After getting unceremoniously sacked for refusing to sleep with a (male) client in episode nine of this season’s ‘Mad Men,’ Bryan Batt’s Salvatore Romano was thrown out on the street, and out of the picture for long enough to cause most fans to wonder, will Sal ever return? And following Sunday night’s Sal-less finale, the future of television’s most lovable, closeted art director is still highly uncertain.
“I honestly know nothing,” Batt said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m like Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes!”
And that’s not him just being coy, or playing into showrunner Matt Weiner’s notoriously regulated grasp on spoilers. Batt really won’t know what fate awaits Sal until his contract comes up for renewal again in January.
“I do think somewhere down the line we would hope to hear from Sal again,” he optimistically confessed.
When he’s not acting in the critically acclaimed AMC series, the openly gay Batt splits his time between homes in New York, Los Angeles, and his native New Orleans, where he owns a decorating boutique – Hazelnut - with his longtime partner, Tom Cianfichi.
Below, Batt takes a look back at his favorite moments from this very memorable third season of ‘Mad Men,’ and shares his hopes for a caftan-clad Sal of the future.
What was the vibe like on set when you filmed your last episode? Did Matt Weiner or the producers give you any indication about what would happen?
Not really. We were so busy. My last day, I didn’t even know it was going to be my last day because we didn’t know what the next episodes were going to hold. It was actually the night of the premiere and I had to run off, so it wasn’t like ‘Oh it’s Bryan’s last day this season.’
So then what came next? You kept getting scripts and going ‘Wait! I’m not in this!’
I was told there’d be a few that I wouldn’t be in. Not all of us were in all 13 episodes this year. But who knows what they’re going to do. The way the season ended, it really opened the door to a lot of possibilities. I’ve been so flattered by the response by all the viewers and everyone online, though. Everyone wants Sal to come back.
What would you like to see happen for Sal? Since Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce took Lucky Strike, Sal wouldn’t have to worry about Lee at the old Sterling Cooper/McCann Erickson.
I don’t know. I think it depends on how far into the future Matt decides to go, and there’s been no talk of that. Who knows what direction an art director’s position would take. As we last saw Sal, he’d started directing commercials. So he could get into television or movies, or he could stay where he is as an art director. It’s hard to speculate with this show, because whatever Matt and the writers come up with is so much smarter than whatever’s in my imagination!
But if you had your druthers.
Oh! Well if I had my druthers [laughs], there’d be a spinoff! ‘My Pal Sal!’
There was a scene in the finale that seemed like the perfect opportunity for Sal to return, when everyone was pondering how to get into the art department. But then Don kicked the door down.
Kind of like what happened in episode nine, isn’t it?! Giving Sal another kick.
Where were you when you read the script for episode nine, and what was your reaction?
Well, Matt actually called me to tell me about it because I wasn’t there. The one thing he did say was ‘look, you’re not dead, and it’s not the Sopranos.’ But that’s all he would say. Of course I was shocked. I thought the character is so rich and the journey is so important and we haven’t even gotten fully into it. What’s going on in his life now in 1963 is still going on with people’s lives today.
I think one of the most heartbreaking lines of that episode was when Don coldly dismissed Sal, saying “you people.”
Ugh, wasn’t it harsh? It was so harsh. Don’s had a rough year [laughs].
So much of the brilliant acting you did this season was solely dependent upon your facial expressions. How much time did you log in front of the mirror to prepare for those scenes?
[Laughs] Really I don’t do that! I think about the situation, and then I just do it. It’s not like I have 342 expressions and I go ‘OK, cue 72B, go!’ But you’re right, I have had to express such an interesting combination of emotions at the same time. I mean, with the bellhop it was unbridled lust combined with terror and guilt and fear of discovery. It’s such great stuff for an actor to be able to do.
My favorite Sal moment this season was watching him glide around in his pajamas, reenacting the Patio “Bye Bye Birdie” spot for Kitty.
[Laughs] That was so much fun. I must say I really liked the firing of Sal. This character is such a departure from what I’ve done in the past that I really adore the chance to do it.
Do you think Sal could wind up coming out?
Eventually I’d love to see that. Who knows what the timing would be. Maybe if he were to get more into the artistic world and away from advertising, that could happen. I have this vision of Sal in the late 1970′s on Fire Island in a Caftan [laughs].
If Matt makes up his mind to not bring Sal back, do you think he could be positively influenced by the blogs and outpouring of Sal fans?
I know Matt loves the character as well. I know that the use of Sal in the last episode coincided with the march on Washington for the Martin Luther King speech, and it spoke volumes about the same prejudices that exist against gay people today. But this had to happen. I think it was because people cared about Sal that it was so effective. Matt knows what he wants though, so if people started holding up ‘Bring back Sal’ placards, I’m not sure he’d listen!
What has the gay community’s reaction been to you personally, and to Sal as a character?
Well I’ve been doing lots of fundraisers and initiatives, like with GLAAD and other gay friendly organizations. You know my character is not this gay role model, but I do believe that he is a historic representation of what people like Sal had to go through. I have a responsibility to portray him accurately. It’s very interesting to see young people say ‘what’s his problem?’ But he lived in a different time. Read a history book! We live in a different age now, and although it’s still not completely accepted, with gay marriage – and I don’t understand that – it’s still interesting to hear people’s responses. I’ve also heard from people who did live that life and this is the first time it’s ever really been represented so positively.
That must be encouraging.
It is. It’s just so smart. We all thought that it was such a high brow show and it’d have such a limited audience, but the complete opposite has happened. People from all walks of life have stopped me; all socio-economic backgrounds, every race, creed, you name it, it’s really a cross-section. I’m really impressed, especially by college students who have approached me.
Since you own a boutique, you must have an eye for style. So who’s the best dressed cast member off set? And who could use a little help?
I think Jon Hamm has some serious style going on. Also Christina [Hendricks]. She always looks so swank. As for the worst…hmmm…I can’t say! I guess it’s me [laughs]. You know, you don’t dress up to go to the studio.
Are fans often shocked to see you in jeans?
The main thing people say is ‘you look so much younger and thinner!’ Which is a compliment, I guess. With the slick hair and old fashioned suits, it just does date you. And then the camera puts weight on, so…
Have to ask – are you more of a Jackie O, or Marilyn?
[Laughs] I think I’m a Jackie O! I’ve never thought of myself as overtly sexual or sexy. I mean I like it. Who doesn’t like sex? But I wouldn’t want to use that to get what I want.
So we won’t see you on top of a street grate any time soon.
No! Under the street grate looking up maybe, but not on top of it!