know when you go back to work on Mad Men?
I don’t. I know it’s this year. It’s probably later this summer. But you know the writers’ room only opened a few weeks ago and they have a whole season to write. Usually I get a little hint at my first costume fitting because the people there have read the script and it informs what I’m wearing. So that’s when I’m able to discern maybe what year it’s going to be even though they won’t tell me. Last year I showed up in a long tie instead of a bow tie which wasn’t necessarily about the year but that was something about my character. “Wait a minute, where are the bow ties? Hmmm, interesting.”
Any secret hopes for Harry in season 5? Besides that he stick around.
That’s really it. I hope he continues advancing in the business but not so much that he gets shipped off to L.A. permanently. But you know, if that’s what happens, that’s what happens. I’ve had an incredible run and I truly never expected to make it past the pilot. I will always take more screen time, but when you look at the scripts and when you look at what they’re doing with the main characters, it’s hard for me to argue with the decisions that get made. It’s not a show about Harry Crane. Harry Crane is there to sort of set the ball for people like Don and Peggy and Pete and those guys to spike. But who knows what’s going to happen? As far as the storyline goes Harry could come into the first episode of season 5 having murdered someone and go to prison for the rest of his life. [Laughs]
What a twist if you’re right!
Oh you have no idea, Season 5 is going to be explosive.
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