If youve somehow managed to avoid the Mad Men buzz and werent 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 --heres what you need to know: Its good. Mad good. And theres 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. Im 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?
Sals 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 hes almost repelled hes 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 theyre not. Its a very, very, very constricted time frame. Theres still so much racism, so much homphobia, anti-Semitism, sexism. Although we like to think weve 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 doesnt 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 hes thought about it more and more over the years, and after hes 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, maam! 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. Its just brilliant writing. It was clear Don was telling him, Okayyou know, I know, but watch it!
How do you think Don seeing him is going to affect Sals sexual evolution? Is it straight into the very back of the closet?
Up for interpretation. Thats one possibility, but Don has had so many affairs now, and I saw him coming out with the stewardess. Its kind of like, Dont Ask, Dont 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 theyre going to outdo themselves this season?
Were just constantly amazed at how brilliant the scripts are, and every week they top themselves. Its beyond definition. This season is different, but its in the style of Mad Men. Its just going to be more great Mad Men coming at ya!
How would you define that style of Mad Men?
Well, just that its not written for the lowest common denominator. You have to pay attention. You have to watch intensely and read through the lines. Theyre not going to re-tell something thats been told before. Every line means something. Its edgy and new. Even though its set in the past its 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 dont 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.
If you could have the ultimate fantasy storyline for Sal, what would it be?
Its funny -- Ive stopped even daydreaming about what could happen because whatever I think of pales in comparison to what the writers actually come up with [Laughs]. How Matthew and the writers weave the story together is just sosmart! I never dreamed that this episode would happen, and theres another one down the pipeline that is just fantastic.
As the show keeps skipping forward into 60s how do you think Sal is going to react to the Stonewall riots?
Well, it could go either way. It could go that he really embraces the tumultuous changes that are coming -- when you think about the 60s, it could have just been the 50s, a repressed and constricted society until going into the 70s when everyone is all free love. It kind of does a 180. Some people went with it, some people not completely, and some people fought it. My dream is that theyd put me somewhere near Stonewall in 69, but thatd be just so obvious that theyd never do that [Laughs]. Theyd have to come up with something better, some interesting plot twist for Sal. But Id love to see him down the line at some club at some point -- happy, or at least leaning towards his natural inclinations a little more, towards love. But it is Mad Men, so people are going to be tortured.
I see him more in the bathhouse scene than the dating scene.
Yeah, there are limits. Ive met some men who worked in the industry at that time and had wives and children and came out gay later, and theyre saying that this is exactly, exactly how it was. He lives in this period of time, and even into the 80s and 90s before people could really come out at work. Even now theres very little, if any, legislation that protects gay people against prejudice who are out in the office. Its kind of crazy when you think about it. Were the last group in America that still has clear-cut prejudice thats allowed. Until everyone has equal rights in this country -- and I mean everyone across the board -- this experiment of America is failing.
Will the other gay character, Kurt, be making more noise this season?
He comes back once in a while, but I dont know yet what happens with this season. There was an interesting episode last year where he came out in front of everyone and when he left the room the guys said these horrible, disparaging remarks and it just broke Sals heart in a way.
Switching to style -- its huge on the show. Has being immersed in all the amazing set pieces given inspiration for your own shop Hazelnut in New Orleans?
Its such a wonderful era of design. Theres a little bit, touches like starburst mirrors and furniture thats iconic of that era that we have, but I always have an open eye to all different eras and all different periods of design.
Are you digging the 60s fashion? Have any favorites so far?
Gosh, theres so many! Janie Bryant, our costume designer, is a genius, and I totally love that period of fashion for men. In the first episode I had this really great double-breasted blue blazer and you cant really even see but the weave of the suit is this bluish grey -- I dont know how to even describe it -- a plaid, but not really a plaid. I never thought Id wear a tie bar again, but here I am wearing a tie bar and I love it. Theres so many outfits, wonderful fabrics with sharkskin tone to them. They really have to go through my bag when I leave set. I cant wait to go further into the 60s -- bring on the bell bottoms!
Youve been with your partner Tom Cianfichi for what, 20 years now? Any plans to tie the knot?
Well, we were going to do it, but then look what happened in California. We hope its going to be repealed, and when it becomes legal were going to do it.
What do you think about all this grassroots Brad Pitt for Mayor hoopla down in New Orleans now?
Are they serious? Im sure its a joke although I wouldnt put it past anyone these days. You know a lot of people do very good work and everything but I wouldnt want to be mayor. Who knows -- he did such great work in the Ninth Ward building those homes, maybe hell be able to get something done, but his other career is going pretty damn well.
Finally, fanboys want to know: is Jon Hamm really so dreamy in person? Or is that raw sexual energy all Don Draper drag?
No, hes the real deal. Hes just cool! [Laughs] Hes not conceited. Hes warm, and open and has a wicked sense of humor, very funny and self-effacing. Hes very sexy naturally, a real guys guy.