As Harry Crane, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s head of media, actor Rich Sommer had us roaring with laughter following his botched attempt at signing the Rolling Stones for a Heinz commercial earlier this season on Mad Men. While we wait to find out what’s in store for the hapless advertising exec, Sommer will be spending the next few months in New York playing an orderly tending to Jim Parsons’ invisible-rabbit-friendly character Elwood P. Dowd in the upcoming Broadway revival of Harvey. We caught up with Sommer the day after he relocated his family to the East Coast – “It’s been a little bonkers!” he said of the trip – just in time for him to start rehearsals.
Are you making your Broadway debut in Harvey?
Yes. It’s simultaneously incredibly exciting and incredibly terrifying. I haven’t been in a play since grad school, so it’s been about eight years. I can’t believe that I’m finally going to be back onstage and I especially can’t believe that it’s on a Broadway stage.
Have you seen the James Stewart movie version?
I’ve actually seen it a number of times. In college, my friend Melanie and I used to have weekly Jimmy Stewart viewings, and Harvey seemed to make its way into the rotation an inordinate amount of times. But I’m excited to see someone else perform the role after seeing Jimmy Stewart do it for so long and obviously do such a lovely interpretation of it. I look forward to seeing what Jim does with it.
Time to talk about Mad Men! Harry has definitely been dressing much snappier these days. He even got to wear one of the loud, plaid jackets that have been spotted on Pete, Don and new hire Michael Ginsberg in recent episodes. So are you enjoying your costume fittings more?
Oh, I loved my fittings this year. Janie Bryant (Mad Men‘s costume designer) is a genius. The only thing I ever hated about Harry’s costumes – I didn’t mind the bow tie – was I just hate three-button suits. Nothing makes me feel more square than a three-button suit. And I know Harry’s supposed to be a little square, or was at the time, but my God, I’m glad I get to be mostly rid of those.
Some of your best scenes so far this season were in the episode where Harry and Don go to a Rolling Stones concert. That was also the first episode that Jon Hamm directed. So was it more difficult doing those scenes with him, because he was pulling double duty, or was it easier?
It was easier. I mean, that scene with me and Jon in the car after I’ve eaten all the White Castles was not only one of my favorite scenes of the season, but certainly of the entire series. It was so much fun and with Jon directing from within it, it made it simpler because he was such a good director. He’s been directed by a lot more people than I have and I think over the years he’s just developed a language which makes communicating with the actors that much easier. I can truly say that [Hamm and John Slattery] are two of my favorite directors that we’ve ever had.
Your character is more of a comic relief, while most of the others are straight men/women. I really can’t imagine someone like Pete or Roger downing 20 White Castle sliders. Is that a challenge for you, or does it make going to work more fun?
Oh, it certainly makes it more fun. First off, I could see Roger eating the White Castle. I think Slattery has some of the best lines that I’ve ever seen on a TV show. But I am very fortunate that Matt [Weiner, series creator] and the writers often let me lob out funny moments. I came up doing improv at Upright Citizens Brigade, so getting a chance to be funny on a show that’s known for being pretty dark and dramatic is definitely one of the highlights for me.
Since we never actually see Harry doing business in California, what are the odds that the stories he tells about celebrities, like Charlton Heston getting naked, are blatant lies just to impress people?
I think that’s totally a possibility. Based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s no actual evidence he’s ever made it out there.
He’s sported a tan, so I believe he’s been out there…
Oh, yeah, he’s been out there. What I think is 100 percent certain is that he’s embellished a little bit. There’s no way he’s batting quite as well as he says he is.
I only wonder that because if he’s so in tune with celebrities, how did he not know that those guys in the dressing room were not the Rolling Stones?
[laughs] Oh, you couldn’t be more right. That’s totally, totally accurate.
We’ve had plenty of inklings that Harry’s not too happy this season: He didn’t bring his wife to Don’s surprise party and he avoided going home after the Stones concert. What is your take on Harry‘s personal life?
There’s no doubt he’s unhappily married. He’s gotten a lot more freedom in his job, a lot more status. And it seems like things have just gone the opposite direction at home, which I’m sure would be frustrating for someone. I was talking at a panel recently about Harry being a bit of a douchebag, just sort of testing his power with women, seeing how far he could go, and Matt [Weiner] jumped in to say he’s not necessarily a douchebag, just not happily married. And that informs a lot of his decisions.
Much of the office drama this season revolves around Pete and Roger, with Roger losing his footing at the agency and Pete bringing in a lot of new business. Harry is closer in age to Pete, but Roger has also given him a large sum of money in exchange for switching offices with Pete. So do you think Harry is more Team Pete or Team Roger?
Ooh, that’s a good question. Frankly, Harry is Team Harry. I don’t think that he would ally with anyone that wasn’t going to help him. It was established early on in the series that he and Pete have a sort of extracurricular friendship. Pete, as soon as he came back from his honeymoon in Season One, was asking Harry for relationship advice. So I think as far as friend-wise goes, it’s definitely going to be Pete. As far as people who can help him up the ladder, more likely it’s going to be Roger. But Pete, like you said, is bringing in a lot of business, so Harry clearly can’t afford to piss anyone off.
Harvey begins previews May 18th at Studio 54 and runs through August 5th.