Rich Sommer: The Complete Interview
Our full chat with the Mad Men actor (he plays Harry Crane) and former Stillwater resident.
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MNMO: I have to tell you that partly out of honor to our interview today I’m wearing a skinny tie and tie clip.
RS: I feel I put at ease.
MNMO: And you’re on time.
RS: I show up generally early for things, and people ask where I’m from. Almost with disdain. I say Minnesota and they’re like, Ah, the Midwest…
MNMO: By I way, I was enjoying your recent tweet about receiving a gift bag containing a half-used bottle of nail polish and a 2004 Richard Marx CD. Um, explain—do people really send you random stuff?
RS: It was at a charity event. It was some makeup and some lotions and things. And my wife pulled out the bottle of nail polish and it says Target exclusive, 2004 copyright. I had just that week looked up Richard Marx, too. Sometimes, as far as like sending it to me, it’s generally like they’ll contact you and say, we’d like to give you a suit, which of these three patterns do you like more, can we come and measure you. The people on our show are certainly targeted by people who make nice clothes. It’s a perk.
MNMO: I take it you’re dressing better these days.
RS: Oh certainly. I owned a grand total of zero suits when I moved out here for the show. That number has grown. It’s pretty weird.
MNMO: Where did you grow up here in the Twin Cities?
RS: Stillwater. Born in Ohio, lived there until 8, and then my dad got transferred, moved to Stillwater. I lived there right until college, went to Concordia in Moorhead. My wife is from Mankato. We’re both always trying to find a way back. We want to get a home in Minnesota, and raise our kid there. That’s our No. 1 goal.
MNMO: How often do you get back to Minnesota?
RS: My wife gets back more than I do, probably six or seven times a year.
MNMO: Where do you find yourself hanging out here?
RS: We generally end up being in Mankato with Virginia’s family. Some of my best friends in Lake Elmo, Eagan, Spicer. We try to congregate in Lake Elmo. I try to swing by the Brave New Workshop if I can. Kind of where I got my start. And so it’s a place I owe a lot to, and Comedy Sportz.
MNMO: Were you something of a theater geek in high school?
RS: Not really. I was involved in theater from junior high on so probably anyone who wasn’t in the theater mold would say I did fit that mold. I never chose to say I did. Though that’s probably on the list of characteristics, to say you didn’t fit the mold. I was more of a choir guy than a theater guy.
MNMO: I’m not sure that’s helping your cause.
RS: You’re right. I don’t think there’s any way to win this. I was an arts geek.
MNMO: You trained at Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop—do you still fall back on that improv training from time to time? What did that give you as an actor?
RS: It was sort of mid-college, 1998, between my sophomore and senior year. I started making copies and sweeping floors, and by end of summer, they were very generous with me, any opportunity I wanted to have. By the end of the summer, I was performing in their Six-ring Circus, which is all improv, co-teaching a youth improv class, being an assistant to the director of main-stage shows, stage-managing, really anything. An incredible three months. I learned more in three months about how a theater operates….
MNMO: Do you remember any of your skits at Dudley Riggs?
RS: The one that went up while I was there was Viagra, The Second Coming. That was the show that I got to sit in on all the rehearsals for, helped the director take notes, helped them design the poster. I came back right after college to stage-manage a show playing on the Survivor theme.
The thing that initially drew me to improv, at Stillwater Area High School, was a teacher who had this idea of bringing Comedy Sportz to the high school, put two or three of us in the car at end of sophomore year and drove us to the comedy sports high school finals of that year, in ’94 and we watched them. We were then involved in improv in high school as the Stillwater Slush Puppies. And we continued, some of my friends and I, through college as the Slush Puppies.