I interviewed Rich back on October 10th, in order that we might discuss Wee Small Hours and have it posted right after it aired. It uhh–did not work out that way. Blogger interviewer FAIL.
But? Rich is such a delight, and we enjoy speaking with each other, and speaking about this show, so I think you’ll find it a good read. Blogger interviewer win!
We do a bit of hello and how are you and I tell him a bit about visiting the set and our experience meeting Hamm and then off we go.
Roberta Lipp: Honestly what our readers want to know first? How is Beatrice?
Beatrice is Rich’s daughter. He has a blog that he has mostly abandoned for Twitter, and his blog, among other things, kept us up to date on the wondrous young Beatrice.
Rich Sommer: She is very well. We’ve stopped posting pictures of her after a weird scare we had We felt a little intruded upon so we’ve limited the amount of information we put out there. But she’s walking and talking and dancing. She takes ballet classes. She’s having a good time.
I did whittle this portion of our talk down; we both agreed that details were unnecessary. And of course, what you also don’t get from a transcript is all my ˜aww’ type sounds that I just make around toddler and toddler talk.
Oh, and by the way? I never even mentioned in this entire conversation how cool it was that they named the Crane daughter Beatrice. But we’d emailed about it when My Old Kentucky Home first aired. He was pleased as punch, naturally.
So finally we discuss Wee Small Hours.
RL: Do you think that Harry thinks that he handled it? Watching that scene, [the phone call between Harry and Lee Garner Jr.] it seemed like, y’know you changed the subject, you did a good tap dance, and the guy is drunk.
RS: Yeah, Harry thinks he’s handled it. I think Harry says what he thought was going to happen which was that he thought it was going to go away. And can’t really understand what’s going on”he’s so uninvolved in the other side of it. So yeah I think he thinks he did the right thing by him. He made essentially an executive decision. It turns out it wasn’t the decision that they would have wanted him to make but what else was he supposed to do, really? I don’t think he would have had much of a different outcome either way. I think they still would have said, Why the hell is he calling you?
RS: And he still would have been in an uncomfortable position, where I think he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.
RL: He was just as victimized, just in a different way, as Sal was.
RS: Yeah, absolutely. He was just as unjustly cornered. Obviously not in a physical way but by a guy who is very powerful in this agency and expects things to be done his way whether it makes sense or not.
RL: Overall, how do you think Harry’s doing at work? Is he competent and good at this position, or is he in over his head?
RS: Well I think they’re all in over their heads in some way or another. Harry is doing a job that here-to-for has not existed at Sterling Cooper, so I think he’s doing what he can to stay ahead of the game, but that’s hard to do when there’s no template. And he certainly doesn’t have a template to follow in being the Head of the Television Department. And I think he’s the only person who has any insight into television in that office and that helps him, I suppose. At least they don’t have anyone to go to for the answers other than him, so if he doesn’t have the answer he has to find it.
RL: What do you mean you think everyone’s in over their head?
RS: This is still a relatively young”advertising’s been around for a bit at this time, but only what”fifty years? 40-50 years? Granted that means we’re only about a hundred years in this business now, but I think that every new medium changes the game. And I think that the game got changed by television, and part of why the show is so timely right now, even though it’s set in the 60s, is that the game is getting changed right now with new media and internet and electronic billboards and all these different things that those guys never would have dreamed of, but they were probably talking about this thing called television that the other guys never would have dreamed of. So they’re all trying to understand exactly how to approach the business. And I think advertising”I don’t know, I was gonna say it’s not like being an electrician, because you pretty much have your set thing when you’re an electrician you know what to fix but that is even different because there’s always new tools. In any industry, any medium, there are new tools and new techniques, they are always gonna change, it’s gonna make one person more effective than another for awhile until the other acquires the new tools. I don’t think they’re all in over their heads necessarily but I think they’re all trying to figure out what the next step to stay current, to stay relevant is.
RL: I guess I’m asking because I’m trying so hard to understand what’s going on with Don this season. Most scenes with the creatives, he’s kind of a dick (no pun).
RS: Yeah. Clearly he’s got other fish to fry. He’s got a baby at home and he’s got the fact that he’s got these dual personalities that he’s still trying to rock somehow. When he’s dealing with people like Roger Sterling and Lane Pryce and Bert Cooper, clearly starting to put a thumb on him, like when Cooper, in that fantastic scene at the end of Seven Twenty Three where he says, Who’s really signing it anyway, and that Don’s response is, I don’t want to have anything to do with Roger Sterling. This is a guy who’s kind of up against the wall everywhere he turns; things seem to be closing in on him a little bit. And you look back at season one, and this is a guy who when the walls are closing in
RL: runs away.
RS: Yeah he makes a break for it. And so I think we’re seeing the walls closing in.
RL: And literally in that scene, when he signs the contract. I gotta tell you this is definitely my favorite season.
RS: It’s mine too. Unquestionably. I do not know how they keep doing it, but it’s pretty relentless. I think the first season was a lot of drawing a picture and starting to color it in a little bit. And each season we’re getting finer and finer detailing on the picture, and it’s becoming multi-dimensional. Not to oversell it, but I think that the deeper they go into detail like that, the more rewarding an experience it is to watch an episode. That’s why you can’t–it still drives me crazy when I hear that people, Oh yeah I saw an episode of that, it was somewhere around the middle of the second season and I’m just like, oh, I’d rather you never ever watch the show than that you start anywhere but number one.
RL: Yeah. Anywhere but number one and I get crazy when I– if you are not glued to the television for this, you’re not gonna get it. I can hear it in how people tell me they’ve seen it. I’m like, you’re not watching it right. I want to give instructions.
RS: Right. Absolutely.
RL: Going back to the advertising thing, another difference from a trade like electrician is, it is so dimensional. You’re trying to figure out how the culture is receiving information and how they speak and hear and listen, and that keeps changing at an increasingly accelerated pace. I keep seeing stuff about it–it’s beyond the internet, it’s more blogging and interactivity. And nobody knows yet what to do with that. All those same guys, Grey and Ogilvy, they’re trying to figure it out again, now. It remains powerful and elusive–the line that made me shudder was They can have our lights shut off. That’s still true.
RS: It can take one client. I think probably that almost every agency has that one client that if they lost them, it would kill them, no matter what the scale of the agency is. That if they screwed this up, Bud Lite backs out. And if Budweiser walks; if Anheuser-Busch walks, we’re done, just so we’re clear, that if we’re pitching these three ideas, we’d better be committed to them, because if Anheuser-Busch walks (or whatever it is), we need them to know we’re serious.
RL: Basket of Kisses is now doing product placement, so I’ll be replacing that with some other beer.
RS: Okay great! I’m so glad you’re in the game too. We’ve really inspired you.
RL: By the way, I’m not gonna panic like I usually do has to be the greatest Harry line to date.
RS: Yeah, that’s more of the finer shading that rewards having been there from the beginning, when he’s there in his underwear and makes that phone call, to when he opens Ken Cosgrove’s paycheck, to now. Clearly the guy is trying to figure out how to be a man. I’ve said that from the first season, that he’s walking that line between being a man and being one of the guys. And it’s really been fun. I’ve never gotten to play a part over time like this, obviously, and I was used to doing plays where you do one character in the same place for an extended amount of time. But this is doing one character where I come back to the character and the character is changing and I love that. I love seeing Harry sort of picking that scab a little bit. There was that original cut about calling Jennifer about the infidelity and that scabbed over a little bit, and then picking it again about Ken Cosgrove and now he’s maybe trying to let it heal a little bit, scar over so he can understand exactly what to do. Of course you see that he didn’t call Jennifer and he gets into trouble so maybe he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.
RL: What do you think of Harry’s social/political position in the agency? It seems like he and Pete are not as tight as they’d been, at least they didn’t look that way in My Old Kentucky Home.
RS: I think that was less about Harry and Pete, and more about Jennifer and Trudy. Harry is doing what he can to be a member of the high status club at Sterling Cooper. And this is something Virginia, my wife, pointed out, that I thought was absolutely right, that Jennifer is doing what she can as well. But Harry only has work to do it with. He is not that great”I mean, he’s fine socially, but when it comes to those kinds of events, he’s not that well-suited for them. Whereas Jennifer feels she is well-suited and can help advance it. And there’s that fun little moment where he says I don’t want to go over there, all I have to talk about is work, which is verboten, and she says C’mon, they want to know you’re having a great time. And his grand interpretation of that is to walk up and say We’re really having a great time. Like he just doesn’t know how to make that switch. That’s all she has and I think that’s why she gets so frustrated when they get essentially elbowed off the dance floor, and Harry really does nothing to fight for it”Oh look, they’re dancing, and it drives her bonkers.
RL: The scene with you and Paul, and this might be a really dumb question. And maybe this is because I had just watched the Kevin Pollak thing [Rich and Michael Gladis enjoyed a two hour interview on Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show “episode 23.] And by the way how fun was that?!
RS: That was really fun. It was a lot cooler than I think we expected it to be. We knew it was going to be fun, but we also thought, Man this could feel long, and it probably, I’m guessing did fell long for anyone watching, but we had a ball.. This is a guy who he, and the people who work for that show; his fiancÃ©e Jaime especially, did a lot of research going into it, and there’s nothing like an interview”and I think I told you this last time we spoke”there’s nothing like an interview where the person asking questions knows about you, and knows what’s interesting to ask. And I think that is a particular delight when you do so many interviews where you’re asked, So! Are you smoking real cigarettes? and you’re just like, good lord.
RL: I can’t believe they’re still asking that!
RS: Oh they’re asking it constantly. And I have a feeling they could probably google it.
RL: And plus to a non-industry viewer, he [Kevin Pollak] has got such a wealth of industry ”he knows how to ask questions that I don’t know how to ask.
RS: Absolutely. Aside from the fact that he’s a great guy, he’s been in this business for a long time, and has been through this side of it many times, and is insightful, and has an insight to bring to these types of questions that only people who’ve been through it have. And he’s really great. He came to our AMC party, he and his fiancÃ©e Jaime, and it was really fun to have them. He’s clearly a fan of the show. I’ve always been a fan of his. He’s been in some of my favorite movies, and it’s very fun to sit across the table from him and have a conversation about a show that I’m doing. It’s very strange.
Doppelganger sidebar in which I describe how much my brother is the spitting image of Kevin Pollak, and in which Rich tells of a call he received recently from a friend who saw a 60 y/o version of Rich in a bar wearing a leather jacket.
RL: So the question that I was going to ask was, having watched the scene with you and Michael [Gladis, where Harry gets the phone call from Lee Garner Jr.] on the heels of having seen the Chat Show interview”because that scene really felt more like you and Michael, I’m wondering does it feel more that way to you when you’re acting, or does it feel just like acting on Mad Men always feels.
RS: It doesn’t feel unlike Harry and Paul to me. It’s clear that these characters”we inform the characters, as much as the characters inform our performance of them. And I think that’s going to happen anytime you’re with something long enough, there’s going to be little inspirations, whether it’s the way Michael and I interact with each other, the constant bickering, just, and also the level of care that we have in trying to tread difficult waters with each other, I think that stuff is all in that scene. It does feel like Rich and Michael but it also feels like Harry and Paul, and it also feels like any two people who are stuck in one place together for a long time and having an uncomfortable conversation.
RL: What is the structure of a table read? When do you get the script, what is walking into a table read like?
RS: We get the script anywhere from 3-4 days before the table read”usually shorter, actually, 1-2 days before the table read. We do the table read on the last day of shooting the previous episode, so if we’re doing the table read for episode nine, it’s during the lunch on the last day of shooting episode eight. And you just come in, sit at a table, Matt does a sort of introduction, where he discusses the importance of keeping the story within the family until it airs. Then every single person in the room introduces themselves one by one, and then we read it. Our first A.D. reads the stage directions and we just read the script.
RL: Does Matt talk about it thematically at that point, or no?
RS: No, to be honest, I engage in almost zero conversations about theme on the show. Extracurricularly I do, but as far as being at work or with the writers, it’s really not my”I can’t really worry about it. If I knew what the themes were going to be, it might change how I approach a scene and I don’t want that and I certainly can’t have that.
RL: I totally get that and we talked about that and I find it really informative about the craft. I just wondered if Matt addressed it from a top level at that point, because he speaks so freely about it afterwards–Oh, this one was film noir. But you’re just working off a script.
RS: Yeah, we’re just working off a script. Now that’s not to say that we don’t have conversations with Matt after the reading. After the reading we kind of mill around and eat sandwiches and talk to people we haven’t seen in awhile and Matt will come up, if he heard something in the scene you did, and give you a little tweak Just remember about that one that it’s more X than Y. You say Oh, okay great. And then you just take that in with you to that day of shooting and let the director finesse it from there, but at least you have some sort of the broad stroke from Matt.
RL: Can you give me one example of Matt saying it’s more X than Y?
RS: Let’s see”I remember him giving me some little detail on the scene with Michael”I think it was”I think Michael and I did it a little big at the reading, because we love to bicker, but we may have sort of overindulged in it. I think there was a little tweaking of, This is more straight, this is more, for Harry, this is his job, this is what he does, don’t come in and fuck with his job. And not so like–because Michael and I obviously like to have fun, and I think it was a moment that wasn’t a fun moment. I mean it ends up being a fun moment because it wasn’t a fun moment, if that makes sense. For the viewer it ends up being more fun because it’s straight. If we were dancing around and being Rich and Michael it wouldn’t actually be as funny.
RL: Anything you care to share about the scene with the foot?!
RS: I was very glad just from a selfish point that Harry had the vantage point that he did. That was pretty fun.
RL: Well you guys are now a GIF file!
RS: I love that thing.
RL: Talk about immortalized.
RS: I thought that thing was amazing.
RL: It’s amazing.
RS: It was very very funny. I love the scene. I am always excited when I get to be a part of that kind of moment, even just with the tiny part that I am, just to be there on the receiving end of it. I thought it was great. And the way that it played out in the episode, I don’t think”as I said I don’t really mess with theme until I’m out of it, so I didn’t fully grasp how that scene fit into the whole, and I thought it was just really beautifully done. Obviously the writers are not sucky on our show, and they are willing to take risks to get where they need to go, and it was very exciting to see it play out.
RL: And one of the feminist blogs posted the lawnmower ride basically side by side with the motorcade and the Kennedy assassination.
(Deborah, feel free to come in and link, because I know you know which blog and where it is) [Deborah says: I linked Pandagon in Michael Gladis’s linterview, but here it is again.]
RS: I saw that. I thought it was interesting.
RL: It was interesting. I don’t know what’s in Matt’s head,
RS: Yeah, I don’t know either. Whether that was a conscious choice or not a conscious choice, it still could have been influenced by that, it’s possible, since that Zapruder film is ingrained in every single conscious American brain. I think it’s an interesting parallel to draw. I honestly used to really indulge in those kinds of things. I was obsessed with the movie Magnolia when it came out. Obsessed. I still love it. People tell me I’m crazy to love that movie.
RL: I only saw it once, in the theater. I think I loved it, but never became obsessed with it.
RS: I was obsessed. And there are all these numerology things that people ascribe to it, and I’m not a numerology guy, I just thought it was interesting that there were all these numbers that showed up throughout the movie”so much that it seemed intentional. And things like the frogs raining from the sky, and things like all the characters breaking into song but it not”at least to me, and not everyone agrees with me”it not seeming cheesy. There were just all these things that I felt it was so dense, and I thought there was all this stuff to kind of crack the code about. Then I finally after like six weeks and twelve viewings of it, threw in the towel and said I’m never gonna understand this movie but I love it anyway. And in fact, Paul Thomas Anderson”ohh, I was so furious when it came out on DVD, because he did commentary for Hard Eight, and he did commentary for Boogie Nights, and he didn’t do commentary for Magnolia. The reason he didn’t was he said he felt that was the one that didn’t need any. That it was all there. And I was like, you son of a bitch.
RL: That sucks!
RS: You know exactly what I wanted, and you took it away. And I think that there are possibilities for that kind of unearthing on Mad Men, and I do think that some of it is conscious, 5G, the references to 5G throughout that episode, things like that, I think that some of it is conscious. And some of it is probably unconscious, and that’s for the better. I think that some shows, and again I can’t definitely say this is what’s happening on our show, but some things that happen in the first season, that just sort of happen by happenstance, storywise, then become informative later. Or later in retrospect can be made to seem informative.
RS: As though they were seeds planted. I know that kind of stuff happens on Lost all the time, where they sort of retrofit things, then say Oh, you know what? What if that thing that happened then that was completely out of nowhere and weird means that in this, and then they go Oh, we did it. I can’t say that Mad Men does that, I don’t know if they do that.
RL: I agree. I think there’s probably some of that and I also think there’s just some synchronicity. Some of the things that we’re writing about, that our writers and readers are writing about”there’s no way that every single thing that we’ve ever written or people have written was deliberate. There’s just no way.
RL: There’s just too much. There’s a lot of”I mean, he leaves a lot of open space, and you can take different paradigms and lay it across it. You can write all about the tarot, and apply that to each character, or if somebody wanted to make it all about Christianity they probably could. You know what I mean? It’s all there because it’s so”it’s almost mythic, what he’s writing.
RS: Well that’s what’s kind of great about it. And that’s why I’m sort of averse to discussing”not discussing with you but I mean, there are conversations I don’t get into. The same with politics. Politics are too dense for me to understand and also, there’s too much room for interpretation. And so I just can’t have a political conversation, because I just don’t feel I will ever be informed enough, beyond my own opinion, to back anything up. Though I have certainly political opinions, and with Mad Men I think there’s room for opinions, and there’s room for people to really dig their heels in and say No it absolutely is this. It means this unequivocally because of a, b and c. You could do a great Jungian analysis of archetype on this show. And I’m sure each of us would neatly fit into some category. But I’m sure someone else could do that exact same analysis and find different archetypes for each character, and I think that’s part of what makes it so fun and, as we talked about earlier, interactive. And I think that’s part of why we don’t really delve into what the meaning is behind anything because we want it to be open.
RL: And it’s why Basket of Kisses gets to be successful, because you can just talk about this show. And not be pathetic and twisty in order to make”it’s not hard to extract this stuff. It’s there for the taking. It’s very rich.
Then I try to segue into asking Rich for some words about our blog, and he rightfully mocks my attempt at a smooth segue.
RS: Let’s see, why I love you and why I want to talk to you”Listen, I said it earlier and I mean it, that the reason that you have probably gotten unprecedented access to this group of people that is uncommon for almost any kind of TV show, is that you guys have shown a true interest in us, and in the assemblage of this piece, and in the people making it. And it’s not just a sort of you’re willing to wax our cars so we’re willing to talk to you”and by the way the first time I heard the phrase ˜wax your car’ was on the audio commentary for Hard Eight by Paul Thomas Anderson”anyway, I think that when we talk to you the questions are interesting. They’re like curve balls for us and so it gives me a chance to think about things in a way that I actually haven’t considered before, and it’s not people asking What’s in your glass when you’re drinking, it’s people that have actually put some thought into the potential depth of the show, and I think that excites us. Because it caters to our belief that we’re working on something special. I believe that it is a one of a kind thing and I don’t think it’s too arrogant to say that.
RL: No. This show will be on every top-whatever list of TV shows forever.
RS: In my opinion it should be. And I hesitate to say that because I’m involved in it, but I’m so fucking proud of what this group of people has done. The entire group from top to bottom. The amount of energy that it takes to make one episode from the gestation of it in the writers’ minds to the final cut in the editing room is enormous. And I’ve very excited to be a tiny little part of it. And to have a group like you guys who recognize that and celebrate that is something that makes us all feel a little relieved I think.