Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Shooting Le Chat With Bryan Batt

Posted By on Tue, Feb 10, 2009 at 4:29 PM

 

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Shopkeeper, philanthropist, star of stage and screen — Bryan Batt wears more hats than a mid-century adman on Madison Avenue. Add “Mardi Gras monarch” to that list, as the New Orleans native will ride alongside Jim Belushi and Carlos Mencia in Orpheus’ Feb. 23 parade. On Thursday, he enters the spotlight at Le Chat Noir for “Batt on a Hot Tin Roof,” a “mostly new” revue of treasured songs. Batt spoke with The Gambit about his one-man show, his award-winning TV series Mad Men, and how Burt Bacharach factors into both.

 

How did this revue come about? You've done a few of these.

The whole thing started with Barbara Motley. Right after (Hurricane) Katrina she asked me to put together an evening to help open up Le Chat. Of course I agreed to it, because I agree to anything to help anybody having anything to do with Katrina. When I hung up the phone, I immediately realized that I had never done this before. I had performed in benefits, done nine Broadway shows, but never just me on a stage with a piano in front of people. She said, “You can do anything you want. Just put together an evening.” And we did, and it went over really well. That was “Bryan Batt at Le Chat.” Then it became “Bryan Batt and All That Chat.” Then “Bryan Batt: Le Chat Happens.” I don’t think we ever did “Bryan Batt, Same Old Chat.” [Laughs] But it really is just a night of songs that mean something to me. I rarely like going to an evening where it’s just one composer. I like singing songs that mean something to me. I’m working on a whole bunch of new ones to add in. Of course I’m going to have some of my old favorites — hopefully the audience’s favorites as well. … One thing people have said about my shows is that they come away hearing songs, and loving songs, that they hadn’t heard before. If I’m going to do a standard, I try to give it a different twist. So many songs have been sung so many times. You have to have a reason to sing it.

 

You characterize one Burt Bacharach medley as “soooo Mad Men.Has Sal (Romano, Batt's character on the AMC series) crept into your stage persona?

There is, a little bit. There’s a song I do called “No Moon At All,” and it goes into “Devil Moon.” It reminded me a little of this night where we had a cast party and everyone ended up in the hot tub.

 

Probably how Mad Men fans imagine all wraps of that show.

[Laughs] The medley came out of trying to find something that was definitive. The next season will be ’64, so Burt Bacharach was in full swing. The first song, I think, is from ’63, “Wives and Lovers.” Then it goes into “This Guy’s In Love With You,” and if you watch Mad Men, you know my character has different kinds of man crushes. [Laughs] So it can be interpreted many different ways.

 

Is the revue format more difficult than doing a play?

It’s really fun. It’s something I never really thought I’d do. The last show I did at Le Chat, I did it in New York and won the Bistro award for Best Cabaret Act. It’s one of these things, I don’t know why, but it comes to me naturally, in a way. I’ve seen so many performers that can’t break that fourth wall — no matter what, they’re still onstage. To let your own personality out is, I think, the important thing. Because it is an intimate evening. You’re sharing with the audience. Betty Buckley told me a while back — she’s fantastic at it, you’d think you’re in her living room, watching her have a breakdown — she said, “It’s a totally different animal than playing a part onstage. You have to engage the audience, and you have to be so open to them.” It’s really an acting lesson most of the time. … My piano player coming in from New York, Michael Levine — he’s come in every time. The last time, there was a severe snow storm and his flight kept getting canceled. He walked in at 7:45.

 

Le Chat almost hit the fan.

Exactly! Hey, that’s a good one: “Le Chat Hits the Fan.” I think I might try that.

 

We could do this all day. In a recent New York Times article, there was a line about how you begged (Mad Men creator) Matthew (Weiner) to let Sal get married …

I wouldn’t say begged. They souped it up. I called Matt immediately: “I did not say …” He said, “Don’t worry! They wrote about you, it’s great.”

 

But there is a dialogue?

There is. Not a whole lot, because he’s so insanely brilliant and knows people so well. I don’t know if you read the interview with Jon Hamm in GQ, but after Jon’s first audition, Matt looked to the casting directors and said, “That man was not raised by his parents.” As it turns out, he was raised by his grandmother. It’s quite interesting that he’s that insightful. There was a line in the show (about my character), “You’re loud, but you’re shy.” I said, “That’s a funny line.” He goes, “That’s you.” And I went, wow. Because there is a part of me that is shy, and I think I make up for it by being a little verbose and a little out there.

 

I dropped hints. But he called right before his deal was done — he had to get off the phone because his agent was calling, and he called back: “It’s on, it’s on, we’re doing it!” It’s insane. They just a month ago cut the deal with him. I thought after we won the Emmy, they’d say, “Yes, let’s do it, let’s negotiate.”

 

Two Golden Globes.

Two Golden Globes, the Emmy, the Peabody. Triple, quadruple whatever crown.

 

The show was renewed in October, but his deal was consummated last month? Were they going to do it without him?

They were thinking of it. Of course, the whole industry went, are you out of your mind? It’s his baby. He said to me, “Bryan, last year everyone said to me, ‘Don Draper was my dad, and I was Sally, or I was Bobby Draper.’ Now people are coming up to me saying, ‘Sal was my dad.’” It’s a role I don’t think has been really explored so deeply on television. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do, because whatever they do, I know it’s going to be a) Intelligent, and b) respectful, in a way. It’s not going to be the obvious choices. They’re going to treat it with some kind of pride, I hope.

 

You don't find out about the plot lines until table reads the day before shooting, right? Does that get anxious?

Sometimes you get it the day before — they drop it off to your house. It is. Sometimes on set they’re circulating because the makeup people have to have them before. So if you see one sitting around — I would not do it, but some of my friends go run and grab it. The first thing they do is everyone looks for their name, to make sure they’re in the episode. And then b) How much do they have? And then as much reading as you can get in.

 

It’s a great place to go to work. But I like being here, too. This is the first time I’m here for this long of a stretch— I’m think I’m here two weeks. [Laughs]

 

You juggle so many different things, with the stage acting, revues, television, charity work, the shop …

And the shop! We’re launching a new product line for Mardi Gras — these gorgeous reverse-decoupage plates from my own collection, Harper’s Weekly, from the 1800s. They really came out gorgeous.

 

I was watching these style tours of your house, and one commenter said something like, “In real life Bryan Batt fits the Mad Men era perfectly.” True?

I think I do have elements of that. I’ve always loved skinnier ties. I’ve always loved a thinner pant at the bottom. A narrower lapel. And there are some things, like a good old Dick Van Dyke couch, that I think are just timeless. I think it all can mix. Like I said in the interview, who wants to live in an 18th century world? I don’t. I want my cell phone, my computer, television, the whole nine yards.

 

You're also an active philanthropist. Tell me about “Pimp My FEMA Trailer.”

[Laughs] We were coming back from market, and it’s true, I sat next to this woman. We kept in touch: she sends us birthday cards; we send her birthday cards. Jenny. This woman had such a spirit. It made me believe in people again. She charmed the entire area of the plane. I said, “I need your name and number. We might be doing a project.” Next thing you know, Renee (Peck) made it all happen that we could do her trailer. What I found out was, there was supposed to be a bunch of people doing it, and everyone had all pulled out. We were the only ones who ended up doing it. But I’m glad it did work out, because I made a friend in Jenny, and she has a pretty pimping trailer.

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