Rich Sommer is best known for playing Mad Men's Harry Crane, the geeky media buyer at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. But over the past year Sommer's been quite active on the indie-film circuit, with supporting roles in three critically acclaimed pictures: Lee Kirk's The Giant Mechanical Man, Rashida Jones' Celeste and Jesse Forever, and now Fairhaven. (In all of them, he managed to work alongside Chris Messina, a coincidence that, he jokes, "is in his contract.")
Fairhaven chronicles a few days in which the lives of three guys intertwine after Jon (Messina) returns home for his father's funeral. Sommer plays Sam, a high-school friend who's picking up the pieces after a divorce and trying to make ends meet as a real-estate agent and a father. DETAILS spoke with Sommer, 34, about his role in Fairhaven, Mad Men, style, board games, and fanboy-ing on the Curb Your Enthusiasm set.
DETAILS: In Fairhaven you play Sam, a real-estate agent, which is another role as a guy tied to a desk. Do you have real-world experience doing the office grind?
RICH SOMMER: I certainly do. For the three years I lived in New York leading up to moving out to Los Angeles for Mad Men, I was an office temp at Ernst & Young in Times Square. That's about as desk-jobby as it can get. There was a lot of "Go two floors up and make a copy of this and then bring it to me." I've been down the road.
DETAILS: Would you qualify that as your worst job ever?
RICH SOMMER: No, no, no. The worst job I ever had was as a telemarketer for, oh, I don't know, I think I made it about 90 minutes. I quit before lunch. I went in around 10:30 or 11 and said, "I can't do this." It was horrific. I had too many people yell at me within that 90 minutes to be able to continue.
DETAILS: One of your best lines in Fairhaven is toward the end, when Sam says, "I hate parts of being a dad, but I mostly love being a dad." As a father yourself, do you relate to that sentiment?
RICH SOMMER: I relate to it so much. A lot of the movie was actually ad-libbed. Tom [O'Brien, the director] had written a script, and we stuck to it story-wise, but dialogue-wise we went off on our own paths a lot. That conversation about being a dad was a conversation that Chris Messina and I had a number of times already. It was very much a reprisal of things that I'd said to him. It's entirely how I feel.
DETAILS: Your character also has a bit of trouble with premature ejaculation in a scene that involves just kissing. Is this an extreme case?
RICH SOMMER: I don't know...I can certainly...wow, how do you delicately answer that question? [Laughs] Sure, it's a little extreme for an adult, but the idea is that this is a guy who is very lonely and has been sad for a long time. It's partially sexual, but it's very emotional for him, that moment.
DETAILS: Another show you worked on, Curb Your Enthusiasm, is big on improv as well. Got a Larry David story?
RICH SOMMER: That's one of my favorite shows, and I was a mess when we were shooting it. I could barely keep it together. Larry David, the guy from my TV, is looking me in the eye and going, "Well...?" Just his little Larry-ism, and it was nigh impossible for me to get it together. I was sort of fanboy-ing all over it. It was two of my favorite days of working, ever. Their style is so specific and so unique. They have zero lines written at all, and you're left to come up with the entire body of the scene.
DETAILS: You've been involved with Mad Men since the beginning. Because it's such a specific look, do you have to keep a specific diet?
RICH SOMMER: No. Matt's direction to us in the beginning was "Don't diet, don't exercise. Be as natural as possible." Over time, I was ready to have some months of health in my life, so I asked if I could lose a little bit of weight. He said, "Oh, yeah," as if he never said the thing he had said to us four or five years ago. I was really scared about asking him, and then it was totally fine. So the answer is no. If you see me gaining or losing weight, it's generally because I have no willpower around food.
DETAILS: Does the same thing go for your costars as well?
RICH SOMMER: No actor on the show has a physique you might see on, I don't know, Gossip Girl or something. Nobody is chiseled. But look, Jon Hamm doesn't have to be Adonis, he's already the most handsome human being ever. It's hard for him to mess up what he's got. [Sighs] This is a tangent, but I play a lot of board games and bring games to the set, and he is innately good at every game. It is...
DETAILS: It pisses you off.
RICH SOMMER: It's disgusting.
DETAILS: Has the Mad Men sense of style seeped into your off-set look?
RICH SOMMER: A bit. In the beginning, I felt very intimidated. We had a standard to uphold in public. But over time people have been very generous to us, clothing-wise, and we've gotten advice from Janie Bryant, our costume designer. All of us have developed a sharper sense of style, not necessarily straight out of the sixties, but influenced by it.
DETAILS: Where do you shop these days?
RICH SOMMER: I'm a Joseph Abboud fan. I'm a Hugo Boss fan. I'm a Brooks Brothers fan. As far as suits go, those are my go-tos. I've only worn tuxedos from those three places for the last five years. They all fit me well, and they look good.
DETAILS: As a board-game expert, do you have any recommendations for games that one could host a party around?
RICH SOMMER: There's lots of those. One of the big hits lately for me and a couple of guys from the show is Telestrations. It's a printed version of a game called Telephone Pictionary or, and this won't make any sense unless you play it, some people call it Eat Poop, You Cat. It's a game where one person has a clue—a word. So if my word is trapeze, I draw a picture of a trapeze and give it to the next person. They look at the picture and write down the word they think the picture is, and the next person just gets the word and they draw a picture and over a round or two, it just devolves into madness. I highly recommend it.
DETAILS: What else do you have lined up for 2013?
RICH SOMMER: I'm hoping to do another play this year. That's my goal. With Fairhaven, Celeste and Jesse Forever, and The Giant Mechanical Man, I did all three of those in a row and they have now all come out by January. It's back to the pavement.
Fairhaven opens in theaters on January 11 and is available via Video on Demand on January 15.
—Mike Ayers (@themikeayers) is a New York City-based arts and entertainment writer.
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