Bryan Batt: Denial Breaks Gaydar

 Posted by on October 13, 2009 at 2:30 pm  Actors & Crew, Characters, Season 3
Oct 132009

This is the full transcript of the interview I excerpted yesterday. We started out just with my reaction to Wee Small Hours. I had seen the press copy before our interview, and of course promised to publish nothing until after it aired.

Over the course of about 45 minutes, Bryan and I covered Salvatore’s entire Season 3 trajectory. I started by saying he had two major episodes so far, but of course we ended up discussing three.

Deborah Lipp (in regard to Wee Small Hours): Wow, by the way.
Bryan Batt: I haven’t seen it. I can’t wait. Matt said he thinks it came out wonderfully, so I’m taking his word on it [laughs]
DL: Let’s start by walking you back. You’ve had two major, major episodes this season. So let’s go back to Out of Town.
BB: Sure.
DL: How far back did you know your story lines for this season?
BB: We don’t know until we get the scripts, and sometimes it’s a couple of days before shooting. So we have no idea what the arc of the characters or the story line will be.
DL: And even in this case, which was a major story line, you found out about Wee Small Hours the week before it filmed?
BB: I found out about what was going to happen in it. Matt called, actually. I talked to Matt—I was out of town because I had finished filming and my mom had not been well—I was in New Orleans. And it was the day we got all the Emmy nominations that Matt called and told me what was going to happen.
DL: Wow. Sort of a double whammy.
BB: Yeah.
DL: Of course, congratulations on the Emmy again.
BB: Oh thank you, thank you. It’s quite, quite, quite, quite wonderful.
DL: It is, and it’s, the viewership this year, unbelievable.
BB: Oh, yes.
DL: And that has actually affected us at Basket of Kisses.
BB: Really?
DL: Our readership has gone up proportional to the viewership.
BB: That’s terrific!
DL: So it’s kept us very busy. So: Orestes [Arcuni, who played the bellhop] kind of resembles Sal Mineo–a number of our readers were wondering if that was cast that way on purpose?
BB: You know, I have nothing to do with the casting. In fact, in my head I saw a completely different physical type. When I met Orestes we had this great rapport and I think he did a fantastic job. But I didn’t even notice that—you know, he does resemble Sal Mineo. I honestly have no idea if that had anything to do with the casting.
DL: Obviously, you’re not the person who does the casting, but you never know what you might have heard.
BB: I haven’t heard that.


DL: I thought he was wonderful, he was sexy and subtle, it was a great scene.
BB: Oh yeah!
DL: You were wonderful. I think that may be the most explicit scene of any kind that we’ve seen on the show. How do you prepare as an actor for that?
BB: Well you just do it. [Both laugh.] I try not to go on set with any preconceived notions of how it’s going to be staged. I have it in my mind how I think [it will be], but I’ve got to be as open as possible, because the other actors are going to have some ideas, and so is the director. So you have to be as amenable to taking direction and getting the shot as you can possibly be. If you’ve already locked yourself into something or put some barriers up, it’s just going to cause a problem. So I just try to be as open as possible. But I will also say that I think there were some really shocking sensual scenes. Like Don’s hand up Bobbie Barrett’s skirt, and some other things I thought were a little racy. Also what was going on upstairs while the bellhop and I, Orestes, were having our thing downstairs, was, I thought, very revealing.
DL: There is a lot that is very revealing on the show, particularly considering it’s not HBO.
BB: [Emphatic “mm hmmm”]
DL: Don’s hand up Bobbie’s skirt was a very shocking scene, but you didn’t actually see where the hand was. This is the first time, I think, I’ve seen a hand actually in place.
BB: They were worried, I think, that there was going to be some movement of the hand. But it just goes down and the [fire] alarm goes off.
DL: That leads me to my next question. Sal goes to the London Fog meeting late and he has an excuse, and it’s a stupid excuse, “I left my airline ticket in the room,” like we all believe that. About half the fans think he had a little action, he’d gone back to finish where he left off with the bellhop, and half the fans think he was just too embarrassed to see Don.
BB: That. I really don’t think he had anything to do with the bellboy. I think once he knew that Don had seen him, I think that scares him further and further and further back into the closet so, just in my mind, it’s not on paper, and it’s just my opinion, but I think Sal was quite flustered that morning when he woke up.
DL: That was my thought actually, I had written that Sal was too embarrassed, but then the fans started talking, and I thought, you know, it is a possible read on the scene.
BB: I think… a lot of us want Sal to get some action so bad, I mean he’s so repressed that way that nowadays we’re like, go ahead, come on, have fun. But he’s, I would like to say he’s so a virgin in that way.
DL: What was it like seeing yourself in an explicit scene on a Jumbotron?


BB: [Laughs.] It was bizarre, it really was bizarre. When you’re filming it, that scene took about six hours, totally and completely, to film; almost six, So it gets very technical. You just try to keep it as fresh as you can but…the technical aspect takes over. And then it was so long ago. You’re working and continuing to do the show, and once you finish an episode, you kind of leave it behind. You just go on to the next, because there’s no real break in between. You just do it and put it out of your mind, and then it’s in the hands of the editors. And Malcolm [Jamieson, editor] is just a genius, and Blake [McCormick, co-producer]”everybody connected to the show. They edit us so beautifully; put the episodes together so well. It’s a testament to their work as well.
DL: I thought it was a beautifully done scene. Your face was so open and there was such a sense of discovery.
BB: Well, I remember those days. [both laugh]
DL: That’s good! It’s nice to have memories!
BB: But it’s also a combination of the desire, the shock, the fear, the whole bit. The whole slew of emotion going on at the same time.
DL: It’s like, oh that!
BB: Yeah!
DD: There was a character on Grey’s Anatomy who described discovering that she was a lesbian as being like the first time you wore glasses and all of a sudden you could see.
BB: Yeah, yeah. But there’s also, especially for Sal, there’s definite fear of discovery. Because he would be done for.
DL: Which gets us right into Wee Small Hours, there, doesn’t it?
BB: Yeah!
DL: So again, this is something that you may not know the answer to, but what Roberta and I were noticing is that for what happened to happen the way it did, It had to be a client as big as Lucky Strike, and it had someone that we [the audience] didn’t read as gay, and it had to be someone who was kind of a bully, and the actor who played Lee Garner, Jr. [Darren Pettie] was perfect for that. So it’s quite a confluence. Do you know anything about how that was put together or planned?

Darren Pettie

Darren Pettie

BB: Honestly, we never know what goes on in that room. Once those doors are shut they’re shut. No one’s talked about the process or how it came about, but just on paper, from what we read, and I don’t know what’s been edited out, if anything has been edited out, I think it’s such an amazing episode. It speaks on so many levels, of prejudice, and sexual harassment, and homophobia, and you name it. Also, it’s really an episode about impulse, about “I want what I want when I want it, and if I can’t have it, screw everybody.” And that’s dangerous, to act so deeply on impulse.
DL: That’s a fascinating take on it, and you’re right, because there’s other people acting on impulse in that episode, and I’m not spoiling it for you so you can enjoy watching it.
BB: Yes, I’m really excited about it, cause Matt did tell me when we finished filming it, he called me and was, when you hear Matt raving about your work, your head explodes. It’s fantastic. It’s what every actor would want to hear. And the same thing with Scott Hornbacher, who directed this episode, who is just a terrific director, besides being our executive producer, he directed this episode and did a magnificent job.
DL: Actually, I was so caught up in what happened with the characters. I sat down and I wrote some stuff about it, and then I spoke with Roberta (who didn’t watch it until a day later). Of course, you know it takes place of August of 1963 so she pointed out that they’re juxtaposing Martin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream” speech with what happens to Sal.
BB: Right.
DL: Which I didn’t notice [laughs]! Not my best reading of subtext there.
BB: That is part of it, yes. I do believe that is originally part of it.
DL: It makes perfect sense, although I have to think even if Don wasn’t homophobic, when you have a client who has that much power, who can, as he says, put out your lights; even if he was accepting, his hands were kind of tied. There’s no law against it in 1963.

At this point, Bryan and I discuss what the status of employment rights for gays and lesbians actually are. We went back and forth and I promised to look it up. Which I did and found that, while there are no federal protections, about half of states include sexual orientation in their civil rights statutes. These include all four states in which I have lived, which is probably why I assumed it to be so, but does not include Louisiana, where Bryan hails from, which is probably why he had a different assumption.

DL: So Lee Garner makes this very unpleasant pass, and then Sal tosses the editing room, which had to be fun to film.
BB: Oh, that was fun. That was the day of our premiere, and I was the only one left filming, and it was getting really late. My mom was in town, she had started chemo but they’d let her come to LA for the premiere out there. I called them and said look, just have a car come and pick [my family] up at the hotel, and then come get me, because we’re working down to the last minute. And literally, I ran out, it was so great, all the A.D.s and assistants took my mom on a little tour of the set with my cousin”because my cousin flew with her, because she can’t fly alone”and I was rushing, just flew out of there. I think that was one of the last takes”no, the last scene we were doing is when I’m saying something like “I’m married,” an exchange between us, we were doing that, and then I flew to my trailer and threw on my clothes and then we got in a car and got to the premiere.
DL: So when you’re throwing stuff around like that, do you try to get it done in one take?
BB: We did that in two. I think it was two or three takes. The first time I did it I knocked everything over, the whole étagère full of film fell over. So it was, ‘Hold back a little, Bryan.’ [Leave it to the owner of a home décor business to know the world “étagère.”]



DL: That’s funny. So what do you think was going through Sal’s mind that made him toss everything around. Do you think he was angry? Afraid?
BB: It was complete fear. The knowing that something bad is going to come out of this. Plus I think there’s a lot of self-loathing. How do these people keep, how do they sense this about him and how can he not keep it controlled or covered up?
DL: Yeah.
BB: With the fact that Lee Garner Jr. comes on to him. And he’s married too. This underbelly, as Sal perceives, there’s something wrong, although we know there’s nothing wrong now, he perceives it as that. I think it’s thorough disgust with his life, with his lot and with the situation he’s in is right now. And all he can do is lash out. There’s nothing he can do. There’s no other release.
DL: I understand that. It makes sense. Who could be more desperate in that moment?
BB: Yeah.
DL: Because he either reveals or he doesn’t reveal and either way he’s screwed.
BB: Right. And he [had done] nothing. The hardest thing is that he is completely innocent of this entire [situation], from the beginning to the end of the episode, he is innocent.
DL: I have to say the part that kind of shocked me the most about Don”
BB: Yes! When he says “you people.”
DL: Well that was just disgusting. But then what he says next is, if it had been a girl, ‘It depends on what I know about her.’
BB: Yeah!
DL: So that sense of condemnation. It’s the old, if she’s a slut she must have consented.
BB: Oh, God! Sometimes it’s hard to watch. It’s hard to do. But it’s so brilliantly written.
DL: It’s nice of [the writers] not to whitewash it, because we tend to root for Don even though we know he’s not really a good guy.
BB: Right! This is not going to put a big feather in Don’s cap right now. I don’t know how people are going to respond, but it really doesn’t paint him as well as we want him to be painted. It’s a little blight on his character.
DL: It is, it’s horrible, what he says is horrible. But then Roberta and I were talking about it, and we’re like: Were there people who weren’t homophobic then?
BB: I wonder. I’m sure they were, they just didn’t discuss it. Originally, years ago, when Matt told me about this episode, that it was in his head, the point was–the first episode, not this one, I’m talking about the first episode [Out of Town]–he had told me at my makeup test for the pilot. He told me, “You know, what’s going to eventually happen is, you’re going to go on this trip with Don, and he’s going to have something with a stewardess, and you’re going to have something with either the pilot or somebody. Something’s going to happen. And it’s not going to matter to him.” And then I think what happened was, that was back in 2006. I think as the characters developed and as the situation developed…something had to happen because of what Don saw in that window. There had to be some repercussion from that down the line.
DL: I think that at some level it didn’t matter to him. He’s okay with people having secrets. But, you know, the hardest thing for straight men is the first time they get a visual.
BB: Also, I think what the main thing was, was that it came into the office. If it could have gone, he was going to allow it to go on, fine. As long as he didn’t see it, it wasn’t around him, fine. But it came into the office, and that’s why it got dangerous.
DL: That makes sense. So, [Sal is] meeting with Don, and at first he’s full of denial. “Nothing happened! What are you talking about? Nothing happened!” Which makes sense. It’s what I would do. But then, he stood up for himself. I was astonished at how bold Sal was.
BB: Well, there’s a relationship there with Don. He respects Sal’s talent. Usually if there’s a problem, Don can work it out.
DL: Right, and he gave him the promotion, essentially.
BB: Exactly. So it really was a blow to Sal that he turned on him like this. He didn’t even try to work it out, he was just like, ‘there’s nothing we can do,’ that kind of attitude. Really devastating for him. And he does, he fights for his job. It is wrong and he is a victim, a complete victim. He’s lost all power.
DL: He’s absolutely a victim of sexual harassment and I think that what we learn from Don was that if it had been a woman, it would have been the same. If the guy has enough power, business is business. And that’s just horrific.
BB: Yep. That’s the way it is!
DL: So then there’s that final scene, where he’s in the park. My sense is, that’s the first time?
BB: The first time that Sal goes to the park?
DL: The first time that Sal reaches out and tries to find a man.
BB: Yeah, we don’t know what happens after that, but I’m thinking he does.
DL: I’m thinking I saw leather boys in the background!
BB: Yeah. Originally that scene was supposed to be during a rainstorm and he’s just, the whole thing is that he’s been lying to Kitty that he’s been going to the office. He’s wearing completely different clothes, it’s later in time. It’s not that day. It’s like a couple of weeks later. I guess he finds out. We’ll see! Who knows? Who knows what’s going to happen?
DL: I can’t ask you about future episodes, but I can ask you one question, I don’t know if you can answer. Do we have Sal back for season four?
BB: All I can say is that, given that, Matt and the Sopranos and everything, I’ve been told that he’s not in the back of a trunk and he’s not dead. [both laugh]
DL: So anything could happen.
BB: Exactly.
DL: Well, it’s nice that he’s not in the back of a trunk.
BB: Yes.
DL: I was talking with somebody about, we can’t”Joan has left and Sal has left and we’re having a hard time imaging Mad Men without the two of you.
BB: I know. It would be very hard to, I agree. I agree. I think Sal’s a definite part of the show. I hope he stays a part of the show. I hope the fans want [him to stay] as well.
DL: Well the fans are crazy about Salvatore”not just the character, but your performance, obviously”but he has such huge support.
BB: There’s millions of ways [for Sal] to be back in season 3 or season 4, 5, who knows? Who knows what Matt Weiner’s going to do?
DL: We just have to have Sal, we just have to.
BB: [Laughs] I’m sort of attached to him myself. I never realized how many people”how influential the character has become. People will stop me on the street all the time. And it’s the most wonderful thing; so many people, these ladies want hugs.
DL: Aww.
BB: They want to hug Sal and I think it’s so so sweet.
DL: That’s wonderful. Well I’m just going to ask you a few more questions because you’ve just been flying and driving and I’m sure you could use a rest.
BB: Well thank you.
DL: But I do want to ask, were you around on set the day of the lawn mower scene?
BB: I wanted to be in that scene so bad. I begged, I was like Please, come on, Sal could be [bloody]. I’ve never done anything like that or had any kind of work, theaterwise, like that. When I was in college I did a Sam Shepard one-act where I had to gut a fish and I had to rub it all over myself, it was kind of strange.
DL: Ew.
BB: But I wanted to do that because it was just so gruesome. And no, I wasn’t written in the scene so I didn’t get to do it. But it was, I wasn’t on the set but everyone says it was the most hysterical day on the set.
DL: It, it, it’s just awesome. That’s, ten years from now they’re still going to be talking about that one.
BB: [Laughs]
DL: That’s like the clown funeral on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, that’s a scene everyone will always remember.
BB: Yes. Yes. You know something else? Right when I was about to take off today, a friend of mine called and we were talking about the show, and she goes, I just have to tell you, the Bye Bye Birdie song episode; where I directed the Bye Bye Birdie scene with my wife, she said that is going to be definitive for so many people. But so many people have come up to me about that scene, it’s been incredible. And Matt mentioned, to him, he said, that’s the scene people are calling him and talking to him about. A lot.
DL: That was my next question! That was an amazing scene. Talk to me about filming that. I love behind the scenes stuff, how much”
BB: First of all, there was not that much rehearsal, but I did. I had the script a little longer than usual. And any time I get to work with the lovely and talented and beautiful and fantastic Sarah Drew, I’m in heaven, because she is just, besides being a brilliant actress, she’s a brilliant human being and I just really like her a lot. I adore her. So that was a pleasure. But, initially it was difficult for me to do that [scene]. Because first of all, if you look at the words of the script, or listen to the words, nothing repeats, except the action is repetitive. And what happens is “She goes forward and then pulls back, and then she walks forward and comes back,” it’s very [difficult to learn]. And then, I really wanted to do it like Ann-Margret and [mimic] that action, how it really happens in the beginning of Bye Bye Birdie. So I was a little less [dramatic] and then Matt came on set and was like, “Okay, you can go more. Go bigger. You can do bigger. You can throw your”” and I was like Oh, God, okay, now I have license to go all over. The director’s great, so really it was fun, but initially it was a little daunting, but we ended up having so much fun with it.


DL: That was exactly how I pictured it. I watched it several times, and after a while, I could picture a director saying “Okay, be girlier, be gayer.”
BB: Exactly. In the beginning, originally, in the beginning when we’re kissing, it was kind of, it’s written in there that you could go either way, that he’s working or that he’s not interested in having relations. And we decided to play it as, he really was working. Because they do kind of start to smooch.
DL: They have a nice relationship. I mean, I think he loves his wife, still.
BB: Oh, he adores her. He loves her very much. You know, that’s so parallel to so many people that went through this, and unfortunately [it] still continues; to marry even though they are gay. They do love each other. Just not in the complete, full sense of a marriage. But he does. He adores her, and she him.
DL; And when she says in that scene, ‘It’s been months,’ do we think that the pivotal “months” started with the bellhop?
BB: It very well could have. It very well could have. I have a feeling that right after the bellhop thing, he ran home and, you know, proved his manhood as much as he could. And then, he’s like, okay, that’ll keep her for a little bit.
DL: ‘Okay, that proved it. Now I’m going to go back and, “You’re not wearing your little red suit!”‘
BB: [Laughs.] Exactly, oh, we’ve had some fun off-camera with Sal and his bellhop.
DL: Yeah, “Here’s your little hat, Kitty!” [Both laugh.] So, she’s a particular kind of woman. I mean, Sarah Drew plays Kitty as exactly the kind of woman who could end up marrying a gay man and not realize it.
BB: Oh yes.
DL: Do you have experience with meeting women who just don’t get it?
BB: Yes, and I think there’s also, it’s not that they don’t get it, I think it’s also that they don’t want to get it. And the man, of course, is marrying them, or vice versa, I have a friend whose first wife, she ended up gay. If someone’s not telling the truth to themselves, going through the motions, how can [they connect with] anyone else?

Here we pause and discuss Bryan’s family briefly; he had to take a phone call from home, and I extended my good thoughts for his mother’s health.

BB: Thank you so much. She came out for the premiere, and we had a great time. We walked down the red carpet, they took pictures of us. It was in Variety and everything, went home, had a wonderful time, and then had one more dose of chemo and tripped and broke her hip.
DL: That’s not funny!
BB: But guess what, she’s doing great. We went out to dinner last night. She had her little walker, and we put her in the wheelchair, and she’s getting around. The doctor said, another month, she’ll just have a cane, and then after that, she’ll be able to walk.
DL: Well God bless her.
BB: She’s amazing! She is a steel magnolia.
DL: That is wonderful to hear.

And then the conversation wandered around a little, but eventually we got back to Mad Men and to the issue of being closeted.

DL: I do see people who go through life oblivious, you know, the classic; the women in the ’50s who didn’t know Liberace was gay.
BB: Exactly! I think also, you throw into it, they’re very Catholic, and also, a lot of people bought the role of the women, the wives, for what they were. If something’s not going right, [the woman believes] “It’s something I’ve done.” It’s easy back then for men to, they still have a hold on women, it was still such a man’s world.
DL: That’s true.
BB: This is way before women in the workforce. Peggy’s the first one, pretty much.
DL: I know. And we love her.
BB: Oh! Besides being a fantastic actress and everything, she’s just a sweetheart and a wonderful person. Our whole cast! We are just so lucky. They’re just, I adore them. They’re just wonderful.
DL: Everyone [my sister and I have] spoken to has been lovely and warm and friendly. The only people I can’t say that about are the people we haven’t met yet. I’ve never spoken to Vincent [Kartheiser] and I’ve never spoken to Christina [Hendricks]. I’m sure they’re just as lovely.
BB: Christina is an angel too, and Vincent is a hoot. He’s a great guy.
DL: Can we talk about gaydar? Because Lee Garner has it and Eliot has it and the bellhop has it. Is Sal the only person who doesn’t have gaydar?
BB: I think Sal has, his gaydar switch is way low and way off. I think he needs to get a clue. Because everyone comes on to him. He has not made a move. He is pretty much the only one on this show who is faithful to his wife!
DL: That’s true!
BB: [Laughs.] It’s pretty telling and pretty ironic. No, his gaydar is way off. I mean way off. I think he’s so suppressed, I think he suppressed it for so long. And when the bellhop does, when he does have that moment with him, that’s why it’s so passionate. It’s like the racehorse right out of the gate.
DL: It is. That is hot.
BB: [Laughs.]
DL: So ‘denial breaks gaydar’ is our theory?
BB: Yes. It’s so hard to really wrap my brain around it because it’s foreign to me, but I think Sal, the way he’s written, he is not in tune with himself whatsoever. So I think there’s so [much knowledge] that he’s suppressed so deeply. The only time that he let his guard down, with the bellhop, he was drunk, he was tired, he was hot and bothered, and it was thrust upon him.
DL: Yes, and I think, I guess you can’t notice if other people are gay if you’re working that hard to not notice that you yourself are gay.
BB: And, on top of it, throw this into the mix: That no one was out and gay at the time. Everyone was hiding it.
DL: Except for Kurt. And that has to be in the mix. He’s actually seen somebody say that who didn’t lose his job.
BB: Exactly, and how bizarre is that? You know Don knows about it. If you think about it, Don knows. I think Don was in the meeting, was it Rich [Sommer] or was it Aaron [Staton] who has the line, “Kurt’s a homo.” [It was Aaron.] It was one of the last lines in the episode [The Jet Set].
DL: No, Don was still in California.
BB: Well, don’t you think somebody might fill him in a little?
DL: Somebody must have told him.
BB: Like, ‘By the way, this one with the accent?’ Obviously he knows, it’s out there. But it hasn’t been a threat to business.
DL: Right as long as it’s not a threat to business.

We closed with a little discussion of Basket of Kisses itself, and Bryan said some generous things.

BB: Well there’s no fans like the fans from Basket of Kisses. I’d love to give everyone at Basket of Kisses a big kiss!
DL: Thank you! I love that!

Then I wrapped up and we said our goodbyes, and I sent love from Roberta and all of that.

DL: I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Sal.
BB: Good old Sal, we love him.
DL: We do.


  52 Responses to “Bryan Batt: Denial Breaks Gaydar”

  1. Great interview! Thanks so much for this. I want to hug Sal too. Poor guy needs hugs and love. I refuse to believe that the writers will let Sal or Joan slip away from the story. It must not happen!

    Interesting questions: was everyone homophobic in the early 1960s? Peggy and Smitty seemed accepting of Kurt. The casual homophobia of Ken and Harry was just as casual as things like the racist jokes that get flung around Sterling Cooper. I never get the feeling that these people have a burning hatred of gays or ethnic minorities, they are just like bitchy teenage girls looking for some easy target to deride. It's just sad conformity.

    I also felt that Don was judging all gay men to be slutty with the "it would depend what kind of girl she was" line. Also, this attitude that if someone is sexually active then it is perfectly fair for them to be sexually harrassed which is so wrong, but echoes through the show. I feel Don was projecting his own sluttiness onto Sal, making him a very bad judge of the situation.

    I don't know if I agree that Sal/bellhop was the most graphic sexual scene on the show. The Don/Bobbi scene and the Pete/Peggy couch sex scene were more explicit I thought. But it was definitely intense.

  2. Like I said, a hand opening pants, any gender hand, any gender pants, it just made my jaw HIT THE FLOOR.

    People need to remember that "homophobic" doesn't mean "burning hatred" any more than "racist" or "sexist" does. These terms refer to an endemic oppression.

    People who say "I don't mind homosexuals but I just don't want to know what they do in bed" are homophobic. I can do a thousand words on why, but when you go to a party and a straight couple sit next to each other and whisper in each other's ears, is that "knowing what they do in bed"? How about having pictures of a spouse on your desk?

    Anyway. The point is, Don is homophobic and I agree, not because he has a burning hatred of Teh Gay. Because our society is built around the idea that only heterosexuality is "normal," Pete can have a picture of Trudy on his desk without everyone being awkwardly reminded of Pete naked. Don was okay with Sal having a secret, but like I said to Bryan, I think where he could not accept it was when he awkwardly visualized Sal and Lee Garner. Ick. (And by the way? Ick. Any sex with Lee Garner = ick.)

  3. I think the Sal/bellhop scene was explicit because there was cuppage going on. You usually don't see that in TV shows unless, as DL said, on HBO. lol.

    As for homophobia. I wouldn't call it that back then for most people. I think it's just because it was an unknown. We're all a little fearful of the unknown, aren't we? Then, when we learn more about it, MOST of us just accept it as another type of relationship and go on with our lives.

    Yeah, Bryan. Good interview. I wish his mother well. He seems to be a very loving son, which is have the battle toward healing.

  4. "half the battle" d'oh.

  5. Who is Don to judge anyone's "sluttiness"?

    Love, love, love Brian Batt. And love that he's in the same business that I am … in New Orleans no less. Hate the thought of Sal and Jane being sacraficed for more "Teacher" and other new secondary characters.

    BTW, when was Stonewall? Late '60s?

  6. Joan, not Jane.

  7. Anyway. The point is, Don is homophobic and I agree, not because he has a burning hatred of Teh Gay. Because our society is built around the idea that only heterosexuality is “normal,” Pete can have a picture of Trudy on his desk without everyone being awkwardly reminded of Pete naked. Don was okay with Sal having a secret, but like I said to Bryan, I think where he could not accept it was when he awkwardly visualized Sal and Lee Garner. Ick. (And by the way? Ick. Any sex with Lee Garner = ick.)

    Also: Pete naked = ick.

  8. "Denial breaks gaydar".

    I can't stop laughing at that. It's like a Bart Simpson-ism: "Society killed Grandpa!"

    I'm so glad that Sal is neither in a trunk nor dead. I love me some Sal. In fact, in that editing scene between Sal and LuckyBully? When the film-edit tech leaves the room? I actually said, "Don't touch Sal."

    I saw it coming, you see. And I want my Sal protected from bullies. 🙂

    Please thank Bryan for his time and generosity, Deb. What a darling man! How lucky we all are.

    Oh, and Aran: the Stonewall riots started in June 1969, in Greenwich Village. This is one of those things you know when you live where I live (San Francisco), or they pretty much make you move.

  9. "But, you know, the hardest thing for straight men is the first time they get a visual."

    Deborah, that made me think of a quote by Quentin Crisp, from the documentary, The Celluloid Closet: "Mainstream people dislike homosexuality because they can't help concentrating on what homosexual men do to one another. And when you contemplate what people do, you think of yourself doing it. And they don't like that. That's the famous joke: 'I don't like peas, and I'm glad I don't like them, because if I liked them I would eat them and I hate them.'"

    BoK is already an awesome resource for Mad Men fans and the participation of so many people who are connected with the show, makes it even better.

    Thanks for another great interview!

  10. Always loved Sal and Bryan Batt, but now I love him more. Phenomenol actor, classy, interesting person. Kudos to you two for getting this great interview so soon after this last episode. It's great to hear his perspective.
    – Glad

  11. SmilerG: perfect.

    By the way, if any of you Basketcases haven't seen The Celluloid Closet, you should. It changed the way I looked at film and media in general.

    Thank you, Deb!

  12. Best wishes to Bryan's Mom!

    And to Sal!

  13. Celluloid Closet is a great film.

    And thanks, Anne, I thought it was in the late 60's and hopefully will be something covered by the show. It's so pertinent to Sal's story and future.

    The reason Sal's story resonates with me so much is that I have an uncle, who clearly knew in his 20's, mid 1960's, that he was gay. He ended up out in San Fran after realizing that his Air Force father and very religious mother – who basically wanted him exorcised, were never going to accept him. All I really knew about him was that he was very artsy and worked at GUMPS. Which later I took as the family euphamism for being gay. "Worked at GUMPS".

    We had almost no contact until my 21st birthday when I received a box in the mail with a card telling me that enclosed in the box was a strand of my Great Grandmother's pearls, which he wanted me to have. He also informed me of that he was HIV positive and if I had any interest in getting to know him, it would be the time. That was in '86.

    Over the next 5 years we grew very close and I learned so much about his journey as a kid, coming out, dealing with the rejection of so many he loved and ultimately HIV and AIDS. Which claimed him in '91.

    Sal's journey is a difficult one and is near and dear to my heart.

  14. Great interview! Kisses right back to you Bryan!

  15. Aran, you made me cry.

  16. Because I LOVE to play devil's advocate….

    Maybe Don isn't the complete homophobe his "you people" remark suggests. When Don saw Sal with the bell hop, he didn't end their association. Don's reaction (in addition to surprise) was to give Sal thinly veiled advice on how to function as a gay man in the real world of the 1960s. Don later even got him TV director gigs.

    From Don's viewpoint, Sal, AFTER being cautioned to limit his "exposure," let Don down by getting himself into a compromising sitution (with the son of a major client no less). Sure, Sal has an excuse, but Don's reaction to that may be what my daddy used to tell me when I got home after curfew: "don't bullshit a bullshitter."

    Also, Don may be doing a bit of projecting here – the whole thing did start in a "projection" room ;). One of the many "tawdry" relationships Don has had was with Rachel Menken — a major Sterling Cooper client. So, maybe in his heart of hearts, Don sees in Sal's incident, all the things he hates about his own past actions.

    Or, maybe he's just a hypocritical asshole. 😉

  17. Don't forget Don and Bobbie in his office, with the door locked. For all of his "don't shit where you eat" persona, Don has crossed that line at least twice that we know of. And Bobbie's comment about the "full Draper treatment" or whatever she said suggests there may have been more.

    Let's just call it what it is — he was being an asshole to Sal. What was it he said to Pete way back about "no one will like you?"

  18. #13 Aran, I'm so sorry for your loss. I had a dear friend in NYC who was as sweet as Bryan Batt. We had a staircase that led between our office floors and whenever his head popped up, I instantly smiled. It has been almost 20 years and I still feel distraught that he is no longer here.

    I think Don could be tolerant up to a point, or at least silent, but the thought of losing a $25 million account and a confrontation with Roger made him want to lash out at someone. Sal's timing, like Peggy's, was horrible.

  19. # 16 – "Sal, AFTER being cautioned to limit his “exposure,” let Don down by getting himself into a compromising situation (with the son of a major client no less)."

    Getting himself into a compromising situation?!?

    C'mon! I'm all for people taking personal responsibility for things, but Sal was doing nothing more than simply being at work and just doing his freakin' job!

    The expectations of Sal here, seem to be along the lines of a burglary victim being blamed that somebody broke in and ripped off their stuff, because they happened to own the stuff and had it in their house, in the first place.

    In the immortal words of sportscaster, Warner Wolf: ""Give me a break!"

  20. The Stonewall opened in '66 and the riots were in '69. Before that, there were plenty of other gay bars around the city (and elsewhere; there were gay bars here in Seattle in the 1940s at least, probably before). The deal was, you paid protection to the cops, and if you were lucky, you got it most of the time — but never all of the time. Bars and patrons were constantly being harrassed (and still are, as we recently saw in Atlanta and Fort Worth).

    My uncle was out and gay in New York in the 50s after his marriage fell apart. There was a community. But it was small and restrictive, mostly theater people and Village people. Sal wouldn't have known about it, though it looks like he's about to find it.

    One comment of his is wrong, though — "This is way before women in the workforce. Peggy’s the first one, pretty much." This isn't true, not in advertising, even if you discount the stenos and secretaries as not being "in the workforce.

    I'm just about finished with the book "Ad Women" right now, and while women were still pretty scarce at the upper echelons — male VPs outnumbered female ones at least 25 to one — they were fairly commonplace in copy, art and research. Sterling-Cooper is a dinosaur of an agency to only have one female copywriter; most agencies, like J. Walter Thompson, had dozens of them, including entire women's departments. Most advertising then (and now) is aimed at women, who make the vast majority of purchasing decisions, especially in household matters, and it was widely felt that women could address their fellow women better than men. Ad women were paid less and treated worse, but they were far from unusual.

  21. #17 I don't disagree that Don was being an asshole. But why is interesting.

    #18 brought up a point I hadn't mentioned — Don's incident with Peggy. Here Don was clearly projecting onto Peggy something that HE had just been accused of by Bert and Roger (ingratitude).

    #19. I'm not blaming the victim here because you left out the most important part of my comment "From Don’s viewpoint" WE know what happened because we saw it. Don is hearing Sal's version and filtering it through his own persona of, well, a philanderer and a liar. That's why I'm tempted to characterize this as more projection than homophobia.

  22. "DL: It’s nice of [the writers] not to whitewash it, because we tend to root for Don even though we know he’s not really a good guy."

    I think we root for him because he's flawed, as many of us our. In his case, it's major flaws but his struggle with them is universal and when he shows signs of goodness — his attempt to make it work with Betty, the comments he's made about black people, promoting Peggy without blinking an eye, his parenting skills, among others — it makes us want to see him fully evolve and become the man he's capable of being. I think that is why we root for him, not just because he's sexy and smart and charming and 'you had me at hello' hot.

    Thanks for posting this interview. I hope you can do more with the actors in the future. I love reading their take on the characters and scenes.

    And I have to say as well, I was truly saddened and touched by Sal's plight at the end of this episode. How terrible to have to live life in such denial (much like Don, btw, and isn't that an interesting parallel) and then to have Don ditch him at the crucial hour. And all for business. It was just devastating. I almost cried when I saw Sal in the park. How sad that gay men at that time were forced to risk their lives and health just to experience, however briefly, who and what they are really are. Thank goodness we've come a long way.

    I agree that Sal will be coming back — his character is too important to the show. I'm sure Weiner will weave him back into the picture soon. Probably Joan too. Can't wait!

  23. "From Don’s viewpoint, Sal, AFTER being cautioned to limit his “exposure,” let Don down by getting himself into a compromising situation"

    Matt Maul, all I've pointed out here is that you are ascribing to Don, the notion that Sal has gotten himself into a compromising situation.

    How is what has happened to Sal, in any way, Sal GETTING HIMSELF into a "compromising situation," from Don's point of view (or yours)?

  24. #16: I think you're on to something here… because after Don's very tolerant 'don't ask, don't tell' attitude after the bell hop episode, to agree to fire Don after the Lucky Strike episode seems slightly out of place. Especially as Don has shown himself to be an empathetic person in the past (see my previous comment above.) He's not a jerk. He's a very f'ed up man, but in his heart of hearts, I think he's a good person. And I think he knew Sal was being wronged.

    Here's another take on it: in watching this episode, Don seemed more haggard than ever. When he ended up on Suzanne's doorstep I thought, 'wow, if this isn't rock bottom, it sure as hell feels like it is.' Suzanne even says, this is going nowhere and Don replies that he doesn't care. And you know it's not because this is true love, but rather that Don needs a fix.

    He seems more tired, more tense, more anxious, more lost and more lonely than I've ever seen him. His attempt to reconcile with Betty resulted in a painful rejection. As my husband said, I think he's given up on Betty at this point. Which leaves him to face the horrid, hollow emptiness of his faux-life.

    So… given the above… perhaps his reaction to Sal is coming from a very tired, worn-out place where he just can't take it any more and he doesn't have the strength to stand up for Sal as he would have in the past. He needs this problem gone, and firing him is the easy way out.

    I don't think that it's just that Don is homophobic (and I agree with one of the PPs, this term didn't exist at that time.) It's more than that. Otherwise, Don's character start to not make sense and Hamm is too good of an actor to let that happen.

  25. Smiler, Don, like pretty much everyone in 1963, assumes that "you people", these perverts, can't control their perverted urges, so you can't trust them to avoid compromising situations. The fact that this Tobacco creep came on to Sal is proof that Sal somehow led him on, signaled him in some way that only fellow sickos can understand (speaking as Don here, you understand).

    Don is not a sensitive 21st-century guy. Blame the victim? You bet your ass. If someone sexually harrasses Sal, it's Sal's fault all the way.

    This attitude wouldn't change for most men like Don until recently, and in many cases hasn't yet.

  26. Sal got fired for doing exactly what Don told him to do, and I mean EXACTLY. What if Sal had said yes, and Lee Jr. used that to blackmail Sal, knowing that he (Lee Jr.) would be believed if he said he was straight and Sal was the one who came on to him? Note that Don couldn't believe Sal would actually say no, that "you people" screw anything with the right plumbing. That is why Don is such a worm not just for firing Sal, but for being so contemptuous towards him. (And also, Don is a giant hypocrite. Also.) And Harry…argh. There is not enough headdesk to express his utter ineptitude. How could he be so clue-repellent as to not even ask Sal what happened?

  27. Fnarf,

    This attitude wouldn’t change for most men like Don until recently, and in many cases hasn’t yet.

    I just want to say … great catch.

    DAMNED SKIPPY it hasn't.

  28. Oh, I think if Sal had played ball with that creep in the editing room, it would have ended the exact same way. Lee Garner Jr. wasn't going to let a homosexual work on his account, and if that sounds insane because HE'S a homosexual, then you must not have met any homophobic gay men. I sure have. In fact, given the menace that Lee exudes whenever he thinks he has the upper hand, I wouldn't be surprised if the sex would have involved a beating. And most assuredly the same phone call to Harry and the same walkout by Lee later, and thus the same firing.

    Sal was hosed the minute Lee walked in that door.

    My question is, when is Harry going to get his? I like Harry OK, but he's a bumbler, and this whole thing is kind of his fault. Sal is an outstanding art director that they now need to replace; what exactly is keeping Harry alive at S-C?

  29. I do think that Don's "you people" comment carries with it the homophobic connotation Fnarf mentioned above about gay men being promiscuous.

    But I don't dismiss Matt's "Devil's Advocacy". Don is a habitual liar who had affairs with Rachel Menken, Bobbie Barrett, and possibly other work-related assignations. S-C is one ginormous hostile work environment. Account guys like Pete and Ken set up clients with prostitutes as a matter of course.

    None of that makes Don any less homophobic. But it might explain in part why Don is so dismissive of Sal's explanation, despite the fact that Don had previously been neutral about Sal's private life and supportive of him professionally. Given how the straight men behave at S-C, the gay stereotype has to be that much worse.

  30. Another vote for "The Celluloid Closet" (1995)
    and a shout-out for another Rob Epstein documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" (1984) … which helped inspire the cast and crew of "Milk" (2008)

  31. @ 28 Fnarf- Harry gets to keep his job because he's the head of the television department and television is important. Whether he deserves to keep it is another matter. I've said it before-Harry is a nice guy in way over his head.

  32. #32: ooh, hadn't noticed that… thanks, Deborah, will do!

  33. Let me tell you, as a gay man, there is a WORLD of difference between "toleration" and "acceptance." And for so many straight people in this world "toleration" equals "I'm fine with it as long as I never ever ever have to see or hear or know anything about homosexuality as long as I live." Because when there is a crisis–like Sal being harassed by a client–then toleration isn't going to hold much water. So yes, Don is homophobic in that sense (and by 1963 I think it is perfectly legitimate to call someone homophobic, especially when you are talking about a major city like New York. As Smitty said–and I'm paraphrasing here–it isn't likely that Don hasn't encountered a single homosexual in his day-to-day work before. Hell, two of them work for him!).

    If you want to read about pre-Stonewall history, I can recommend three books very highly:

    Gay New York by George Chauncey;
    Making Gay History edited by Eric Marcus (a wonderful oral history of the time); and
    Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities by John D'Emilio.

    You will be amazed at how much gay life there was in NYC at this time.

    Bryan Batt is a wonderful actor and a terrific interviewee. I'm sure they will find some way to keep Sal in the mix. It's been one of the best continuing storylines of the entire series!

    • Tom, and don't forget that gay consciousness was integral to the Beat movement. Allen Ginsburg was openly gay, as was Frank O'Hara, author of "Meditations on an Emergency."

  34. Prayers for Bryan's Mom.

  35. wow, Deborah. @ #2 – GREAT post. powerful.

    I wondered about the influence of the beats on the larger world at the time. I've seen an old photo of Jackie Kennedy reading Dharma Bums on a campaign plane (and couldn't find it online, with a quick search, unfortunately.)

    Did the beats influence society outside of the Universities and the literary salons in regard to homosexuality at the time? I have no idea.

    Mary McCarthy's novel, The Group, was published in 1963 and was a best seller for two years.

    thank you to others here who have shared their family experiences. heart breaking stories.

  36. I just want to say that I really enjoy your site. I come to it now on a pretty frequent basis. Thanks so much for putting it together.

  37. just want to share a possible prediction about Sal one of my favorite characters.

    The only time we saw Sal flirt with anyone was with Ken at the home dinner party. Ken seemed to not notice that Sal was trying to make eye contact with him. Sal was the only one that seemed to understand and appreciate Ken's writing talent.

    In the entire series we have never seen Ken paired with with anyone. He even went to Roger's country club party without a date. Maybe the writers have someting planned for these two?

  38. @Aran, thank you for sharing that beautiful story about your uncle. Sal's story makes me feel so sad, especially when I imagine some gay men who I know and imagine them living through all of that at that time. I know it isn't a walk in the park today but there are at least places to turn, resources to find and people to talk to in greater numbers, though I guess if you aren't in a metropolitan area it might be harder.

  39. I hope that Mr. Batt is reading here. I want to thank him for his vivid, subtle, compelling performances as Sal. That character more than any other drew me into MM. His portrayal of Sal is completely true to my memories of the gay men who were the coolest and kindest adult mentors I knew as an insecure female adolescent growing up in the 1960s.

  40. @Gingere (#39): I just don't see a story line between Ken & Sal. Ken actively pursued Jane early on. He was also totally oblivious of Sal when Sal was secretly enamored of him. Finally, wasn't he also one of the ones making cracks about homosexuality in the coffee room when Smitty admitted that he was gay and not interested in Peggy? Don't see it.

  41. BTW: Are we ever going to see Father Gill again? I love Colin Hanks & that character. He does it very well!

  42. #42 Suzanne M, I know what you are saying. Just a thought, Ken was someone that Sal liked and tried to connect to. I am hoping that Sal can find someone to talk to and work thru this trauma. I am not sure that Sal will be able to open up to Kitty. I really feel sad about his situation. Bryan Batt plays him so well.

    Also, I thought Father Gill was being groomed to be a regular, perhaps he will re-surface at some point. The scenes with him and Peggy were quite memorable.

  43. @44 Gingere, I agree. Sal is definitely suspended out there w/o anyone to help get him through this. I can't think of a character whom he could confide in. Interesting! I also hope he is not lost from the show b/c he was one of the most interesting characters out there! Oh- wait, could he reconnect with that client from Bel Jolie who tried to connect with him during that dinner? Remember that character? Maybe he could even go work for Bel Jolie & become the client at SC? How would that be for a twist?

  44. @ 44 Gingere- I think we've seen the last of Father Gill. If I remember correctly, he was only there for a year, as a visiting priest.

  45. # 43 – "BTW: Are we ever going to see Father Gill again? I love Colin Hanks & that character. He does it very well!"

    If Matt Weiner does, in Season 4, the kind of time skip he's done before, we'll probably see Father Gill again.

    Next season will likely cover 1965/1966 and for Roman Catholics, that was a time for great change, with the Second Vatican Council, which opened in October 1962 and concluded in December 1965.

    I was raised Catholic back then and I know that many older members of the church (including many relatives) were unhappy – if not resistant – to the Mass being in English and the other liturgical revisions that Vatican II brought about, in the mid-1960s.

    So much of society at large was fraught with change then and more than a few Catholics were greatly troubled that changes were even encroaching upon the church.

    I'm sure there'll be many story line options for Father Gill and Peggy's family, in Season 4.

    As a lapsed Catholic myself, I wouldn't be surprised if Tom Lehrer's satirical album of the day, 'That Was The Year That Was,' finds its way into Peggy hands and we find her singing along to 'The Vatican Rag'!

    By the way, Professor Lehrer is still with us, albeit, in retirement. He turned 78 last April.

  46. @47SmilerG. Thank you Smiler G on the information about Vatican II. I was born in 1964 so I knew Vatican II was in the early 60s but I couldn't have told you when exactly. Maybe Father Gill/Colin Hanks will make a reappearance in Season 4. BTW: Did anyone ever notice that on the Palm Sunday Program from the episode "Three Sundays (Season 2)" he is listed as a Jesuit? "S.J." was clearly written after his name but not the monsigneur's name. Since the Mad Men writers are so careful about everything, I do think making him a Jesuit was a careful thought. But why? Wouldn't we see a Jesuit like him at an academic university and not a church in Brooklyn? Today, it would be a rare occurence to have a Jesuit at a local parish, right?

  47. I’ve always thought of Jesuits in terms of scholarship and education, but I don’t suppose that you couldn’t find a ‘stray’ one in a parish somewhere back then.

    Didn’t Father Gill mention that he also was part of a mission team in Central or South America? I know that the Jesuits were pretty active in the evangelic outreach programs of the Catholic Church.

    Also, in some other BoK threads, there’s been a good deal of conversation of ‘Sun symbolism’. Take a look at the Jesuit’s ‘logo’ …

  48. make that “evangelistic”

  49. waited to read this until i'd seen the episode (my schedule lately. oy) but loved it and loved this interview.

    But i have to say I'm getting frustrated with the show this season. Joanie is my very favorite character and we never see her anymore. And now Sal? It's so sad.

  50. […] necessarily want to tell you what it is. No, because it might show up. When I spoke to Bryan [Batt] last week, I found out that [in] the Season 3 opener, the bellhop scene was something that Matt had in mind […]

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