March 23, 2010

Podcast

Art of Manliness Podcast Episode #19: A Conversation with Mad Men’s Rich Sommer

Rich Sommer, center, as Harry Crane on television’s Mad Men.

Welcome back to the podcast! In this week’s episode we talk to actor Rich Sommer who plays ad man Harry Crane on AMC’s hit drama Mad Men. We discuss Mad Men’s take on mid-century American masculinity, how starring in the show has influenced Rich’s perception of manliness, lessons we can take from the show on how not to be a man, and of course, we talk the dapper style of the men at Sterling Cooper. Thanks for taking part in the podcast, Rich.

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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another episode of the Art of Manliness Podcast. Now AMC’s hit series Mad Men follows the lives of men working as high powered advertising executives in early 1960s in America. While the men of Mad Men dressed sharp and exude manly confidence, their characters are often marred by marital infidelity, sexism, homophobia and racism. Through the show viewers can get a glimpse at American masculinity before the radical social changes of the 1960s and see how men at the time dealt with these coming changes.

Our guest today stars in AMC’s Mad Men, his name is Rich Sommer and he plays Admin Herald Crane. And Rich lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. Rich, welcome to the show.

Rich Sommer: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Brett McKay: Rich, before we start talking about your work on Mad Men, tell us a little bit how you got involved in acting and like how you started and how long you’ve been doing it?

Rich Sommer: I mean I found it the way I think a lot of people sort of stumble upon which is taking a class in junior high. And I’ve done a couple of little school plays and church plays and when I was a kid, but this was the first time that I kind of actually started looking at it as something – a way to spend my time. So yeah, I stayed involved through high school and when I went to college I majored in theatre. And I took a year off and after that I went to grad school for acting and got my masters in acting then went off to New York and sort of tried to give it a go and it’s working in a small way so far. So we will see how far I can run it.

Brett McKay: Fantastic. And how did you get involved with Mad Men?

Rich Sommer: It was just an audition. It was at the end of a particularly terrible pilot season. In that I had had a terrible pilot season, I didn’t get a single call back. I was really feeling – I think every actor and probably anyone who are in any job in the world goes up and down on whether they want to continue pursuing this thing that they love and I was at definitely a valley moment of wondering if I could really even continue with this. And Mad Men came up and I did the audition and they went okay and I had the call back and that was well and here we are.

Brett McKay: So for those who haven’t seen the show and even thought who have seen some of it, can you tell us a little bit about your character, Harry Crane on Mad Men?

Rich Sommer: Sure. He started in the beginning of the series as a media buyer, one of the guys who basically has probably came to us, he was covering sort of where their media was going. He would put it on a billboard or in a magazine or in the newspaper or in TV and not on TV as much, on the radio. And as TV has become more sort of strong as a media outlet in the 60s, Harry has the idea of pitching a TV department for their ad agency Sterling Cooper. The idea is accepted and he becomes the Head of the Television Department. And as the series goes on you see that the TV department becomes bigger and bigger – obviously, I mean historically it goes a bigger and bigger medium and Harry’s job sort of becomes bigger and bigger with it.

Brett McKay: And what about his personal life? I know the show kind of highlights some of that too.

Rich Sommer: Yeah. Well Harry is married to Jennifer and they have a daughter named Beatrice. They – before they have their daughter in the first season Harry cheated on his wife, he had a small moment of infidelity while they were getting in the – not small moment, a moment of infidelity while they were getting the returns on the Nixon-Kennedy vote, they had a big party at Sterling Cooper and Harry got a little drunk and made some bad decisions. As far as we know since that moment he stayed true although he doesn’t seem like necessarily the happiest guy in the world in that marriage.

Brett McKay: And it seems like – and to that end it seems like Harry is somewhat different than some of the other characters on Man Men as – say like Don Draper where just constant marital infidelity and constant flings. Harry – you had that moment, but it seems like Harry kind of stays true to his wife. Is that…

Rich Sommer: Yeah. I mean it seems to me – I remember in the first season people would approach me on the street and say things like I’m so glad that we have Harry Crane. We need one good guy on the show and of course as they were approaching me I had already – we’ve finished shooting the first season and I knew they were going to be surely disappointed in the next few weeks. But yeah, I mean he is a guy who obviously made an error, but obviously is trying to sort of be a good guy and that’s hard. I mean I think it’s something I talked too on the past, but for Harry there is a big difference between being a man and being a good guy and being one of the guys. And I think that he tries to toe that line as much as he can or at least he did in the first couple of seasons especially, sort of seems struggling in the third season. But he is trying to keep a distinction between – he draws a line how far he is willing to go socializing before it’s sort of stepping on what he pictures as a good guy I think.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I’ve noticed that. It seems like he has no problem kind of cracking the jokes with the guys, but yeah, he doesn’t go as far as actually acting on some of the things that the men talk about and joke about.

Rich Sommer: Yeah.

Brett McKay: Rich, what does manliness mean to you personally and has starring in Mad Men influenced your perception of manliness at all?

Rich Sommer: Yeah. I mean for me in manliness, I in college the first time I heard the term manliness it was probably not in the best way I – or at least sort of commercially heard it. There is a book called the Big Damn Book of Sheer Manliness which one of my college roommates had. It was sort of – I think it was sort of tongue and cheek, but it sort of bothered me that book, because it suggested that manliness meant beer and movies with fighting and conquering every woman in sight. And it sort of set this like tone that I didn’t really get. And so as time has gone on it seems like that tone has been sort of reclaimed by people who don’t necessarily think that that’s the way of being a man is happens.

Brett McKay: Yeah, exactly.

Rich Sommer: I mean for me I think it’s just about being honest and being true to your family, being loyal to your family and sort of – I don’t know. That really – that stuff doesn’t – that can be part of it certainly, but it’s less about sort of an image you want to portray and sort of just living a life of assertive. It’s hard to answer that question. I don’t want to say like virtue or morality. I’m not talking about it from like a – those are things that are sort of almost quasi-religious. I’m not talking about that at all; I’m talking about just being a good person and not letting the sort of entourage idea of what being a dude is control your choices.

Brett McKay: So more substance less style?

Rich Sommer: Certainly, yeah, absolutely. I mean there is some style.

Brett McKay: Yeah, definitely.

Rich Sommer: But yes, more so some style.

Brett McKay: And has Mad Men kind of given you any insights about manliness or changed it in anyway?

Rich Sommer: Yeah. I mean what’s interesting is that our show is now sort of – a lot of people talk to me about how our show – it depends on what angle you’re coming from. Shows like What Being a Man Is or Was. A lot of people come up to me, young man, say oh man, they all think it was so great like you could smoke and drink at the workplace. You could say whatever you wanted to woman. And I never know how to respond, because it’s always like I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing, a lot of what you’re talking about.

I had been on – there is this guy named Mancow who does a radio show and I was on Mancow’s show once he said all that stuff, about how man was great. Man, I wish we could do that stuff and I said yeah, but it was also like a horrifically racist time, horrifically gender biased time. And he is like oh that’s not – you know that’s not what I’m talking about, that’s it and of course backpedaling. I mean that’s the thing people don’t take into account, but it may look fun to smoke and drink at work, but also I don’t have any idea how any one got anything done.

And so yeah, and then as far as like the stories go, yeah, it’s shown me – I mean for me and hopefully for every viewer that this stoic man, especially speaking of Don Draper, this is not what we necessarily should be aspiring to. And I think that at first and it was sort of like Tony Soprano like you would kind of route for him and maybe you are still – maybe we should still be routing for him as for entertainment value. But he is a pretty dark and fairly despicable guy and it’s – I think there are lot more lessons in what not to do than what to do from Don Draper.

Brett McKay: So one of the things that Mad Men gets praised about is its style and there is some killer style on Mad Men. Has your wardrobe of the show – on the show had influenced – has it influenced the way you dress in daily life or do you get to keeping the wardrobe that you had to wear as Harry Crane?

Rich Sommer: I don’t get to keep any of the wardrobe. I say no, I wish I did. But the nice thing is that there are places that have sort of – I mean to answer the first question and the second question sort of yes, I – it has influenced how I dress in real life. It depends on sort of the event, but I’ve definitely started paying more attention. I got right when the show started I bought a couple of books. This one – one that’s kind of the bible of men’s fashion, I think Dressing the Man.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that’s a good one.

Rich Sommer: That’s really good and then another was Gentleman: A Timeless Fashion, those are both like pretty good basic bare bone like here is how to mix patterns and here is what to wear. And that’s good, because it was like for our first party that we had I didn’t own a suit for our first party and so my only time going to the Friars Club here in Los Angeles before it was dismantled and there is no longer the Friars Club was wearing a suit that I bought at Men’s Warehouse that week and like hastily put together to try and like – it’s trying to approximate what I thought I was suppose to wear and it was a horrible disaster. The pictures from that party I am embarrassed until this day, it just didn’t work.

And so I had our costume designer Janie Bryant is – has always been really super generous with all of us in trying to kind of help us outside of the show get a sort of approximation of the look that we have on the show, just really – it’s been great. Now I have kind of a closet full of suits and people help – are willing to help us kind of maintain the look of the show, because it’s important to Janie and important to the show as much as it is to us to sort of hold up on the outside.

Brett McKay: Yeah. So Rich, why do you think Mad Men is so popular among young people? I mean you get on Facebook or Twitter and like as soon as an episode is over people are facebooking it and saying oh well, this was amazing and its all young people, like people in their 20s and 30s. And I was seeing young men dressing like Don Draper, they’re doing their hair like Mad Men with the part on the side using Brylcreem, drinking scotch. I mean what cultural nerve do you think the show struck?

Rich Sommer: I’m not sure. I mean it’s frankly kind of weird to me. It’s weird that the show has become sort of pop culture. I like it. I like that it has – we’re all kind of excited about it, I mean it’s interesting. But I don’t know, I’m nervous always that part of the thing that is striking is that when people are dressing that way the part of it is because of the excess on the show and the sort of the lifestyle of the smoking and the drinking in the whole, the whole thing and that it all fits a sort of look that they are going for.

But beyond that I think that on the good side of the coin, I hope it is just sort of reminding people that simple classic fashion is – has not gone anywhere. I think that we need that reminder every 10 years or so that as whatever new big fat comes through, people eventually remember oh yeah there is also this thing that we can always go back to that will always look good. That you still can be an individual in it, you can still make choices in it. But with these sort of simple rules, it works. I don’t know, it’s always strange to me. I didn’t – I certainly – I mean I have to say when I watched Sopranos; I certainly drank more red wine and ate more spaghetti. So I understand it, but it’s – I don’t know what that is about our culture, we kind of choose to identify with it through our activities. I mean I got it I mean that’s a very strange cultural thing we do.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I think we talked about this a little bit, I touched on a little bit, but what are some lessons about manliness, both positive and negative that people can take away from Mad Men?

Rich Sommer: Well I think it’s pretty clear that infidelity is not really going to get you too far as far as maintaining a happy marriage. That seems like a clear lesson. I think that there is an idea of loyalty, but there is also a need to sort of watch out for yourself as well. I’m not saying selfishness, I’m saying sort of self-preservation is something that – if you need to do something to protect yourself and your family and it means being “just loyal” to someone that you work for or work with, sometimes it have to be done. I’m not necessarily sure of what specific example I can give you from the show, but I feel like that’s sort of a theme that happens, that sort of loyalty to – just loyalty overall I think is a theme in the show. And honestly be honest.

It’s a hard question, because it is a show that I think does kind of show you a lot of things about what being a man was at the time. I’m not entirely sure they’re all positive – in fact I’m sure that they’re not all positive lessons on that stuff. And it’s not necessarily – I shouldn’t say it’s showing you what being a man was at the time, I think it’s showing you what being considered a man was at the time. And now we have a different notion of what being considered a man is, but just like with fashion there are still be sort of simple base rules that as long as you’re following those you should be okay, courtesy and honesty and things like that. I think that’s being a man is the same now as what was then. It’s just sort of with a different hair product or whatever. That is my bumper sticker for you.

Brett McKay: So last question Rich. What’s one piece of advice that you would give to men?

Rich Sommer: I would say be honest and educate yourself. I guess that’s – and by educate yourself I don’t necessarily mean schooling, I mean I do mean schooling, but I also mean educate yourself on what came before you and what lessons history has to teach about your legacy and how you interact with the people around you. I think that that’s all. And so a subset of educate yourself for me is be honest, because my history – my personal history or the things around me, that’s kind of my number one ticket I think is trying to remain to myself and to the people around me and I think that that helps me lead a better life.

Brett McKay: Well Rich, thank you for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure.

Rich Sommer: Absolutely, thank you.

Brett McKay: Our guest today was Rich Sommer. Rich stars in AMC’s hit drama Mad Men as Admin Harry Crane. And you can check Rich in action on Sunday nights on AMC’s on core edition of Season 3. Check local listings for airtimes. That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. And until next week stay manly.


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