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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
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?
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.
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 Ã©tagÃ¨re full of film fell over. So it was, ‘Hold back a little, Bryan.’ [Leave it to the owner of a home dÃ©cor business to know the world “Ã©tagÃ¨re.”]
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?
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?
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.’
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.
DL: Well, it’s nice that he’s not in the back of a trunk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.