Before speaking to Rich Sommer -- best known to the world as Harry Crane on "Mad Men" -- I was a bit concerned. Concerned because his role in the Tribeca Film Festival offering, "The Giant Mechanical Man," isn't a very big one, and we had a lot of time to fill. Fortunately, Sommer was in a talkative mood and the lack of topics to discuss was not a problem. In fact, things got so talkative, that, after our interview, Sommer had to call his publicist to warn her about some inflammatory remakes that he made about the New York Post (which, yes, you can read below).
In "The Giant Mechanical Man" (premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival on Monday night), Sommer plays Brian, the well meaning brother-in-law of Jenna Fischer's Janice -- a wide-eyed and innocent woman who can't seem to maintain steady employment, but becomes infatuated with a street performer who dresses like a mechanical man.
Here, Sommer discusses what he can and can't say about "Mad Men," explains what happened with his abrupt departure from "The Office," and reveals what happens if you accuse Harry Crane of being a racist.
It's very nice to meet you.
Mike, my wife just sent me two texts and I just want to make sure that my kids are still alive. Ah, it's the same text twice, "How are you holding up?"
So, my first question: How are you holding up?
[Laughs] I'm doing OK.
Your wife stole my first question.
You got scooped.
I never like following the journalist who was just in here. Last time, I think the director we were both interviewing liked her a lot better. At least, he really didn't like a question that I asked and it reminds me of that.
I've never complained about a question. Actually, I did complain once about a question that the New York Post asked, which was, "Did it bother you when you found out that your character was a racist on 'Mad Men'"? And I was like, "What are you talking about?" Did you watch the season premiere?
He said, "Well, your character was throwing the water balloons out of the window at the protesters." And I said, "I'm sorry. He wasn't."
That was a different agency.
Yeah, it was a different agency. And he was like, "Well, still, they're all racist." And I was like, "I am really confused by this line of questioning." Finally, during the interview, I stood up and got a cup of coffee. I sat down and I was a little sweaty. And the guy was such a prick. New York Post, fuck those guys! You run the headline of this. You can feel free. I have no interest in ever talking to them again. By the way, I still buy the New York Post when I need something to read on the train. It's cheap and I can't get Huffington Post, there's no signal. It was just awful. It was an awful interview.
Harry Crane sticks his foot in his mouth a lot, but I've never thought of him as racist.
Exactly. And he had seen that season premiere, but it was before it had aired. He says, "So your character switches offices." And I said, "Well, when is this piece running? On the day of the premiere? Then I can't answer that." And he was like, "Aw, come on." And I said, "What do you mean 'aw, come on,' there are people right over there that will get my ass fired if I answer that question. And, P.S., you're not supposed to be asking me that question." It was bonkersville. Anyway.
Matthew Weiner is quite notorious for not wanting any spoilers out there.
Exactly. It may seem like a simple thing, switching offices, but that was a big plot point for Harry. I remember somebody once asking me, "Does Harry still wear bow-ties?" This was between season three and four. The answer was, "no." But I said, "If you care about it, then I can't answer it. That means that it's something that's meaningful to you and, so, you have to wait. I'm sorry." Basically, if there's something worth answering a question about, I can't answer it. It seems simple, but Matt was like, "Oh, God, no, don't ever tell them that you're not wearing bow-ties anymore." And with my new glasses, we were shooting on location and there were a top of paparazzi and he told me, "Take off your glasses. Don't let them see your new glasses." It's detailed -- which I love.
I do think one of the reasons that the show is so popular is because of the secrecy.
Absolutely. Matt always says, "The secrecy is the currency of the show." And I totally agree.
And I think people think they want to know, but they don't want to know.
Absolutely not. I'm a fan of "Breaking Bad" and if somebody blew that for me, I would be really upset.
During the sixth season of "Lost," I did weekly interviews with the cast and -- during one -- an actor accidentally spoiled a big scene. Which turned out to be misdirection from the showrunners, anyway. But we decided not to spoil the scene.
Absolutely. Of course, that's the right decision. I imagine that you're in that position a lot. I'm sure there are times when you're like, "Should I really say that Rich Sommer said, 'Fuck the New York Post'?"
Oh, we're printing that.
[Laughs] "That one's going up!"
Oh, that one is definitely going up.
[Laughing] Oh, good. My publicist, ah, she's gotten mad at me before. This will be a new one. This will be good. She got mad at me when I was naked on the Internet at one point. This will be a whole new thing. But I imagine that sometimes there are ethics and morals, obviously. And there's common sense and being a good person. And there's your job. Which, obviously, you have to do ethically anyway. But you have to think, "Will it hurt this show or this person if I run this?" And it goes both ways sometimes. With that thing with "Lost," as a viewer, seven years invested in that show -- and even though it would have been wrong information, but let's say it was right -- if you had ran it, I would be bummed. To have had all of that buildup and then to have it sort of blown. You're in an interesting position with that kind of stuff, I would think.
I'm going to get in trouble if I don't mention "The Giant Mechanical Man." I've seen it twice now. I wish you were in it more, though.
[Laughs] Well, I'm happy to be in it at all. I wish that I was in everything more. But, no, no, I think I'm in it just enough. The story is about those guys. And you don't need a ton of Brian to tell that story. But I was glad to throw in the little bits that I could.
I'm glad that we can at least pretend that we got the resolution to the Jenna Fischer-Rich Sommer storyline from "The Office" in this film.
Exactly, it ends up where I'm her brother-in-law.
What did happen with that particular "Office" plot? It felt like something was going to happen between Pam and Alex, then it just ended.
I mean, look, I have never gotten full confirmation of this. I heard a rumor that it was an aborted storyline. That it was meant to go one way, but the audience reaction was so strong against me -- not necessarily as an actor ... well, probably. But I think that it was probably because the year before was the whole Rashida Jones-and-John Krasinski thing had happened. And, now, Pam and Jim were together. And, then, as soon as they're back together, they introduce this guy, who could fuck it up from the other side. And I think the audience was like, "Oh, boy, this again. No! We just want Jim and Pam together." I literally had a guy on an airplane -- I was holding my baby -- the first of those episodes had aired and I guy leaned into the aisle and said, "Hey," and he meant this, "don't fuck with Pam and Jim." And I was like, "That's a make-believe story and I'm a real person with a baby who you are threatening on an airplane. I just want to make sure we all understand the facts of this situation." So, I think that's what happened.
If you were allowed to choose your own perfect ending for Harry Crane, what would that be?
My own perfect ending for Harry. That's a really interesting question. I mean, I have so many answers floating around my head. Wow, that's a really tough question. Any answer that I'm actually thinking gives away some things, so I'm having trouble trying to navigate getting out of that. I mean, I'd love to see Harry be successful. I'd love to see, maybe, Harry unwedge his head firmly planted between his ass cheeks. I mean, that would be nice. Although! That would feel false if Harry did get his head out of his ass. As far as a button goes, I would love an ending moment of Harry where we say that he's going to be successful, but we know he's never going to change. Maybe that he says something cool, then he turns around and walks into the door and breaks his nose, or something. Something like that -- that would be nice.
I do wish Harry was in the room for the fight between Lane and Pete. I feel there would have been a good one-liner.
Absolutely. I couldn't dream of coming up with one that would fit into it. I love when Harry just pops up to comment on something. "My mother made that."
Or "Don and Dawn."
Oh, God, that was so fun.
[The publicist enters the room and announces that Sommer's next interview will be with a reporter from New York Magazine.]
Oh, I'm so happy it's not the New York Post.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter
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