Bryan Batt is hiding in plain sight on Mad Men, the new cable drama about a group of day-drinking, chain-smoking, skirt-chasing ad guys living it up in swinging 1960. Batt plays Salvatore, the agency's art director, and no one on the show bats an eye at his straight-faced declarations of love for Joan Crawford or use of a half-naked male neighbor as model for a cigarette ad.
On tonight's episode, "The Hobo Code," airing on AMC at 10pm, Sal gets a little too cozy with a new client. Batt spoke to Out.com from New Orleans, where in the off-season he plays every role "from stock boy to gift wrap girl" at the boutique he co-owns with his partner.
Out.com: Finally your character gets a big story line! What's up with the art director?
Bryan Batt: We find out a little bit more about him. he comes to terms with -- or starts to explore some possibilities that we in 2007 have all already noticed about him. To a person in the '60s maybe it's less obvious. He's not dealing with it so well.
So Sal hasn't even had a secret gay life yet? It's never been clear.
No. I don't know if that happens later on. It's an episode about discovery. And like all our shows, what you think is going to happen doesn't happen, but you're still happily surprised. It's really smart.
You lead a double life as a stylist. Mad Men's period-perfect design must be like heaven.
The costumes -- oh, my God! Because our costume designer knows I'm from New Orleans, she gave my character this little vest. It has fleurs-de-lis embroidered on it!
And the sets look amazing.
It's all mid-century modern, which I think is the last really honest, truly American era of design. It's so iconic. Everything since has been retro or a throwback.
Which pieces are you secretly dying to steal?
There's a pair of paintings in the conference room -- blue, yellow, and green horizontal abstracts. I would kill people for them! And there's a pair of chairs in Don Draper's office that I covet.
I hope you'll take this as a compliment -- you have the gayest resume ever.
[Laughing] I know! But what's funny is only in La Cage and Jeffrey were they actually gay roles. I was in Cats and Sunset Boulevard in straight roles, but they had a campy kitsch effect. I've enjoyed every show I've been in.
Many people think Hollywood is the most closeted workplace in America.
You might be right. There's this double standard. I'm just one of those people -- I cannot live a lie. I just can't. I was very lucky. I met my partner, and we've been together for 18 years. I was coming of age during the AIDS crisis; everyone on Broadway was dying around me. Even when I did Jeffrey, people were telling me, "Don't come out, don't come out." I was like, I am out. I already am. I never dated girls -- I was with Tom. I'm lucky to be able to live my happy life. There are some actors who live these quiet and duplicitous lives where they can't really have what they want. But I say, sooner or later, love is gonna get you.
Has playing Sal given you any new insight into what it would be like to be closeted?
It's reminded me of when I was in high school. I remember trying to walk more like the other guys did -- and talk like them. I had big gestures I tried to pull in. I was pretending. It was just like Eliza Doolittle. People do try to conform to what they think is acceptable. But you should find the people to be around who accept you for who you are.
Tell me about your other love, New Orleans.
The city is bouncing back. I think people should come down here, have a good time, but also tour the devastation, drink a Hurricane -- because you're gonna need it -- and then go back and write their public officials asking why we keep pouring money into Iraq when we need to rebuild the levees.
Catch Batt hosting the NO/AIDS Walk in New Orleans on September 16 and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market in New York City's Shubert Alley on September 23.