Melbourne Cup Carnival: Mad Men star set to raise the bar

Mad Men actor Rich Sommer remembers the moment he realised the 1960s-era drama series had crossed over from being a successful TV show into a cultural zeitgeist.

It was this weird, fake watermark that we set for the show that we surpassed.

Rich Sommer

"[Creator] Matt Weiner said, 'We'll know we've made it when the men in the Bowery [neighbourhood] of New York are dressing like Joan [a character played by Christina Hendricks] for Halloween.'

"Sure enough, that was happening right out of the gate, and it was this weird, fake watermark that we set for the show that we surpassed," says Sommer, currently in Melbourne as a guest of Bar Schweppes for the VRC's Melbourne Cup Carnival.

"My personal thing was what I call the three S's of pop culture – The Simpsons, Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live. By year two, I think we had been on all three in some way."

In spite of being feted as a famous actor, Sommer finds himself in an unusual position: as he puts it, "Newsflash: I am unemployed".

Cocktail king

Now that his seven-season stint as Harry Crane has come to an end, he is brushing up on his already-considerable cocktail-making skills. He came to be a part of Bar Schweppes when his Melbourne-born, New York-based friend, Sam Ross – owner of Attaboy bar in New York City – was asked to be a bartender for Carnival week, and suggested that Sommer come, too.

Cocktail-making, as it turns out, isn't just something he did on the set of Mad Men. At home, he has "a deep bar" and an extensive knowledge of cocktails, especially pre-Prohibition ones. It is, he adds, one of his obsessions – the other being board games, although he has also been preoccupied with magic tricks, yo-yo tricks, juggling and playing guitar in the past.


"I have what a psychologist once called 'hyper-focus', although my parents have said this is something I've had my whole life. I became OK at a lot of things."

The hardest buttons to button

He doubts he'll be utilising the sartorial skills he picked up on Mad Men for Flemington. "I don't like a three-button suit, at least not when I was always required to button two buttons on Mad Men. I think if you're buttoning the top two buttons of a three button suit, you're putting yourself in a certain financial bracket, or you're pretending you are. It's a fake status."

He adds that "Harry's a little more of an ostentatious dresser than I am. I tend towards the conservative and Harry 'swings for the fences' [in baseball parlance, to go for a home run]. Janie Bryant, our costume designer, always made him look fantastic, but I don't know that I need to see many echoes of what he was doing in our contemporary world."

As for racing tips, the first-time visitor to Australia actually has a couple. "I hear Magicool is the way to go at Derby Day, and I like another one called Moonovermanhattan. But really, I have no insight at all."Only your name and caption will be published.