Mad Men's Mad World

8.20.2009

By Justin Ocean

If you've somehow managed to avoid the Mad Men buzz and weren't one of the 2.8 million viewers who tuned in to the premiere this past Sunday -- or have had 1,832 other shows keeping you from catching the first two Emmy award-winning seasons --here's what you need to know: It's good. Mad good. And there's no time like the present to jump in to the dazzling dramarama surrounding the players in 1960s NYC advertising firm Sterling Cooper. To get the skinny on the third season, we catch up with out actor, author, and activist Bryan Batt as he peruses the New York International Gift Fair (he co-owns a shop with his partner down in his native New Orleans) and talk first kisses, sixties style and the irony of playing closeted art director Salvatore Romano.

OutYou must be spent after the big premiere last night.
Bryan Batt: It was wild! It was in Times Square and we were told there was between 4,500 and 5,000 people watching the jumbotrons. I'm a little exhausted -- a good kind of tired.

For people just getting familiar with the show, what do they need to know about your character and the show to jump in?
Sal's a very complex, tortured character. He has these longings that he has not even acknowledged. In the first season, a client from Belle Jolie hits on him at a dinner, and he's almost repelled he's so shocked by it. And then in season two he gets married but has a crush on one of the guys at the office and invites him over to dinner with his wife. People ask me when is Sal coming out and I say, 'To what?' What would he come out to in 1963? The show is truthful to the time period and how it depicts the duplicitous lives of these ad men and how people had to manipulate their lives to fit in. A lot of people look back at those years as the good ol' days, but if you look closely they're not. It's a very, very, very constricted time frame. There's still so much racism, so much homphobia, anti-Semitism, sexism. Although we like to think we've changed, there are still leaps and bounds we need to accomplish.

What was your reaction when you first read the script for the premiere and saw the scene with the bellhop?
I was thrilled! I thought it was something people would really love to see, and I think the way it came to be was great. It ended up being what I call a 'kiss and a handshake.' [Laughs] He doesn't really get any kind of satisfaction. Just a taste.

It seemed lifted straight from the gay porn playbook.
Yeah, I was waiting for that '70s guitar to kick in, but it never did.

What changed to have Sal open to the advances now as opposed to that dinner with the Belle Jolie client?

He was out of his work environment, and I think his feelings really grew and grew, and he's thought about it more and more over the years, and after he's been married for a while and these people had come onto him. Also he was drunk, tired and caught off guard. It was really wham, bam, thank you, ma'am! His defenses were down.

I loved the follow-up scene on the airplane with Don Draper (John Hamm), the whole double conversation about the London Fog ad and 'limiting your exposure' -- it was a very pregnant scene.
Everything in the show is very nuanced and very loaded. They say one thing and could possibly mean another, it all can be interpreted many different ways. It's just brilliant writing. It was clear Don was telling him, 'Okay'you know, I know, but watch it!'

How do you think Don seeing him is going to affect Sal's sexual evolution? Is it straight into the very back of the closet?
Up for interpretation. That's one possibility, but Don has had so many affairs now, and I saw him coming out with the stewardess. It's kind of like, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' [Laughs].

AMC and creator Matt Weiner really set the bar with the Emmy award-winning season two. Do you have any insight about how they're going to outdo themselves this season?
We're just constantly amazed at how brilliant the scripts are, and every week they top themselves. It's beyond definition. This season is different, but it's in the style of Mad Men. It's just going to be more great Mad Men coming at ya!

How would you define that 'style of Mad Men'?
Well, just that it's not written for the lowest common denominator. You have to pay attention. You have to watch intensely and read through the lines. They're not going to re-tell something that's been told before. Every line means something. It's edgy and new. Even though it's set in the past it's very modern in its depiction of that era.

Do you think being on basic cable as opposed to pay cable is letting the show flourish in new ways or would you rather have some more of that hard edge a HBO or Showtime could provide?
I don't know -- I think the wisest decision by AMC was to take the show on and give Matthew full creative control. He has such a vision as an artist of what he wants to portray. Some times at big networks they do testing, you know, everything is directing or writing by committee. That waters down the story. Nobody is taking any chances and I think when you take the biggest chances is when you reap the best benefits.

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