Batt’s gay; Sal ‘tortured’

 

Bryan Batt’s character on TV’s Mad Men, Salvatore Romano, has never come out of the closet. In real life, Batt’s never been in.

“I can’t lie. It’s not right. I have to lie being an actor pretending to be someone else. Not in my private life,” says Batt, a veteran musical comedy performer and recent author. “I can’t see it any other way.”

Batt, 48, describes the coming out process as “a personal journey.”

Gay people shouldn’t be dragged out of the closet, he says. “You don’t know their upbringing, what’s been forced into their little heads.”

Batt made his feature film debut in 1995’s Jeffrey, Paul Rudnick’s story about gay life at the height of the early AIDS crisis. In the film, Batt played Darius, Patrick Stewart’s screen boyfriend who dies of AIDS.

“It was the first AIDS comedy. There weren’t that many after, either,” Batt says. “People needed that kind of relief. It was in the most awful period in history with AIDS. It’s still here. There’s so much unsafe sex going on and I just don’t understand it. We lost so many people.”

Since 1982, Batt has appeared in some of Broadway’s biggest shows: Cats, Starlight Express, Sunset Boulevard, Seussical and La Cage aux Folles.

He and Tom Cianfichi, his partner of 22 years, own and run a home furnishings shop in New Orleans, where Batt was born.

Last year, Batt published a memoir, She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother, released shortly before his mom, Gayle, a civic volunteer and former New Orleans councilwoman, died of cancer. “She was a magical lady, a combination of Auntie Mame and a Steel Magnolia. Very supportive,” Batt says.

Batt, who is preparing a new book due Oct. 4, Big Easy Style about New Orleans decor, is perhaps best known for playing Mad Men’s Sal, a 1960s New York art director who struggles with his homosexuality and never consummates a same-sex relationship.

“He’s a very tortured, very sad man,” Batt says of Sal, fired from his job during Season 3 and never seen again. “The reason I’m so honored to have portrayed him is I wanted to pay homage to these men and women who had to live that kind of life. They had no other choice. People ask me on the street when is Sal coming out? I say to what? You can still be fired in some cities and states. It shows you how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.”

STEVE ROTHAUS

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