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Bryan Batt goes
back in the closet

Bryan Batt goes
back in the closet


In AMC's new drama series Mad Men, about 1960s advertising executives, out actor Bryan Batt plays a man with something to hide.

Step off the elevator at the Sterling Cooper ad agency and the first thing you'll notice is the overwhelming odor of cigarette smoke. Look down the hall and you'll probably see a middle-aged executive cornering the new girl. Of course, the only place you'd find a woman is the secretarial pool--and that's only until they've landed a husband. No, you haven't stepped into a workplace sensitivity training seminar; this is the backdrop for AMC's breakthrough new summer drama Mad Men, airing Thursdays at 10 p.m. A look at white-collar America in the early 1960s, the show is the brainchild of former Sopranos writer-producer Matthew Weiner and is populated with similarly flawed but compelling characters who seem unconfined by the niceties of our politically correct world. (Of course the number of fatalities is significantly lower) The lone non-WASP in the Madison Avenue stronghold is eager art director Salvatore "Sal" Romano , played by out actor Bryan Batt.

Batt has starred in Broadway runs of Sunset Boulevard, La Cage aux Folles, and Cats--and both the stage and screen productions of Jeffrey. Here he tells us about his second career as an interior designer and whether Sal is hiding more than his mother's recipe for veal piccata.

Where are you? I'm in L.A. I'm actually house-sitting for Harriet Harris, who I met when we were both in Jeffrey. She's in New York now doing Old Acquaintance on Broadway.

Sounds like you're both hot properties these days. Is there a network of New York stage people in Los Angeles? It's such a jungle--in both cities--that we have to cling to the familiar faces! [Laughs] I'm very lucky. I have a good group of friends in the business. And I have some old, old friends, from high school even, that I see here.

The show is incredible. Not just the acting and dialogue, but the sets and costumes. The attention to detail is staggering. I'm such a fan of mid-century modern design, I want to steal things right off the set. The clothes are so authentic--the fit of the trousers, the width of the collars. It's all just right. And the women's outfits! Those big pointy bras and tiny cinched waists. It's so sensual.

You have a background in interior design, right? I've always loved decorating and design. I've done friends' homes and my family's place. My partner, Tom, and I have a little shop in New Orleans called Hazelnut, where we sell furnishings and accessories. And I did a show on the Style Network called Guess Who's Coming to Decorate?

So you're a reality-TV fan as well? I'm not really a fan of reality television--it's not very real. You do a little improvisation, and then they slice and dice it and turn it into whatever story they want. It's a little forced.

Mad Men is obviously scripted, but it has a very real feel to it. There's a lot of drama and some heavy, occasionally offensive dialogue. Did it create a tense atmosphere on the set? When the cameras stop rolling, we turn that off. You have to, or you won't last very long. Everyone's at the top of their game. It's a really great cast--totally professional but very cool and fun offstage. We have a kind of dining club and lots of get-togethers. And Matthew [Weiner] is very warm and accessible.

Tell me about your character, Salvatore. He's the artistic director for Sterling Cooper. He's a man who knows what he likes--there's no fence-sitting. But we haven't gotten into what makes him tick yet. Everyone's like "Get ready, your story line's about to take off!" But I don't know what's going to happen yet. We don't know what we're shooting until a few days before the episode is filmed. But that's exciting, and so totally different from theater.

Is it difficult doing episodic television after being in the theater for so long? I have to remind myself there's no audience: "Don't wait for the laugh!" And you can say so much more with just a look, just a gesture. You don't have to hit the back row.

Salvatore seems a little desperate to fit in. Is he hiding something? Is There is that possibility. I'm not sure whether he knows it or not. It's 1960--things like that were not discussed. They went on, sure. But nobody talked about it. I hope he is gay, because it would be so juicy. Matthew and the writers are so brilliant. They're creating something that's never been seen before on television. And I don't think they'd shy away from really getting into it. It would true to the times, of course, but it wouldn't be all innuendo and "fade to black."

If you were writing Sal's story arc, what would you want to happen? I'd like to see him get married to a woman. Dramatically, that would be an incredible arc. It brings up a lot of juicy possibilities.

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