411 Mania Interview: Bryan Batt
Bryan Batt is perhaps best known for his role as Salvatore Romano on the hit show Mad Men, a character that he admits put him on the map and changed his career completely. Besides his television work, he has performed on Broadway, written two books, and also owns his own store with his partner Tom Cianfichi. Recently, I caught up with the versatile actor to talk about his role in the new film Brawler, which is currently out on DVD, his work on Mad Men, and what inspires him creatively these days. There is also a You Tube link in the interview with includes the entire interview.
TONY: You wear so many different hats in your career from Broadway to television work, film work. What’s your preparation like for a film like this?
Bryan Batt: Considering, thank god I didn’t have to do any fight scenes. I would have to start from scratch. That would not have been pretty, me trying to do that, especially if you’ve seen the movie. Those guys are in such great shape, I’d look like Jabba the Hutt next to those guys. It was a very odd situation. I was in New Orleans because I live part time in New Orleans; I have a house here and a business here. I was at this bar called the Cure, this great place, great cocktails, and the guys came over and said, ‘Are you the guy from Mad Men?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ They go, ‘Are you from New Orleans?’ I said, ‘I was born and raised here. I live part time here.’ They said, ‘There’s this part in the movie we’re doing for you.’ It was this odd way of getting cast. I should hang out in bars in New Orleans more, and I would work more in film. Basically, they just offered me the role and preparation was not much. When they told me about the character, the makeup artist started making my hair into a big pompadour and they told me what I was going to wear. He was like a cheesy car salesman promoter. It was pretty straight forward, the writing, the way the character was written. So I didn’t have to do that much preparation.
TONY: You mentioned how this is sort of a flamboyant and really out there character. Was there anyone that you based this character on?
Bryan Batt: I don’t want to mention names, but there’s a local celebrity TV spokesperson here in New Orleans that I sort of loosely based him on. I think New Orleanians might get it when they see it, but that’s basically just the way he talks. They call it yak because people here, it’s almost a Brooklynese thing, but it’s a definite New Orleans accent.
TONY: New Orleans is such a character in this film and you mentioned how you’re from New Orleans. What did that mean to you?
Bryan Batt: I want to work here more. I just love being down here. My partner and I opened our business in 2003 and then in 2005 Katrina hit, we dug our heels in more to help and to help the rebuilding process and just invest more here. Now, it’s thriving down here, especially the film and TV business. There’s such great tax incentives to come film down here that there’s so much going on. I just read in Forbes and the New York Times that New Orleans is the number one growing city in the country. I have a small role in a Brad Pitt film down here, Michael Fassbender, it was directed by Steve McQueen called Twelve Years A Slave.
TONY: Out of all the things that you do, what does the art of acting bring to you compared to the other things you’re involved in?
Bryan Batt: Now I’ve realized how easy the acting is as compared to writing. (laughs) I’ve written two books and that was a big challenge. The business has been a big challenge, because that’s not really what I was trained to do, especially the design world. Business, thank god, my partner is much better at that than I am. I’m not saying that acting is easy. It is not, but that’s what I’m trained to do. I love being an actor, I love doing films, and I love doing television, but Broadway is difficult. Broadway is that eight show a week schedule where you’re doing the same performance over and over again. At least with a TV show, every week is a different episode, or a film, when you’re filming, every day there’s a different scene that you’re working on and you have the opportunity to try different things and different takes as opposed to that one shot in front of the audience in a theater.
TONY: I’m sure you get tons and tons of Mad Men questions, but when you think of the show, how do you quantify what it did for you and your career?
Bryan Batt: It really put me on the map and brought some new notoriety. Basically, more people have seen that than have seen anything I’ve done in my life. What’s great about it is they identify with it. I’m doing a concert here in Tulane University tomorrow night and there was rehearsal today and I was walking into the rehearsal and two guys came up and wanted pictures with Sal. It’s the power of television. You’re in people’s homes over and over again. They can identify when they see you in person, it kind of takes it out of context. It’s interesting. This didn’t happen until twenty years into my career, so thank god, I stuck with it.
TONY: One of the great things about what you do with your career is it seems like you’re really using your fame and your notoriety for good. What is that like for you to be able to use your fame for good?
Bryan Batt: I think it’s just the way I was raised. Both my grandparents were that way, my family, my mother, especially my mom was a big volunteer and raised funds, same with my brother. It’s just something that was instilled in us that you give back and if you are able to help then you help. I’m always hosting benefits or fundraisers or performing at different fundraisers and benefits. Usually if I can make it and it works in with my schedule, I’ll do it. There is a sense of gratification like, ‘OK, after Katrina, I’m not really that handy with a hammer. I can’t work on a house that well, but I can entertain a crowd.’ I did fundraisers, I can’t tell you how many events I’ve performed at to raise funds. That’s what I do. If everybody just did what they could, I think we’d be in a much better place.
TONY: You mentioned earlier how you’ve written books in the past, but have you ever had any inspiration to write your own screenplay?
Bryan Batt: I wish I had the discipline. I would have to handcuff myself to the computer because I’m so easily distracted, but I am working on something, so funny you should mention that. I did a one man show called Batt on a Hot Tin Roof, I’ve done it all over, but yeah, that’s something I would like to do, to get into more writing. That’s a wonderful outlet for creativity because when you write you kind of make anything happen that you want.
TONY: You’ve talked in previous interviews about leaving Mad Men and how you’d like to come back sometime. What was it like for you to leave that show?
Bryan Batt: It was heartbreaking. I can’t deny the fact. Right before we filmed the episode where my character was getting fired, we had become this, in three short years, phenomenon. It was fun. Even more so now with Netflix, some people are just getting into it, so people are recognizing me now even more than before. It was hard because I’ve been around a while and I know these things don’t always happen. The one thing I’m really glad about is that I really didn’t take any of it for granted. I knew it was special while it was happening and I smelt the roses as I went along. I never took any wonderful awards show or the SAG awards or some big fun party or the brilliant scripts that as an actor , you would give your left nut to perform for granted. Rarely as actors are we given such great material and such well-written, deep characters to play.
TONY: Right now what’s inspiring you creatively?
Bryan Batt: So many things. You never know what’s going to inspire you. Right now, we’re about to open up another store. I’m entrenched in that and working on my one many show, and who knows, somebody might call and say we want you to play this part in a movie. I’m keeping my possibilities open and my feelers open and who knows. I’m kind of an open book.
TONY: You’ve also talked in previous interviews about the positive support you have received from fans after Mad Men with different groups. One of the great things about doing something like that is that it really speaks to people and makes a positive impact in their life. What has it been like to see the support you have received after you’ve left?
Bryan Batt: It’s very, very gratifying. Something clicked with the viewers that they really understood Sal and his plight. I think it’s a great progressive thought that most people would think, ‘Why can’t he be who he is? Why can’t he come out and be who he is?’ That wouldn’t be true for that period. I think what’s great about the character is it transcends a generation because people are still battling such prejudice today. It’s very gratifying and heartwarming to know that people appreciate your work. When a plumber does a good job, no one gives him an award and stands up for applause. It’s a very strange business we’re in, but then again, if he doesn’t wear the proper thing walking down the red carpet, he doesn’t get trashed either. (laughs)
TONY: In a way, was that role therapeutic for you?
Bryan Batt: Yeah, at first, the pilot and then the first episode or two, it took getting into the groove of a character. There were aspects of me that were definitely there, but one main difference is I’m pretty much an open book. I’m very comfortable in my skin and know who I am and Sal is not. He’s hiding. He doesn’t even know he’s so closeted. He doesn’t know who he is and he’s trying to fit in. I had to really dig deep. I think everyone goes through that at some point in their lives. They feel that they don’t fit in with the crowd. They’re trying to fit in or forcing themselves or altering themselves to fit in, to be quote unquote the norm. I had to remember what that was like in high school.
TONY: Alright, great, thank you so much for your time. It was really good talking to you. I appreciate it.
Bryan Batt: Great. Thank you so much.