Ten Money Questions for Bryan Batt
Bryan Batt plays the character of “Salvatore” on Mad Men, the hit series from AMC. The show, set in 1960 New York, chronicles the ruthless lives of Madison Avenue advertising. In addition to his new role on television, Bryan is a veteran actor on Broadway, a designer and fundraiser for his beloved hometown of New Orleans. I was able to get personal with him about money, Mad Men, and making a living while doing his craft. Enjoy!
1. Advertising is all about how you sell it. Can the same be said about selling your sexuality in Hollywood? Has being out helped or hurt your career as an actor?
I’ve never tried nor cared to “sell” my sexuality, to me it is such a non-issue. “What you do” with your life rather than “who you do” is far more meaningful to me. Being gay is as genetically predisposed as having brown eyes and being six feet tall. I am a six foot tall brown eyed ACTOR who happens to be gay. Ironically, the majority of the roles I’ve played on Broadway and off were straight; however the most known is “Darius” in Paul Rudnick’s “Jeffrey”. I am so happy to be playing “Salvatore” in “MAD MEN” – he obviously may be gay, but he is brilliantly written, and strong, unlike some of the stereotypical parts I’ve been asked to read for in Hollywood.
2. What is your most significant memory about money?
Missing it. I grew up very comfortably and had very generous parents, but when I moved to New York from the comforts of my New Orleans life, it was a rude awakening.
3. What is your worst habit around finances?
Shopping! Art and fashion. I love art, art auctions, and many different styles so that can get pricey. I also adore beautiful designer clothes. Today I was very bad and broke the bank at SCOTT & CO. (a great men’s haberdashery on Sunset Blvd.) I am a sucker for Etro and Paul Smith. They were having a 70% sale. I hope my brother doesn’t read this because he owns a few Jos. A. Bank clothing stores in the South, and although I like some of their classic basics, the general style is a bit conservative for my taste.
4. Do you have any horror stories about service jobs in those early days doing Off-Broadway work?
Believe it or not, I never waited tables; however, I did have an embarrassingly humiliating job. Although it paid well and I could arrange my hours around auditioning, I was a “fragrance model” at Bloomingdales in the late eighties and sprayed people with cologne. It was horrific because the perfume vendors were so pushy and aggressive – they wanted us to force ourselves on the unsuspecting shopper, which is not my style. Later on, I taught aerobics. Mary Tyler Moore was in my second class…that lady can really do her sit-ups.
5. As an actor, is there truth to the saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow?”
That’s bullshit! The arts are the only businesses where although you may have the best training, incredible talent, and great ambition, you may not work or make good money. A friend of mine was in Les Miserables years ago playing one of the leads, and he earned the same amount he had waiting tables. It’s a tough and unfair business. That’s why I love it when I hear actors making insane amounts of money.
6. Any idea what a 1 bedroom apartment went for back in the Mad Men days of 1960? Is it worth the price to live there now?
I have no idea, and I’m sure we would all cry then look for the nearest time machine.
New York is so expensive. I am very grateful for my one bedroom coop. There would be no way I could afford this newly imposed life of being tri coastal; back and forth between New Orleans, New York, and now L.A. if I had to pay today’s rents. But there is nothing like New York. NOTHING!
7. OK, we get that you love the Big Apple, so what’s this business about the Big Easy and the story behind Hazelnut?
I was born and raised in New Orleans and love that city. I always loved shopping on Magazine St. In fact, when Tom and I would visit (practically during every vacation), we would make sure to schedule a day to shop the Street. It is so unique – a 5 mile stretch of locally owned gift, clothing, accessories, art, and antique stores, not to mention the great restaurants, saloons and bars, which reflect the individual taste of the owners, rather than that of a homogenized corporate mall.
After acting, Tom had designed with a major firm, then managed every aspect of a very high end Madison Ave. gift/ home accessory shop. We had this dream of opening our own in New Orleans. A big show I was slated to do was postponed indefinitely, so we took the chance, and everything fell into place. When I am not acting or doing fundraisers for the rebuilding, you can find me in the shop doing everything from being ”stock boy”, “wrap chick”, to “porter with a mop”. I do love it, especially the buying trips, but it’s fun just to stand on the floor and talk with the customers… that is my forte.
Oh, and the name…well, we named it after my wonderful dearly departed grandmother Hazel. She was a lovely steel magnolia, who was the dance maven of the BIG EASY years ago… and she was a nut. Actually her maiden name was Nuss, which means “nut” in German. I love her and the shop, check out www.hazelnutneworleans.com.
8. How long have you and your partner, Tom been together? And have you always seen eye-to-eye on finances?
Tom and I have had the pleasure of being together for over 18 years. It’s been wonderful, but has its ups and downs like any relationship, but we have stuck by each other. We are, or rather, should be committed. I had wonderful parents who went through some hard times together, but worked through it, and in the end their relationship flourished. When the times get tough, I tend to dig in the trenches. It also helps that he’s a gorgeous, talented, funny man. No one can make me laugh like he does. Financially, he is light years ahead of me, very organized and budgeted. Because of my theatrical gypsy nature, I can get to the “hand to mouth” place…he keeps me in line.
9. You’ve organized and performed in events post-Katrina to benefit numerous local charities. Is it still about giving money or are there other things that Americans can do to help years later?
Well, there’s a benefit I am working on right now. It’s “MAGAZINE STREET RETAIL RELIEF 3” on November 3rd. The third annual festival up and down the historic street will have bands, refreshments, and special deals all day. It’s basically a grass roots event that I started right after we all got back after evacuation to help jump start business and calm some fears about the economy. It is still struggling, so this is an open invite to all to come down and shop, eat, drink and see all the amazing architecture of the French Quarter, the Garden District, and Uptown. The restaurants are back, the music is back, the shops are back and need the nations’ business. When you come though, make sure to tour the devastated areas like the lower ninth ward, and Lakeview and see how much more needs to be done, write your public officials in D.C., then drink a “hurricane” – you’ll need it.
Also the charter schools need help. Education has always been a problem here, but citizens are taking the issue into their own hands and really making a great difference.
10. If Salvatore, your character were still alive today, what do you think he would be doing in retirement?
Hmmmm…I have to be careful…plot lines you know, however I think that Sal would maybe have had an epiphany near “Stonewall,” had an emotional “coming out” fraught with teeth gnashing drama, then in the midst of his torment meet and fall madly in love with a handsome younger mate, the affection was returned, and they have a wonderful life together. Sort of like “Sterling” and “Darius” in “JEFFREY”, but in my vision, there would be no AIDS.
More about Bryan Batt
Bryan Batt portrays “Salvatore,” the art director at the dynamic Sterling Cooper advertising agency on Mad Men. Of Italian descent, Salvatore tries to be “one of the guys” in the predominantly WASP corporate structure. But Salvatore is used to hiding, or at least masking the truth in order to fit in and succeed on Madison Avenue.
Bryan Batt is a native New Orleanian actor, designer, and borderline fanatic fundraiser for his beleaguered and beloved hometown. Broadway leading and principal roles include: 2005 revival La Cage Aux Folles, Beauty and the Beast, Suessical the Musical, Sunset Blvd, Saturday Night Fever, The Scarlett Pimpernel, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Starlight Express, and Cats. Off Broadway: Forbidden Broadway Strikes Back, Forbidden Broadway Cleans Up Its Act (Drama Desk Nomination).
Bryan created the role of “Darius” in both the N.Y. and L.A (Drama Logue Award) productions as well as the film adaptation of Paul Rudnick’s “Jeffrey.” He has also recently appeared on episodes of Rescue Me and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and was Guest Designer on many episodes of the STYLE Network’s Guess Who’s Coming to Decorate. His design work and shop HAZELNUT have been featured in The New York Times, Domino Magazine, Lucky, Traditional Home among others.
Since the storm, Bryan has organized, hosted and/or performed in numerous events to benefit many local charities, and was particularly honored to have opened the BROADWAY CELEBRITY BENEFIT hosted by Liza Minnelli, by singing “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans.” Bryan is now splitting his time between the Big Apple and the Big Easy.
Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.