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Rich Sommer, who plays Harry Crane on Mad Men, spoke with AMCtv.com about his most embarrassing moment on the show and who he turns to for Yiddish translations.
Q: Harry tells Peggy that she’s gone through a major client presentation with lipstick on her teeth. What’s your most embarrassing work story?
A: I have embarrassing moments where I can’t get something right, I’m clearly not making them happy, but that’s like actual real life horror….Well, I used to wear contacts in the show and have non-prescription lenses in [Harry's] glasses. And sometimes between takes, ’cause they’re not always the most comfortable things in the world, I would take off my glasses. And then before the scene started I would put them back on. Or if I didn’t want to wear my contacts I would bring in my street glasses and I would switch with my “Harry glasses” and just do [the scene] blind. And there was one scene in particular we did two takes before I realized, and anyone realized, that I wasn’t wearing my glasses because I had contacts in and I had taken them off….And while that may not sound as scary to anyone else in the world, like “ok, he did two takes without his glasses,” those two takes… The amount of manpower it takes to do two takes of a scene, and the amount of money that goes into doing two takes of a scene… I was duly chastened.
Q: Speaking of Harry’s accessories, you character seems to be wearing fewer bowties this season…
A: He’s worn zero so far….I think that it’s all sort of part of his kind of embracing of Los Angeles. He’s a guy that ends up going there a lot for business and has clearly adopted some of what he perceives as to be the language and the sort of demeanor of Los Angeles.
Q: And he’s tossing around the Yiddish like a pro…
A: Well, I wouldn’t say he’s a pro [laughs]. He’s trying. He’s doing what he can.
Q: Did you know what any of the Yiddish words meant before you read the scripts?
A: Not before I read the scripts. After, when I would ask Matt Weiner or somebody else around set to tell me what the hell they meant.
Q: So Matt’s the translator?
A: Well he’s pretty much the translator for anything. Whether it’s a Yiddish word that he has me saying or something as simple as Harry smiles in a scene. He’s the guy I go to and say [whispers] “Why am I smiling in this scene?”… If there are eight people in a scene, [the writers] are writing a scene from eight different perspectives. They have to cover the reactions of each of those people — what one line they might say in the scene. To fill in the blanks there, it’s always interesting to have a conversation with Matt or one of the writers about what certain things might mean or how they intended them to be.
Q: Was the Christmas party in Episode 2 as fun as it looked to shoot?
A: That was awesome to shoot. Those party scenes are always fun cause there’s a million people there and you all kind of are forced to stay in a good mood, and I like those.
Q: In Episode 4, Pete basically calls Harry a blabbermouth. How are you at keeping secrets in real life?
A: Really good at keeping secrets in real life, actually. That’s one of my strongest suits. I’m also very surly when secrets aren’t kept by other people, you know what I mean? I’m a “trust” guy. Trust is an important thing.
Q: Harry stays friends with Ken partly because he’s an up-and-comer in the business. Do you apply that mentality to acting?
A: Sure, you have acquaintances in this business, and you have work friends, but I don’t spend a lot of time with people that I don’t want to be friends with. I put a lot of energy into those that I want to remain close with.
Q: Harry’s been traveling to LA a lot this season. Do you personally have a preference, New York or Los Angeles?
A: I love a lot of things about both places. Right now we’ve lived here about three and a half years and we lived in New York, my wife and I, for three years before that. I love New York, but there are certain things about LA that are attractive to us in our current state. We’ve got the kid and one on the way….We essentially live in the suburbs and we are very ok with that.
Editor’s note: Since this interview, Rich Sommer and his wife welcomed a baby boy, Patrick Ryan Sommer, to their family.