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TV Bryan Batt: 'Mad' to the bone
Extended for the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis

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Once again, the TV series Mad Men has lived up to expectations and hype—providing captivating twists and turns while the lives of Sterling Cooper's employees ( and their families ) evolve. Openly gay actor Bryan Batt plays closeted exec Salvatore Romano, and his life definitely changes during the show's second season ( now out on DVD ) . Windy City Times talked with Batt in early July about what happened with Romano, the upcoming third season ( which debuts on AMC Aug. 16 ) , the Tonys and his hometown of New Orleans, La. [ Note: For those who have not seen the second season, certain plot points are discussed. ]

Windy City Times: Pride Month just concluded. Did you do anything special?

Bryan Batt: Actually, I was just in L.A. with my partner, and two dear friends came in for the weekend. We saw a little bit of the parade, but my favorite thing that happened was that the night before, as we parked our car on Santa Monica Boulevard, we saw this gaggle of young twinks [ who ] said, "Oooh, look at all the cute daddies." [ Interviewer laughs. ]

WCT: Well, at least they recognized you all were cute. [ Batt laughs. ]

BB: Yes. I have to tell you that, at the parade, my favorite sign was "Jesus had two daddies."

WCT: Wow—that'd shake my mom to her core. But let's talk about this past season of Mad Men. Something very interesting happened: Sal got married.

BB: Yes! I think it's appropriate for the time period [ the '60s ] to get married. I think a lot of men and women got married—and continue to [ do so ] . There's the denial and there's the closet. It's also just a great avenue to explore; it makes his life deeper, richer—and more tortured.

WCT: I thought the episode "The Golden Violin" [ which looks into Romano's marriage when a co-worker comes over to have dinner ] was brilliant.

BB: That whole show is brilliant on so many levels. What you think is going to happen doesn't happen.

WCT: Something else happened this season—there was an out character [ Kurt ] .

BB: That was very shocking. [ Both laugh. ] I thought it was going to be me. A lot of people ask me when [ my character ] was going to come out, and I'm like, "To what?" I don't know about Kurt coming out; it was interesting, and it was handled very well. But it was quite a curveball.

WCT: Sal had quite an interesting look on his face when Kurt came out.

BB: [ Laughs ] I think I had indigestion that day.

WCT: So you weren't wondering why Sal didn't come out, you said?

BB: I was almost relieved. I think that if Sal came out too openly in this era, his storyline would diminish. When you find out everyone's secrets, there's nothing more to find out. The drama would be gone.

It's always such a joy to sit down for the table read because we all wonder how they're going to top [ the previous ] week—but they always do. I'm so lucky.

WCT: It's amazing to see how different things were in the office then, such as constant smoking and drinking.

BB: It's wild. I've spoken to people who worked in advertising in that era, and they said, "Yeah, you always smoked, drank and carried on."

WCT: I imagine that you get plenty of letters from people who identify with Sal.

BB: I do, but mainly I get really nice e-mails and letters from people who like the performance and the character. There are a few in advertising who identify with Sal. It's very interesting.

WCT: Now, what is [ creator/executive producer ] Matt Weiner like? I understand that he is very detail-oriented. He even removed an item from a show because, in actuality, it didn't come out until about six months after that particular episode was set.

BB: He's very detail-oriented; he oversees everything—hair, make-up, etc. His hand is all over every episode, but that's great. I think that's what makes the show so great, plus he knows what he wants and is able to articulate it. Some people know what they want but they can't formulate the words.

That item was an Etch-n-Sketch. Sally Draper was supposed to play with it, but it didn't come out until later so she had a Slinky instead. They go through the newspapers for a particular day that an episode is set just to make sure the details are right. It all makes the show better.

WCT: Is there anything you can tell me about season three?

BB: I can tell you that [ the unexpected ] happens. The season starts with a bang, in my opinion. Right out of the gate, it's explosive.

WCT: I imagine that Sal's marriage will be examined a bit more.

BB: I think so. We haven't filmed that much yet, but I'm sure it will be. But I'm waiting; I know they have something up their sleeves.

WCT: It'd be interesting to see the show jet forward to 1969, and have Sal come out during or after Stonewall.

BB: I would love that! Hopefully, we could run that long where we could be in '69. I mean, Sal in a caftan and on Fire Island ... free at last.

WCT: [ Laughs ] I also wanted to ask you about the recent Tony Awards, Mr. Broadway Veteran. What was your opinion of the show?

BB: I was a little upset with the technical aspects—they couldn't get the sound right, for some reason. I was excited about some of the winners; I saw some of the performances, and was happy for some of the winners. I saw my friend Gavin Creel in Hair, and he was terrific. [ The show ] was fun, but the sound bothered me. [ Plus, ] the beginning was huge.

It's hard to take that medium, with live performances, and put it on TV. To me, TV can't truly capture the excitement you experience in the theater.

WCT: Let's talk business. You have a store in New Orleans, correct?

BB: Yes. My partner of 20 years [ Tom Cianfichi ] and I own it. We opened Hazelnut ( ) six years ago—we named it after my grandmother, Hazel, who was a nut. [ Interviewer laughs. ] Having this business freed me up; with acting, you deal with constant rejection and you become defined by your job. There's a whole other world out there besides show business.

WCT: How is New Orleans doing since Hurricane Katrina?

BB: I don't know how to describe it because 75 percent of the city was flooded. It was the perfect combination of inadequate leadership—we had a mayor, governor and president. Any kind of rebuilding that has to go through government is going to have its bumps.

So far, there's been a lot of rebuilding. Right after the storm, the areas that were not flooded were up and running. It's just the neighborhoods that were flooded—in which a lot of people were not insured—that were really hit hard. There were a lot of volunteers who came down, but there was a lot of devastation; some of those people have not been able to rebuild or get back. Some of the people who were displaced probably won't come back.

However, it is a much better situation than it was before. There are even more restaurants open now than there were prior to Katrina—and a lot of other great things have happened. The church next door to me [ has ] people coming down every week to help people rebuild their houses. a lot of things are fine, including the historical architecture. Things are better—people have to come down and see.

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