Mad World

Zeitgeist series Mad Men returns with a vengeance, and out actor Bryan Batt opens up about the new season, future scenarios for his character, and, most important, what Don Draper really smells like.

BY Jeremy Kinser

August 17 2009 12:00 AM ET

Today's water cooler moment is brought to you by Mad Men . [ SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't watched the third season premiere, stop reading now.] AMC's award-winning drama about the competitive world of Madison Avenue advertising firm Sterling Cooper in the early 1960s returns, not only with 16 Emmy nominations, but with a doozy of a plot development for closeted art director Salvatore Romano (played by out actor Bryan Batt). While on a business trip, Romano is caught in a compromising situation with a randy hotel bellhop by firm partner Don Draper.

The stylish series has struck a pop cultural chord with viewers and critics alike, and Batt has become a rarity on the small screen -- an openly gay actor playing a closeted gay character. A veteran Broadway performer of such lavish productions as Sunset Boulevard and La Cage aux Folles , Batt is also familiar to gay audiences as Darius, the Cats chorus boy, in both the stage and screen versions of Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey . When not filming the series in Los Angeles, Batt spends much of his time in his native New Orleans, where he and Tom Cianfichi, his partner of 20 years, own and operate Hazelnut, a fine gift and home accessories shop.

Advocate.com talked with Batt about his character on the acclaimed series, what might happen should Sal come out, and who he thinks is the hottest coworker at Sterling Cooper.

Advocate.com:What a great way to kick off the new season. Sal finally got some gay action only to be interrupted by a fire alarm and then get caught by Don Draper. The guy can't catch a break. Will Sal's luck change this season?Bryan Batt: I can't talk about it, but that first episode is just a taste.

How do you think people at Sterling Cooper would react if Sal came out?Oh my gosh! I think they'd let him go. I can't imagine him in his position doing it. He is so conflicted and in denial. He was so in denial in the first season that he got married. He's staying in [the closet], come hell or high water. I don't think he can imagine a gay life. In retrospect, there was no gay life at that time.

Do you think Sal's is just a marriage of convenience or does he really love his wife?As much as he can, I think he loves her very much. There are lots of men and women who have realized they're gay through therapy and time and they still do have love for each other, just not in the man-and-wife heterosexual love.

What kind of research did you do to play Sal? Did you create a backstory for him?Yes, I did create one the first season and it's grown from that. I spoke with friends who were in touch with men who were closeted ad men in that time, who were married and had children and later came out. I talked to them about their lives and what it was like. It was very helpful to put myself in that place. I grew up very closeted. I tried to pretend to be someone else through high school and college, so I could identify with that. There was nothing for Sal or gay people at that time. Stonewall had not happened. There was no gay movement. At that time homosexuality was viewed as an abnormal behavior.

Tags: television

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