By Nicole Caldwell
Originally published in Playgirl's Winter 2013 issue, #62
Bryan Batt is an actor, designer, civic activist, and author most widely known for his two-time Screen Actors Guild Award-winning performance as Salvatore “Sal” Romano on “Mad Men”. Bryan played Sal, the Italian-American head art director at Sterling Cooper, for the show's first three seasons.
AMC's critically acclaimed dramatic series has been lauded with awards including Emmys, Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Peabody award. Between his days traveling between New York, New Orleans and Los Angeles, he sat down with Playgirl to discuss his theater career, love life, and perspectives his “Mad Men” character.
PLAYGIRL: What was your favorite part of working on the set of “Mad Men”?
Everything was the best… the picture-perfect sets, Janie Bryant’s gorgeous costumes, and the extremely talented cast all came together to create something special. For me, the best gifts were the brilliant scripts filled with deep characters and rich scenes to play. At every table read, I marveled at the creative genius—and the catering was four star!
You’ve played gay roles before (films Jeffrey and Kiss Me, Guido, and on stage in La Cage aux Folles). But what was it like, as an openly gay man, to play a closeted homosexual?
Gay or Straight is really not the first question that comes to mind about a character, or ever in real life. I just so happen to be a very “open book” sort of man, heart on my sleeve, comfortable in my skin, etc. So to play Salvatore, whose mind set is the antithesis of my own, was a challenge and great fun. I think almost everyone has felt at one point like the outsider who doesn’t fit in, hiding something and altering themselves to be accepted. Sad but true.
What do you admire most about your fictional Mad Men character, Salvatore Romano?
He has a great, elegant, sophisticated style, he is multi-faceted, and he never really cheated on his wife. Okay, a hot smooch with a bellhop, but compared to everyone else, come on!
What is your favorite aspect “Mad Men”-era interior design?
The sleek, almost aerodynamic, streamlined angles of the furniture and home accessories. People ask if our shop Hazelnut (www.hazelnutneworleans.com) is predominantly mid -century modern, when in fact it’s a very eclectic blend of home furnishings and fine gifts. I have always been fascinated and loved all aspects of design.
What’s your secret to a successful relationship?
Don’t take anything for granted. No one can read your mind, so tell your partner what you need. Never go to bed angry. And, breath mints in the nightstand!
What is one thing you've learned about love?
Love is a Battlefield—kidding! It’s a roller coaster ,with ups and downs. There are going to be great thrills and high peaks, but there will also be low valleys and bumps along the way. When it's right, you stay on for the whole ride and don’t exit until the car comes to a complete stop.
How do you take your martinis?
Kettle One, ice cold, bone dry, with a twist, olives on the side (they take up too much room in the glass!).
You have championed many causes, including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, Habitat for Humanity, the SPCA, and Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, to name a few. What of all your civic activist work are you most involved with right now?
I’m still involved with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids and the N.O. Aids Task Force, but right now I am doing everything I can to get Le Petit Theatre up and running again. That wonderful theater in my home town New Orleans gave me my start. There is nothing like live theater and there never will be.
What's one piece of advice you would give to women about men?
Tell them, in a very nice way, what you want. Don’t think for one second they will think like you would! Most of them are just boys at heart. Realize that no one can change another person; all you can change is yourself.
For all your adoring fans out there, where can they catch you next; that is, what's next for your TV or theater career?
Right after “Mad Men”, I wrote two books: a “momoir” about my Steel Magnolia/Auntie Mame of a mom called She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother (Harmony Books/Random House) and a design/décor book, Big, Easy Style (Clarkson Potter/Random House). I’ve done some episodic TV, some indie films, and my one-man show Batt on a Hot Tin Roof, and I'm hoping to get back on Broadway. When not performing in New York or L.A. or who knows where, I’m in New Orleans at our shop Hazelnut. I really enjoy shaking it all up, like a good martini.
Cheat Sheet: Bryan Batt
Mad Men Credentials:
- Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series: Nominated 2007 Won 2008, 2009
- Birthdate: March 1, 1963
- Hometown: New Orleans, LA
- Bryan and his partner Tom Cianfichi are the nationally recognized creative forces behindHazelnut, a fine gift and home accessories shop in his home town of New Orleans
- Bryan champions many causes including Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS, Habitat For Humanity, Second Harvest Food Bank, the Human Rights Campaign (Equality and Visibility Awards), the SPCA, The Preservation Resource Center, The Point Foundation, N.O. AIDS Task Force, and Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré.
- His performance in the musical adaptation of Saturday Night Fever scored him one of New York City's more unusual honors: a caricature at Sardi's.
- Books he's authored: She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother, and, most recently, Big, Easy Style.
- TV shows he's been on: Mad Men, Guess Who's Coming to Decorate, Rescue Me, Guiding Light, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, The Cosby Show, As the World Turns, Ugly Betty, and more
- Theatrical leads and principal roles on Broadway: La Cage aux Folles, Beauty and the Beast, Seussical the Musical, Sunset Blvd., Saturday Night Fever, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Starlight Express, and Cats
- Bryan missed his first audition to play Salvatore on “Mad Men” because he and his boyfriend, Tom Cianfichi, already had a commitment to take their goddaughter, Ramsey Schmitz, to Paris to repay her for several things she had done for them during Hurricane Katrina (including evacuating Batt's mother from New Orleans). The "Mad Men" show-runners asked Batt to come in again, and so after the Paris trip he was able to audition and get the role.
- Bryan and Tom have been together since 1989.