The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 13, 2007
UP TO BATT
If Bryan Batt has his way, AMC's
'60s series 'Mad Men' will just go from mod to real groovy
by Dave Walker
Bryan Batt's personal experience with the
moods and mores of the "modern" middle
of the 20th century -- captured so expertly in the new AMC advertising-industry-set
series "Mad Men" in which he co-stars -- are frozen in a photo.
"I have a snapshot of my mom, pregnant with me, having a martini
and a cigarette, 1963 or whatever," said Batt, who plays an ad-agency
art director named Salvatore in the series. "It is one of my favorite
periods. The clothes are fantastic. The style, especially for the women,
is very, very sexy and very alluring. It also was the definitive 'modern'
era of design and look, and it's proved itself now that Mid-Century Modern
has become so popular. It is an iconic 'modern' design period."
"Mad Men" is also mid-century in
"With all this drinking and smoking and carrying on -- there's
all this racism and sexism and anti-Semitism," he said. "People
said what they were feeling and it was accepted.
"It's quite interesting how (the show
demonstrates) how much we have changed and how much we have not."
All of which -- the style and the throwback
attitudes -- are captured in hi-fi in "Mad Men."
Created by former "Sopranos" scribe
Matthew Weiner, the series is set in a Madison Avenue ad agency circa
1960, when men were men and women were office girls or stay-at-home
Together, the ad execs and their trusted assistants made their high-life
livings selling America stuff it didn't really need. Example: Coming
up with a killer campaign for a cigarette account is the main story told
in the premiere.
A New Orleans native well known to theater-goers
here and on Broadway, Batt splits his time between home (where he oversees
his Magazine Street shop Hazelnut) and New York and Los Angeles (at
least for as long as "Mad
Men" is in production). His most recent local appearance was co-hosting,
with Patricia Clarkson, a June fundraising auction for Le Petit Theatre
du Vieux Carre.
Batt passed on his first audition for "Mad
"I did not know it was Matt Weiner. I did not know how wonderful
it was going to be," he said. "We had plans to go to Paris.
We took my godchild -- who actually saved our store, boarded up our store,
boarded up our carriage house and then drove my mother to Texas during
the hurricane, because we were in Sonoma and could not get back. And
we just said, 'How could you repay someone for that kind of kindness?'
"So for one of the first times in my
life, I said, 'You know, no. We made these plans and we can't back
out.' The likelihood of me getting a pilot, I thought, was so slim."
When he returned to the states, the part had still not been cast, and
so Batt got the job. The pilot, which airs Thursday as the series premiere,
was shot in New York about a year ago. Production continues now in Los
Angeles on the remaining order of a dozen first-season episodes. Early
critical response is encouraging.
"Possibly the best new show you'll see this summer," wrote
Time's James Poniewozik.
But not all of the early reviews are positive. One cultural nanny-group
has already decried how much drinking goes on in the show.
"I just want to say, 'Lighten up,' " Batt said. "It's
a TV series. It's not a guide for living. It's not 'The Secret.' "
Speaking of which, Sal may have one. "Mad Men" is
set in an era when not even ad agency art directors could be their
true selves. (It's an issue, even, that he's Italian and not a WASP,
but that's not what I'm getting at.)
"He's the art director. He's very -- artistic," Batt said. "We're
talking also about an era where certain things were not discussed.
"He wants to be one of the big ad men.
He wants to be with the guys, but he is different. I can say that much.
We haven't addressed it completely yet. I don't think Salvatore really
"(Weiner) definitely wanted a modern audience to pick up on his
body language and who he is," Batt said. "But no one in the
world of the 'Mad Men' can see it. So he was just viewed as 'artistic.'
I can't wait to get the next script, cause they said they're going to
start to address it."
But that's all Batt can say. Weiner, coming
from the closed-down "Sopranos" school,
insists that his storylines be kept hush-hush.
"It's funny, I didn't realize this, but in Los Angeles, they tell
you, 'Don't leave your scripts in your car,' " Batt said. "Every
time you go to a restaurant and valet park, every valet parker is an
actor, and they'll find your script.
"It's so interesting and challenging,
but I'm loving every minute of it."
And he wouldn't mind going on loving it for several more seasons.
"Oh, please, Santa, please," he said. "I
would love to see when the '60s become the ' '60s,' when the men start
putting on the flared pants and letting their sideburns grow. And The
Beatles influence and the Vietnam War, the protests. On Madison Avenue,
some firms kept that old guard up, and it was the newer, clever ones
that were really winning the battle. It was such an incredible time.
"As long as they want me, I'll be there."
. . . . . . .
TV columnist Dave Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (504) 826-3429.
9 p.m. Thursday