As a "Mad Men" fan visiting New Orleans last week, we dropped in on Bryan Batt, who plays gay, closeted (and recently fired) ad designer Sal. Native New Orleanian Batt co-owns a lovely little home-accessories shop in Uptown called Hazelnut, and his gracious Southernness almost gave us the vapors.
Is he even more handsome in real life? Yes, that day’s beard stubble notwithstanding. Will Sal be back next season, as clamoring fans hope? "I don’t know — really — and I’m about to cancel Facebook and go into hiding because everyone keeps asking." Is Jon Hamm as nice as everybody says he is? "Yes, the opposite of Don Draper."
Batt, who is 46, has worked steadily as a Broadway actor and splits his time between New York and Louisiana. He walked into the shop accompanied by his Boston terrier Peggy (NOT named after Elisabeth Moss's character on the much-honored series). The only nod to "Mad Men" at Hazelnut, which sells decor ranging from $5 holiday ornaments and $14 caviar spoons to New Orleans-style toile and more expensive objets, was a small stack of 2010 calendars.
Batt said he has nothing to do with the writing of his character, "blindly trusting" show creator Matthew Weiner. He did suggest that Sal, between seasons one and two, should perhaps get married -- as many gay men did as a cover in the early 1960s, "and some still are," he said.
Sal seems to be genuinely fond of his wife, who doesn't really suspect anything is wrong until he throws himself into a "Bye Bye Birdie" demonstration in their bedroom.
"I thought he should be more in love with her," Batt said. "The director Jerry Zaks taught me that if your'e going to make an adjustment, make it a positive one. But it also adds another level of sadness."
In one episode, Sal's character locks lips and hips with a hotel bellhop until a fire alarm goes off. "I think there was a little resistance from network brass on that, but Matthew said, if oyu can show someone's head being blown off, you can show this."
One of Batt's greatest achievements on the show is perfecting the social mask Sal wore, a particular, guarded expression.
"Oh, you mean the look that has to convey abject fear, unbridled lust and continual angst, plus a slight smirk, all at the same time? Well, I didn't come out in real life to my family until I was 29."
Check out the goods at Hazelnut, which Batt owns with his longtime partner Tom Cianfichi, at hazelnutneworleans.com.