Interview: Bryan Batt
The Mad Men star speaks to GT about his new one-man show, Batt on a Hot Tin Roof...
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Tell us more about Batt on a Hot Tin Roof...
It’s a mixed bag of nuts kind of night filled with humorous and sometimes touching stories of showbiz and life, with a great eclectic mix of musical genres. Fun will be had by all; I promise you will laugh!
The new show was borne out of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in your hometown of New Orleans. How did that event affect you as an individual and a performer?
It's heart breaking to see your beloved home town so devastated. Just 4 years prior I lived through 9/11, but it just reaffirmed my belief that in the face of tragedy you must find some glimmer of hope and humour. Without that the adversity has won, and I will go down fighting so it doesn’t!
How did growing up as a young gay boy in New Orleans affect you in later life?
I really didn’t know as a boy what gay was, I just loved theatre, music, art, and all things fabulous. Sports didn’t interest me at all, maybe that should have been a sign! In New Orleans there's a great deal of theatricality. Just Mardi Gras itself!
How differently do you feel as a performer putting together your own one man show rather than creating a character from someone else's words?
I love both, however, doing a one man show is completely different. There is no set, no costume changes, no other cast members, no hydraulics… just you and the audience. And no fourth wall, so unlike conventional theatre you must look at your audience and connect with them. There's no character to hide in, you are naked… metaphorically.
You've been with your partner for 24 years! Some of us can't hold down one for 24 days, what's been your secret?
I learned from my parents to weather the storm, and if you are going through a rough patch, forge on and remember why you got in the relationship in the first place. It's work; if there is a problem, work it out, talk it out. Communication is key! To be honest, in NYC, while I was on Broadway, we had opposite schedules so we really only saw each other late at night and on Mondays. Recently with our shops [Bryan and his partner own home decor store Hazelnut] there’s been a lot of 24/7 togetherness. It's been an adjustment, but since work takes me away a lot, there's a good balance. Of course he came to London for this show. I mean, come on, it’s LONDON!
In 2005 you said you were worried about the effect coming out would have on your career. Have you found that it's hindered you in anyway? Do you think that audiences are a lot more willing to accept a gay man in a straight role than the studios would have us previously believe?
Yes and no. At that time, and still today, there is an unfortunate price actors pay if they are out. It is getting a little better, and I hope one day it doesn’t matter, but I couldn’t live a secret life, a lie. If you have to hide a relationship you shouldn’t be in it! I have to pretend so much as an actor, I couldn’t do it in my personal life.
Do you feel it's easier for actors/actresses to come out now than it even was just 10 years ago, or is there still a stigma attached to it, particularly in Hollywood?
Sadly there still is a preconception, not a stigma per se. We will see, things are getting better. Hollywood is about one thing... money! If an openly gay leading man or woman is out and sells like crazy, they will go along. I’m hoping some do come out and dispel any potential doubts and prove that it doesn’t matter if an actor is gay or straight.
We loved your character Sal in Mad Men! What's it like getting into the mindset of a closeted character, especially one slightly later in life?
He is so unlike me. I am an open book, He is afraid. I like to think of myself as fearless. I also had to monitor my gestures and tone everything down, both for the office and the camera!
You've worked with so many different actors on a number of different roles, can you pinpoint your favourite gig and why?
Besides Sal, I loved doing the Scarlet Pimpernel on Broadway. It’s a huge demanding role; sword fights, disguises, intrigue, comic, dramatic, big songs….plus a solo curtain call!
Bryan Batt performs his cabaret show Batt On A Hot Tin Roof from Tuesday August 6 – 10. Tickets cost £30 and are available from Crazy Coqs or 020 7734 4888. Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel, Piccadilly, London, W1.
Words: Lee Dalloway (@Leeroydalvin)