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Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant had numerous book signings and parties when she put out her style fashion guide last year. Now comes another Mad Men book – but it’s not about fashion.
Bryan Batt, the actor who played Salvatore Romano in early episodes – he was an ad man for Stirling Cooper, who became a commercial director who eventually gets fired – is releasing a book with Random House called Big, Easy Style.
Turns out the New Orleans native owns a gift and home accessories shop in the Big Easy called Hazlenut with his partner of 22 years Tom Cianfichi. The store has been featured in the New York Times, House Beautiful, Food and Wine and Town and Country. So this is not just a hobby for Batt, who’s obviously a new hybrid - actor/decorator.
This Saturday night, October 15, Mad Men star Christina Hendricks and her husband Geoffrey Arend ((500) Days of Summer) are hosting a party for Batt and the book at Brooks Brothers in Beverly Hills, and we imagine some cast members of MM will turn up, as they are shooting now.
sal! I MISS YOU.
In cult American television series Mad Men, set in 1960s advertising agency Sterling Cooper, Bryan Batt played closeted gay art director Salvatore Romano, who spurns the romantic advances of one the company’s most important clients. The client then demands that Salvatore be fired, which Don Draper does in one of the most cruel, heartrending scenes the show has ever shot. “You people,” Don mutters at the end of the scene, shaking his head. It’s a startling portrait of 60s homophobia.
“What’s great about the show is that it focuses on how much we have changed and how much we haven’t changed – how far we have to go,” Batt, who looks like the perfect 60s Wall Street pin-up with his sleekly-coiffed swept-back hair and finely-tailored charcoal suit, tells SX. “It doesn’t sugar-coat anything. I see all these interest groups that want to almost re-write history and say ‘well that didn’t happen’. Yes it did and it wasn’t pretty. And if you don’t accept it, and make it clear that it happened, we’re going to repeat ourselves.”
Unlike his Mad Men character, Batt has long been up front about his sexuality in an industry that has encouraged the closeting of countless actors. However Mad Men creator and producer Matthew Weiner shocked Batt when he revealed he specifically wanted a gay actor to play Salvatore.
“Matthew said to me that he wanted to cast a gay actor in the role,” Batt reveals. “He did not want someone pretending. And I was like ‘wow, I’d never heard that before’, because I believe that acting comes first – it doesn’t bother me seeing a straight man play a gay man, just as it doesn’t bother me seeing a gay man play a straight man. I know a lot of gay men in the arts who go ‘who does she think she is?’ I’m not one of them.
“I mean, Rock Hudson – I believed him 100 per cent. And there are a lot of other actors on the screen now in the same situation.”
According to Batt, gay actors have to make a choice between Hollywood and honesty. “If there is a possibility of you reaching mega stardom with million-dollar salaries, unfortunately the truth of the business is you have to make a choice – are you prepared to keep that part of your life on the down-low?
“I can be totally honest about this – I was on this panel for the Screen Actors’ Guild and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and a lot of gay producers and gay directors were saying ‘unfortunately this is the way it is. We’d love it to change, but it is a business.’ You can’t make people open-minded. You can’t make people buy a ticket to Brokeback Mountain!
“But it is changing.”
However Broadway, where Batt is a veteran star, is another matter entirely. “Broadway is different,” he asserts. “Broadway doesn’t really care. It’s a different kind of thing – you don’t take them home with you. You see the performance and then it’s done. It’s not on the cover of every magazine or on a DVD set you can pop on at any moment.
“And I mean please – if you’re a straight male dancer on Broadway, you have got it made! You might as well not get out of bed!”
Batt is in the country at the moment with his solo cabaret, Batt on a Hot Tin Roof, and will play three nights at the Basement this week. Accompanied by New York musical director Michael Lavine, the show leads us through Batt’s eventful Louisiana childhood dominated by his strong-willed ‘Southern belle’ mother, and onto his leading roles in Broadway musicals, and of course his eventual starring role on Mad Men. A host of charming and witty songs, from Cole Porter to modern comedic numbers, are interwoven with a series of monologues.
Batt has been performing the show in various forms since it premiered in 2005 in New Orleans as a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser. “We lived through 9/11, we lived through Katrina,” Batt muses. “When you live through these things and you survive, then there’s a way that you can help with your talents. I would be useless gutting a house, or during 9/11 I’d be useless going down to help the firemen. But I can entertain and raise money that way.”
It’s a very musical-theatre trait, he continues. “Broadway is just so magical, and it’s a great community. Unlike Hollywood, everybody knows everybody – it’s almost like a professional college campus. Broadway’s the quad! One thing about Broadway performers is that everyone has that Mickey-and-Judy, let’s-put-on-a-show kind of thing, because any time a tragedy or anything like that happens, like 9/11 or Katrina, they are there passing the can at the end of the show and trying to do everything they can.”
Batt and his partner of 20 years, Tim Cianfichi, actually live in New Orleans part-time between stints in New York. They even have a gift and home accessories store in the still-healing city.
“It was the most freeing thing to realise that there’s an entire world out there besides show business,” he admits. “I believe that whatever interests you have in life, you have to at least try them out. You don’t want to go to bed with any regrets.”
Bryan Batt in Batt on a Hot Tin Roof, The Basement (29 Reiby Place, Sydney) from June 30 – July 2. Bookings are through moshtix.com.au.