“Mad About You (and You and You)”:
Elizabeth Moss “Peggy Olson”
Christina Hendricks “Joan Holloway”
January Jones “Betty Draper”
Usually it’s the closeted gay actor playing the out gay role. But in a genius stroke—one of Mad Men’s many—the closeted gay character Salvatore Romano is played by out actor Bryan Batt. Last season saw the critically acclaimed, award-winning drama about ’60s ad men delve even deeper into Romano’s character, showing us his home life with his wife and, even more heartbreaking, his increasing affection for account executive Ken Cosgrove. We caught up with Batt while the actor jetted between filming in Los Angeles and returning to his home in New Orleans.
Steven Foster: Hey, Bryan. How are you doing?
Bryan Batt: I’m hanging in there.
You must be busy as hell.
It’s not just the show that keeps me busy. I’m flying back between here and New Orleans for many different reasons. I have a business there, my family’s there, my partner’s there, my mom’s going through chemo. So I’m trying to get back there as much as I can.
Oh, man, I’m so sorry.
Well, she’s a steel magnolia. She’s tough. But this next round’s gonna be a little tougher. But the show’s been great. Matthew [creator Weiner] and our producer Scott Horbacher have been outstanding. I couldn’t ask for a better TV family.
Yeah, you’ve hit the motherlode on this one.
It’s my first series I’ve ever been on. I’ve had guest spots on different TV shows, but this is one of those things that just happened. And I couldn’t be happier.
Can you give me the 411 on that? How did you come to Mad Men?
It’s an odd story. About six years ago my partner and I opened a store in New Orleans called The Hazelnut—home furnishings, high-end gift shop, something we’ve always wanted to do. A break came in my Broadway career—the show I was supposed to do got postposned, so we said, “Let’s do it.”
Things were going great, and I was going back and forth between my shows, and we were actually on vacation when Katrina hit. We just thought it was one of those evacuation things. You get used to those in the South, with hurricane season.
To make a long story short, my godchild ended up boarding up my house, putting my mother in a car, and driving her all the way to Texas. So we tried to think of a way to repay her, but how can you repay someone for something like that? So my partner and I decided we’d take her to Paris. Then, right in the middle of when we were going to be in Paris, the audition for Mad Men came about.
[Laughs] Of course.
I know, I know. And for the first time in my life, I put family, my life, before show business, and I said, You know what? I can’t cancel this trip for an audition. So if they can postpone it or whatever, great. But they said they couldn’t. So they had the rounds of auditions and they couldn’t find who they wanted. Then I was back in New York doing a little play on Broadway and they called and I went in, and that was it—I got it. And it’s been heaven ever since.
You got it in one audition?
Yeah. AMC put their complete trust in Matthew. It was his baby. Our pilot script was his audition script for The Sopranos.
Yeah, I knew that. I’d read the script when it was floating around town. It was probably the best example of near-perfect writing I’ve ever read.
I can’t tell you how thrilling and rewarding it’s been just to get to do such great work on such brilliantly written scripts.
When did you know you had lightning in a bottle?
Matthew called us in, little groups at a time, to see a rough cut of the pilot. It wasn’t until then. It was AMC and I thought, Who’s gonna watch it? Who’s gonna tune in? Then they did all this publicity for it and the critics went crazy for it.
It made that network.
Yeah, yeah. Even at the end of the first season, we didn’t have the best numbers. But then the second season, we doubled our numbers. I’m hoping for the third season, even more people will tune in—with all the awards and all the hype. And I can guarantee you the third season is amazing.
Matthew’s incredibly tight-lipped, so I won’t ask you any spoilers. But there are some things I have to ask or people are going to kill me.
Go for it.
How bad are the cigarettes? You guys smoke constantly. And I know California law won’t let you smoke real cigarettes.
They’re those awful herbal ones. They stink. They just really stink. They’re called Ecstacy, and they should not be named that. They should be named Tragedy. They are rank. They really are.
And you have to suck on them harder than real cigarettes.
And you have to keep lighting them. And keeping the cigarettes accurate. Cigarette continuity, as we call it.
And the clothes? There hasn’t been this much talk about a cast’s wardrobe since Sex and the City.
That’s one of my favorite things is when I go to my trailer and I get to see what Janie Bryant has picked out for me to wear. And 99 percent of those are all vintage. She just goes through racks and racks of clothes, and then we have a fitting, and they have a closet for you for the season. Sal gets to have a little more flair than anyone else, a little more use of color and pattern in his case. So I really enjoy that.
The extras on the DVDs are fantastic because they really delve into all that—the fashion and the period the show’s set in. There was a great little extra on the painter Mark Rothko, for instance. And one on the women’s movement. Even the Mad Men extras are smart. Oh, and speaking of women, from one gay guy to another, I have to say you are so lucky to work with some really hot women. They’re gorgeous. So talented.
Point taken. They’re lovely. And I’ve really become good friends with January. And Christina, especially. And Elizabeth. They’re just terrific.
Back to your character. I remember reading the pilot, and it said something about Sal being obviously homosexual but closeted. Your performance is so nuanced. How did you and Matthew find the fine line to play that?
I think in any kind of piece, the level is set by the director or the writer. Or especially the other actors you’re working with. When I did the movie Jeffrey, I had a lot of scenes with Patrick Stewart, so just matching his level . . .
Very broad, if I remember correctly.
Yeah. And I was like, I’ll try . . . [laughs] But in Mad Men, Matthew was very clear that he wanted our audience to clearly know that he was gay, but no one in their office, their realm of the ’60s, would suspect it. So it is kind of a fine line to play.
Matthew’s obsessively secretive. You’re not going to tell me about season 3?
I can’t. I mean, he used to work on The Sopranos. You know what could happen.
And you’re Italian. You know, too.
Exactly. I can tell you that in true Mad Men style, expect the unexpected. You don’t know what is going to be around each corner, and when it happens, it’s always intelligent, nuanced, smart, and, of course, beautiful.
Let me ask you one goofy question. Now that the show is such a hit, do you get any odd reactions when you’re in your store in New Orleans?
Yes. And I’ve never had much of an ego. I’m porter with the mop, I’m wrap chick, I receive the boxes, I clean the merchandise. It’s my second job.
Sure, there are some very handsome men in AMC’s smash hit Mad Men. But for many, it’s this trio of femme fatales that make the show unmissable. From their breathtaking good looks and to-die-for clothes, to their insane talent, these three all-natural beauties make the nipped and tucked Housewives of a certain ABC lane look, well, just plain desperate.
Plainjane secretary who splashed out of the steno pool with snakelike cunning and enviable talent, Peggy is not above belitting her former typewriter contemporaries, or abandoning her own lovechild with smarmy adman Pete Campbell to her bitter older sister. And the fearless Moss plays Peggy with such even-handed panache, you don’t know whether to feel sorry for her, or envy her. It’s one of television’s most complex parts and stunning performances.
Hendricks’ hallway sashay should be analyzed by engineers. It truly is a marvel of anatomy in motion. And her powerful yet delicate turn as the voluptous office manager Joan Holloway can be both inspiring and wrenching. The one-time lover of the agency’s silver-maned (and tongued) partner, Joan at last appeared to find true love and one helluva diamond ring on her finger, and happiness with a possible promotion into the television department. Then they give the promotion to a man without even considering her, and her Prince Charming rapes her on the office floor. In the hands of a lesser actor, Joan would be just a tragic redhead Mansfield. But in Hendricks’ nimble fingers, she is a true, brave, fully realized creation.
A former Abercrombie & Fitch model who turned into television’s biggest surprise. The radiant Hitchcock blonde trophy wife to lying, scheming, philandering Don Draper (the ever-impressive stud Jon Hamm), Betty slid down an Alice-in-Hell rabbit-hole that both thrilled and punished viewers. Whether she was befriending, then betraying, a neighbor boy (while psychologically scarring her own children), or slipping closer to dangerously self-destructive behavior her husband ignorantly forced her into, Betty’s one-time Donna Reed dream became diary-of-a-mad-housewife reality. And Jones was rewarded with a much-deserved Emmy nod. Model-turned-actress hasn’t had this good a name since Isabella Rosellini. Jones is that good. —S.F.
Mad Men: Season Two box set is available now. Season 3 begins Sunday, August 16, at 9 p.m. on AMC.