Rich Sommer is a nice guy. I can attest to that by the jovial conversation we had about some of his work despite some of the roles he has taken in the past. When Sommer broke out in the mid-2000s, he was the seeming antithesis to Jon Hamm’s Don Draper in Mad Men and the snarky friend who was delighted by art and sex in The Devil Wears Prada. For his latest role, Sommer jumps to new heights as a father who will stop at nothing to keep a promise to his young daughter for her birthday.
Sommer plays Jim, a California dad who has disappointed his daughter on numerous occasions. For her birthday, all she wants are silver candy balls (or dragées) for her birthday cake. Seems like a simple request, right? Jim can hop over to a bakery or a grocery store and he will be welcomed a hero. It turns out that dragées are illegal in the state California, and Jim must go to realms he’s only seen in movies to make her wish come true. The short is light and absurd, and it’s held together by Sommer’s good-guy desperation.
Awards Daily: We don’t get to see a lot of men solely trying to be a good father in short films.
Rich Sommer: True.
AD: There was an article published a few years ago “Rich Sommer Needs to Stop Playing Sleazebags.”
AD: That took me aback.
RS: I get it. First of all, and second of all, I did an almost response interview this spring. A woman tweeted something like, “When will characters learn not to marry Rich Sommer?” Historically, I have played some grungy dudes who looked like they were going to be nice at first. That’s kind of become my specialty.
AD: Is A Piece of Cake something you consciously chose to rectify that?
RS: I loved that article, and it’s entirely accurate. Like reading a review can, it worked into my brain a little but so that when I receive a role to consider–whether it’s an audition or an offer–I think, will this help the overall assessment of the characters I play? At the end of the day, I just like playing interesting characters. What’s nice about Piece of Cake is that he was willing to bend rules or breaks laws that were all pointing to be a good father. The end goal is that I am willing to do these underhanded things if that means I can be a good guy. Looking at this role compared to, say, 90 percent of the parts I play–whether they be adulterers or murderers–it did appeal in a way because it was a good guy at the end of the day. I know you asked it jokingly, but that article is something that me and my agents almost talk about on a job-by-job basis.
AD: Something we don’t see a lot is men just trying to be good. They might be trying to be a decent father, but then something else about their lives is kind of dark. If that makes sense?
RS: Yes. It’s no fun playing a boring character. I have no interest in playing a character that lacks complexity. Even if I played a guy who does a bad thing, he is at least making an interesting decision based on complex reasoning. It never felt like it was boring. I am drawn to those kinds of characters.
AD: Fatherhood kind of goes hand in hand with talks of masculinity almost.
RS: Dads and fathers aren’t just good people. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who was Ned Flanders area in nature. Even Flanders wrestles with things from time to time. I was excited to play someone whose intentions were pure but his decisions are clouded by an undue commitment to that. I’m going to be a good fucking dad no matter what it takes and I sort of identify with that. Not that all my motives are good, but I’ve done dumb things in an effort to do something right.
AD: So you’re saying I should make the headline, “Rich Sommer Wants to be a Good Fucking Dad”?
RS: (Laughs) “Rich Sommer Does Some Nice Things, Okay!”
AD: If they did a live action version of The Simpsons, you could be Ned Flanders. If you have any interest in that.
RS: I don’t think I do…even though at the end of the day, we are good dads, we go about things in different ways (laughs). Someone else can do that.
AD: What can you tell me about how Meredith and Austin Bragg talked to you about absurdity? I think A Piece of Cake has this really fun, suburban-troubles vibe.
RS: One of the conversations we had early on that this was not to be bound by logical thinking. This guy is not making the most informed decisions along the way. It’s whatever gets him to his end goal, in this case these dragées, and he will literally, it seems, do anything to do it. He ends up in a place that’s tantamount to a heroin den for these silver candies. I liked that Austin and Meredith were so into seeing what the extent of this can be. I used to do improv a hundred years ago, and that’s all about heightening. If this, then what else? Is there a ceiling that will stop him? Maybe he stops shy of, you know, murder, but that’s about it.
AD: I’d hope so! Are you afraid your kids are going to see this? They might think, “If Dad will do this for candy…”
RS: (laughs) Yeah, a little bit.
AD: A lot of people were surprised that GLOW was canceled. We here at Awards Daily are big fans of the show, and we were all really upset when we heard the news. If they did a GLOW movie to wrap things up, what would you want to see?
RS: I’d want to see, I suppose, their planned ending. They were heading back to Los Angeles and it felt like the finish line was in sight anyway. It just felt so abrupt. That’s the nature of TV and it happens once in a while. It happened with incredible shows, like Deadwood, that don’t get to untangle the knots they originally tangled. I would just like to see them untangling those stories. I was very much a supporting, supporting, supporting role in that, and I consider myself ridiculously fortunate to set up the ball for Betty Gilpin to spike it many, many times. I had people ask me on Twitter what I would want and I have no ownership of that show. I only have gratitude for having been given the chance to dip my toe in the waters that these women were in. As a fan of the show, I’d love to see them complete that story. If anyone said, “Hey, Debbie, what happened to your husband?” and she said, “Oh, he died!”
AD: That would be really funny. I didn’t know you were dabbling in a lot of voiceover work in the last few years. What excites you about that type of work and have you noticed more opportunities for that since the world is still on fire?
RS: It’s never not going to be in fire, it feels like. I have definitely noticed a shift in the beginning of the pandemic and special attention was given to those of us who could do it from home. I voiced a video game from my closet and some scripted podcasts or radio drama style things. I’ve always been a fan of animation. Until I became an actor, I wanted to be a cartoonist—not that I’m particularly good at it. It was something that I was drawn to and that mixed with a real love of talk radio that made me think that after college I would end up doing that. That’s a long answer to say that I have always had a passion for it but now I am getting to do more of it. I took a class for it right around when Mad Men was ending from a gentlemen named Bob Bergen who has been doing the voice of Porky Pig since Mel Blanc died.
AD: Oh, wow.
RS: He did a workshop that gave me the confidence to get behind a microphone and play. That kicked off my desire to pursue in earnest. The people who do it well, do the most of it. I don’t do it as much as I would like to do, but it’s a difficult business to break into that.
A Piece of Cake was a finalist for the Best Narrative Short prize at the Tribeca Film Festival. For more information on the short, please visit the Moving Picture Institute’s site.