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 Shopkeeper, philanthropist, star of stage and screen 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 dont 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 its just one composer. I like singing songs that mean something to me. Im working on a whole bunch of new ones to add in. Of course Im going to have some of my old favorites hopefully the audiences favorites as well. One thing people have said about my shows is that they come away hearing songs, and loving songs, that they hadnt heard before. If Im 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. Theres 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 Guys 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?
Its really fun. Its something I never really thought Id do. The last show I did at Le Chat, I did it in New York and won the Bistro award for Best Cabaret Act. Its one of these things, I dont know why, but it comes to me naturally, in a way. Ive seen so many performers that cant break that fourth wall no matter what, theyre still onstage. To let your own personality out is, I think, the important thing. Because it is an intimate evening. Youre sharing with the audience. Betty Buckley told me a while back shes fantastic at it, youd think youre in her living room, watching her have a breakdown she said, Its a totally different animal than playing a part onstage. You have to engage the audience, and you have to be so open to them. Its really an acting lesson most of the time. My piano player coming in from New York, Michael Levine hes 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, thats 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 wouldnt say begged. They souped it up. I called Matt immediately: I did not say He said, Dont worry! They wrote about you, its great.
But there is a dialogue?
There is. Not a whole lot, because hes so insanely brilliant and knows people so well. I dont know if you read the interview with Jon Hamm in GQ, but after Jons 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. Its quite interesting that hes that insightful. There was a line in the show (about my character), Youre loud, but youre shy. I said, Thats a funny line. He goes, Thats 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: Its on, its on, were doing it! Its insane. They just a month ago cut the deal with him. I thought after we won the Emmy, theyd say, Yes, lets do it, lets 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? Its 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. Its a role I dont think has been really explored so deeply on television. I cant wait to see what theyre going to do, because whatever they do, I know its going to be a) Intelligent, and b) respectful, in a way. Its not going to be the obvious choices. Theyre 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 theyre 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 theyre in the episode. And then b) How much do they have? And then as much reading as you can get in.
Its a great place to go to work. But I like being here, too. This is the first time Im here for this long of a stretch Im think Im here two weeks. [Laughs]
You juggle so many different things, with the stage acting, revues, television, charity work, the shop
And the shop! Were launching a new product line for Mardi Gras these gorgeous reverse-decoupage plates from my own collection, Harpers 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. Ive always loved skinnier ties. Ive 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 dont. 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 its 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 Im glad it did work out, because I made a friend in Jenny, and she has a pretty pimping trailer.