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Mad Men is finished until next summer, and fans of the show are eager to find out what’s going to happen after the big events of the season finale. (Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the episode yet… The season ends with Don Draper leading a core group of co-workers from the Sterling Cooper ad agency on an exodus to start a new company. Also, he grants his wife a divorce, after some fairly heavy, borderline-abusive moments.) Among those who are eager to learn what Mad Men’s fourth season has in store: the cast of the show, who won’t know whether they still have jobs until next year at the earliest. The morning after the finale, The A.V. Club spoke with one of those cast members—Rich Sommer, who plays Harry Crane—about his character’s future, his appreciation for the show, and how he’s handling his still-fledgling career.
The A.V. Club: Did you watch the finale?
Rich Sommer: I did, last night with everybody else. We don’t get screeners or anything, so it was… yeah, it was something.
AVC: How is it different to watch a Mad Men episode vs. reading the script, or performing in it?
RS: It’s really kind of hard to explain. I already knew everything, story-wise. I mean, I knew the structure of what was happening, but when you see, for example, Jon [Hamm] and January [Jones] doing that fight scene when he comes in and says, “Who the hell is Henry Francis?” On paper, it just doesn’t take on the color that it does when you’ve got a baby crying in the background, and the room is in shadows, and you see Don lift Betty out of the bed and set her on her feet. I don’t know, there’s just something that’s really… for anyone watching it, I imagine it’s emotionally charged, and for me, the only difference really is that I know what’s coming. But I don’t know how it’s coming. So that’s always sort of a shock. It’s a billion times more fun watching it than reading it. I love reading it, but watching it is a unique experience.
AVC: Do you watch it as “That’s Don and Betty,” or do you watch it as “That’s Jon and January”?
RS: At the end of every scene, I take an instant little meta-step back. I’m very good at getting immersed in the scenes—even the ones I’m in—but every time we transition to a new scene, there’s sort of a moment where I stop and go “Goddamn, Jon Hamm is a good actor.” [Laughs.] Or January… or everybody in last night’s episode. I’m still reeling a bit. It was a mere 12 hours ago that I watched it, and it was just… [Sighs.] Our writers are really good.
AVC: After a season that was often intensely depressing, with a lot of concern for the future of these characters, the last thing most Mad Men fans would’ve expected was an episode that was so exciting, funny, and thrilling.
RS: Yeah, I saw someone online say it was like a heist movie. Draper’s 11. And totally… It was really fun. I mean, other than the divorce stuff, which… my parents are divorced, and that hit home hard. That was really hard to watch. But yeah, all the office stuff… I was just talking to my father-in-law about it, and he mentioned the genuine pleasure on everyone’s face in that hotel room when Don comes back out and says, “Hello Lane, how was your morning?” “Very productive.” And everyone’s got a smirk on their face. These guys are just happy to be there. And there’s a moment that’s a sigh of relief, kind of. And I really… [Laughs.] I’m sorry, it was a really good episode.
AVC: Let’s talk about your scenes, particularly the big moment where you’re called into the office over the weekend and you don’t know what’s going on. When you’re playing that scene, what did you think was going through Harry Crane’s head? Was he feeling shocked, intimidated, flattered…?
RS: Yeah, I think all of those things. He’s scared, just like he always is. He’s always scared to make a decision. I loved that line, “I really should call my wife.” I think that if Harry Crane had a T-shirt, that would be his T-shirt logo. I really loved the little twists and turns that he got to take even in just those few lines from, “Hey, we’re here just hanging out! Wait, we’re not just hanging out. Oh God, oh God, my world is crumbling.” And then to just be like, “Well, I’m in. So here I go.” I think he was flattered that he was going to be the head of the new media department—not just TV, media—which he had essentially been offered once before, until the lawnmower cut off the guy’s foot. So I think it was all of those things, wrapped up with a very quick threat from Bert Cooper. And decisions were made.
AVC: Since last season, it’s almost seemed as though Harry Crane was, almost by accident, going to wind up being the most powerful person at Sterling Cooper, because he’d created this department that was bound to grow in significance to the company. Now that Sterling Cooper is not what it used to be, do you think Harry’s still got a chance to be as successful as he might’ve been?
RS: I don’t know. I mean, historically, obviously, TV became kind of a big deal, and he was there in the beginning. And I think that he can’t help but sort of ascend in status. And I don’t think that that really changes going from Sterling Cooper to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. I think it’s going to be—I mean, I hope for Harry, I don’t know—but it seems like it should be a similar trajectory, wherever he is. Whether he’s going to at some point screw it up, or whether it’s going to be his path to stardom, I think it’s fated either way. He’s probably going to go the same direction.
AVC: How much research do you do on the era?
RS: I don’t do much. And I don’t feel like I really need to. The writing is so strong, and the writers do so much research for us, that for me, I’m lucky enough to be able to go in and put on the funny clothes and pretty much just interact with the people on a very human-to-human basis. So we don’t really have much to do to act the period, or I don’t really have to do a lot of research about what guys were really like, because that’s all laid out there for us by the writers.
AVC: No one knows what Matt Weiner’s going to do next season—probably including him—but as an actor, do you have sort of a similar feeling as Harry? Excited to know that you’re going to be on the team going into the next season?
RS: Yeah, we always say how much these characters mirror our lives, and there was a lot of tension as we were approaching the finale. We’d all heard rumors, just like on the show, that Sterling Cooper was being sold, and we as actors didn’t know what that meant for us. I can honestly say, I don’t know what’s going to happen next year. I’m grateful that for the time being, it looks like Harry did something right enough to be a part of whatever’s coming.
AVC: But poor Ken and Paul! Do Aaron Staton and Michael Gladis know whether they’re going to be around next year?
RS: To be honest, no one knows. I only know that they don’t know. I know that I don’t know. None of us have gotten that magic phone call yet that says we’re picked up for next season. So until that happens, none of us knows anything. There could be something horrible that happens to Harry Crane between seasons. I hope it’s unlikely, but it could happen. So none of us are really counting our chickens yet, but hopefully nobody’s really playing taps yet either. I mean, we don’t really know what’s to come.
AVC: This weekend you also appeared in your second Law & Order.
RS: Yes, that’s right.
AVC: But not playing the same character.
RS: [Laughs.] No… well, I guess they were both sort of in science. My other character was like a cloning researcher or something, and I had one scene where I was like, “Yeah, I saw the guy.” One of those.
AVC: And then the scientist went into pharmaceutical sales and got arrested for drugging a co-worker and accidentally killing a van full of kids.
RS: [Laughs.] Right, right.
AVC: One connection between your latest Law & Order character and Harry Crane—particularly the Harry Crane of season one—is that you had to play someone who has a secret. As an actor, when you first appear in a scene and you know something that others don’t know, do you consciously carry that with you into the performance?
RS: That’s an interesting question, because I’m so used to Mad Men foiling me by not telling me anything. Matt is adamant that we don’t know anything about the upcoming season until we’re shooting it. And so if Harry Crane has secrets, I don’t know what those secrets are until the audience does, really. Relatively speaking. It was different on Law & Order, because I knew, obviously, what was in the script. In fact, my first appearance in that Law & Order, where I still have a secret, was the last scene I shot. So it was weird, because I think I almost tipped my hand too much the first couple of takes, sort of seeming more nervous than I needed to. And Mario Van Peebles, the director, said, “This guy’s positive he’s not going to get caught, he has nothing to be nervous about.” It’s hard for me to remember what I was told in acting school, that generally if you have a secret, you’ve got to play it like you don’t. I’m a shitty liar in real life, so that’s hard for me to do. [Laughs.]
AVC: In that Law & Order, you end up with a ballpoint pen stuck in your neck, and on Mad Men this season, you ended up covered in foot-gore. Did you expect that you were going to be leading the life of a horror-movie actor this year?
RS: [Laughs.] I didn’t. It’s kind of been a banner year for that for me. I have to say, when I was a kid, I used to make haunted houses every Halloween, and immersed myself in blood and gore, so it was very exciting for a guy like me, who’s never probably not going to be doing a lot of action movies. It was a very fun summer because of that.
AVC: Your character on Law & Order is also sort of a similar in appearance to Harry Crane, but when you’ve appeared “as yourself” in other contexts, like on The Soup or at the Emmys, you look different. Do you ever intentionally attempt to distance yourself from the look of Harry Crane?
RS: No, it’s mostly just how I normally look. I think that the biggest difference is my hair being forward or back. That really changes almost everything. That, and in my real life, I tend to try not to accentuate my weight, whereas on the show, Janie Bryant, God love her, our masterful costume designer, loooves to put a big ol’ highlight marker right on my belly. So it has to do with those two things, mostly. But those glasses that Harry Crane wears—when I was in high school, I saw the movie JFK. And I thought Kevin Costner looked really cool in his horn-rimmed glasses, so for my last two years of high school, I had the exact glasses that I wear on the show. It’s kind of strange to go back and look at my high-school photos. I have kind of long hair and I shaved part of my head, but I still had those glasses. That look has been a part of my life for a long time.
AVC: When did you move out from the Midwest to L.A.?
RS: I went from Minnesota to Cleveland for grad school in 2001. I was there for three years and I met the woman who would become my wife there, and she and I moved to New York from grad school in 2004. We lived in New York for three years, and I was cast in Mad Men, and we shot the pilot in New York. And then about 8 months later, they moved us to L.A. So I’ve been out in L.A. now going on… it’ll be three years in May.
AVC: When you moved to New York, did you have gigs lined up already, or were you just out there trying to make it?
RS: I was out there doing the thing. The only gig I had lined up was, our grad school helped us with a showcase for agents and managers. And I was very fortunate after my showcase to be called in by the guy who’d become my manager, and we hit it off famously. They have a very small client roster, so we were able to work pretty intensely together, and they just sort of held my hand through the whole thing. Everything that’s happened is because of them.
AVC: Like a lot of actors these days, you’re on Twitter, and you’ve done some blogging in the past too. Is that mostly for fun, or do you see that now as part of your job as an actor, to do those extracurricular things for public-relations purposes?
RS: It’s a little bit of both. I did the blogging before I was a recognized actor. And I always enjoyed it as a way to communicate with people in a big way, quickly. But the blogging got kind of strange, because there was a weird incident where someone was using the information on the blog in an inappropriate way, so I stopped using the blog. I post far less personal information on Twitter, but it’s still a way to interact. And as far as it being a part of business, of course. I mean, a large part of my business is PR and public awareness, and I think that that is made much easier by things like Twitter. But I also don’t… I mean, I plug things that I’m doing on Twitter, but I also don’t look at Twitter or the people who follow me on Twitter as “followers,” where they actually give a shit about what I have to say. It’s mostly just a place to put some weird thought that you have, and to kill an hour skimming through what everyone else you like is saying.
AVC: Where do you see your career going, long-term?
RS: I don’t know. I mean, I just want it to keep going. I don’t have any sort of plan in place, especially for post-Mad Men. At some point, the show will end, or I will end on it, and after that, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope to be able to parlay it into something. I love doing TV. Some people don’t like doing TV, but I love it. I love the consistency, in all ways. Having a job for an extended amount of time, and working with the same people now for three years. It’s a very home-like environment. I crave stability, and stability is nigh impossible in this business. So I love TV, I’d be happy to keep doing TV. Of course I’d love to do everything. I’d love to do more movies, I’d love to get back onstage, but that stuff is all kind of out of my hands. We’ll see what happens.