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John Lamb, Published March 08 2012

Lamb: ‘Mad Men’ star, Concordia alum Sommer returns to F-M

FARGO - On the small screen, Harry Crane, the media buyer on “Mad Men,” is trying desperately to establish Hollywood contacts.

In real life, the man who plays him, Rich Sommer, is content sitting anonymously in the crowd at the Fargo Film Festival.

Sommer has been in town since Tuesday, helping teach a drama class at his alma mater Concordia College, and taking in screenings and other events at the festival.

The 34-year-old actor is taking advantage of a lull in his schedule to visit a former professor, David Wintersteen at Concordia.

“He’s the reason I’m here,” Sommer said outside the Fargo Theatre on Thursday afternoon, adding that Wintersteen attended Sommer’s wedding.

While he’s stayed close to his former teacher, Sommer is rekindling his feelings toward Fargo-Moorhead, where he left after graduating in 2000.

“It’s been great. It’s not the town I left. Fargo has really gone through some amazing and wonderful changes,” Sommer says, adding that the towns now seem more arts-centered. “The Fargo Theatre is more beautiful than I remember. It’s been really exciting. It’s fun to be here.”

He remembers taking in the Library of Congress/ American Movie Classics Film Preservation Tour at the Fargo Theatre in 2000. That week-long fest screened 25 of the 275 movies on the National Film Registry and included an appearance by “Psycho” star Janet Leigh.

“I skipped an entire week of classes and saw every film from 10 in the morning until leaving at 10 at night,” Sommer says. “It was really awesome. It was really fun to spend that week there.”

The star takes his own turn in the spotlight Saturday night in the Fargo Theatre when Sommer hosts a game of Celebrity with actor/director Matt Walsh, founder of the comedy improv troupe Upright Citizens Brigade.

If you’ve never played the party game – it’s pretty simple. You divide into teams and write names of popular celebrities from all walks of life, alive or dead, on slips of paper. One teammate pulls a slip out of a hat and gives hints without rhyming the name.

Walsh asked Sommer to host a staged version of the game at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles.

“Part of the reason it’s a blast is that it’s a very ramshackle version of a fake TV show, basically,” Sommer says. “It’s just barely held together by our wits. Most times, I’m sure it’s going to go careening off the edge and it’s all going to go out the window. And we’ve somehow succeeded each time.”

It’s not that Sommer is unenthused about the game, he just doesn’t know how it will go over.

“I don’t really try to up-sell our show, for sure,” he says. “But I guarantee it will be fun and you will enjoy yourself, and if we see this going off the rails, we’ll be the first to push it right off the tracks and make sure it crashes spectacularly.”

Sommer will be joined by some of the festival “luminaries” like Walsh and comic actors Joe Lo Truglio and Matt L. Jones, who are in Walsh’s movie, “High Road.” The comedy, produced by Fargoans Jeff Schlossman, Erik Rommesmo and Minot native Kirk Roos, screens Saturday afternoon.

“It will be fun having my worlds collide,” Sommer says. “My weirdo Los Angeles friends come to where I went to college. It’s kind of fun.”

After the fest, Sommer will head back home to Los Angeles for the red carpet premiere of “Mad Men’s” fifth season next Wednesday. The show airs March 25 on AMC.

Sommer can’t reveal anything about what happens in the new season but says it is worth the wait.

“For my money, it’s my favorite season that we’ve done,” he says. “I think the scripts are the strongest. If (viewers) have been entertained by the first four seasons, they can get paid off in a lot of ways.”

“I’m still sort of surprised at the response to it,” Sommer says, talking about the show’s popularity. “The fact that people know what our show is, is still very exciting to me and that they seem to regard it well. But did we ever, ever think any of this happening? No. I was 100 percent sure I wouldn’t have a job past the pilot. So this has all been icing.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

If you go

What: Fargo Film Festival

When: Today through Saturday

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets $2 for the Two-Minute Movie Contest; $6 for a morning or afternoon pass. (701) 239-8385.