Bryan Batt Press - Our Louisiana Magazine
Our Louisiana Magazine
Our Louisiana Magazine, June 2011

Bryan Batt: Life in the fast lane for an actor, Broadway veteran, author, and civic activist
by Lisa LeBlanc-Berry

Our Louisiana Magazine

Bryan in front of his shop, Hazelnut

Bryan Batt, the New Orleans-born actor who is best known for portraying “Salvatore Romano” on AMC’s sexy and provocative dramatic series Mad Men, is taking his one-man-show, Batt on a Hot Tin Roof, to Australia this month. He was invited to appear at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival June 22-24 in the “green” city of Adelaide, followed by appearances in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia.

The fifth season for Mad Men, which won three consecutive Golden Globes and back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series, should have premiered late this summer, but it has been reported that the show is being delayed until 2012. It remains to be seen if Batt will join the cast again. A civic activist and fund-raiser, he is committed to numerous charitable endeavors in New Orleans and New York, and is always juggling several projects at once.

Although Batt is internationally famed for his role as “Sal,” Mad Men’s closeted art director who works at a fictional New York City ad agency set in the early 1960s, the versatile actor also has a flair for interior design and has penned two books in the past year.

Batt’s first book, She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother, was released in April 2010 and is a tribute to his mother, Gayle Batt, a colorful “steel magnolia” who passed away at age 79 in December 2010, several months after the book came out. Batt engagingly tells his family’s story through its ups and downs with plenty of southern humor. His second book, Big Easy Style: Creating Rooms You Love to Live In, about interior design, will be released October 4, 2011.

A Screen Actors Guild Award Winner, Batt lives bi-coastally between the Big Easy and the Big Apple with his business and life partner since 1989, Tom Cianfichi. They co-own Hazelnut, an elegant and eclectic home accessories and fine gifts shop they opened in 2003. Located at 5515 Magazine Street in New Orleans, the shop has been featured in publications including the New York Times, House Beautiful, and Southern Accents.

Primarily a theater actor at heart, Batt has had a number of starring roles in movies and television. He got his start at the historic Le Petit Theatre in the French Quarter, and now serves on its board of directors and as interim artistic advisor. In March, he appeared at Le Petit with Emmy winner Patricia Clarkson (also a New Orleans native) in the fundraising presentation of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters.

As a Broadway veteran, Batt’s leading and principal roles include the 2005 revival of La Cage Aux Folles, Beauty and the Beast, Seussical the Musical, Sunset Boulevard, Saturday Night Fever, The Scarlett Pimpernel, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Starlight Express, and Cats. Off-Broadway, he originated the role of Darius in both the New York and Los Angeles productions as well as the film adaptation of Paul Rudnick’s groundbreaking comedy, Jeffrey.

His lively one-man-show that will be performed in Australia this month, Batt on a Hot Tin Roof, received rave reviews at Le Chat Noir in New Orleans and later at the Metropolitan Room and Feinstein’s in New York. During the performance, the charming, witty actor interweaves everything from comedy to tap dancing and sings such hits as “Downtown,” “New York, New York,” and “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans.”

When in New Orleans, Batt is busy with his shop (between projects), and can often be seen wrapping packages and visiting with customers. Hazelnut features a wide array of décor elements in addition to fabrics that he designed, which are sold by the yard. These designs, which originated from Batt’s sketches that were finished by New York artist Sonia O’Mara, have been incorporated into various accessories exclusive to the shop, including bedding, place mats, throw pillows, ice buckets, lacquered trays, shower curtains, napkins, coasters, and guest towels. There are two versions: New Orleans Toile, which features beautifully drawn vignettes of New Orleans scenes offered in various subtle colors; and Pontchartrain, Hazelnuts’ newest exclusive fabric that is a collage of classic New Orleans icons such as fleur de lis and Mardi Gras beads illustrated in vibrant, tropical hues.

The Pontchartrain line was inspired by Batt’s grandfather, Harry Batt, Sr., who created Pontchartrain Beach amusement park in 1928. The actor grew up near Lake Pontchartrain and now lives uptown; several images in his new book were shot in his childhood home near the lake.

Batt loves his hometown with a passion and is devoted to its revival. One of his many projects in New Orleans is the annual Magazine Street Retail Relief, which he conceived and developed in November 2005, shortly after hurricane Katrina. It was orchestrated to revitalize the area following the storm. This year, the seventh annual event will be held Saturday, November 5. Retailers and galleries along the five-mile stretch of Magazine Street will open their doors for the evening, and live music will be performed on sidewalks. Inevitably, there is always dancing in the streets, New Orleans-style.

I recently caught up with Battt as he was departing New Orleans for New York. We had a chat about his various projects in the U.S. and abroad.

Your mom, Gayle, was also a civic activist and an arts patron. Did she influence you in the realm of interior decorating as well?

I had a magical mother, a true steel magnolia, and I wanted to share that with everyone in the book. She was elegant and had a great sense of style. When she and my father built their dream home, I was at an impressionable age. I learned about the different periods and styles and that triggered my interest.

I’ve heard that you love the mid-century modern décor that was used for Mad Men. So many viewers like watching the impeccably designed sets for their retro style. Is this something that you focus on at Hazelnut or utilize in your own home?

Yes, I really love mid-century modern, but I also like Charles X period furniture, and I love different pieces of art deco. I think periods should be mixed. This is something we do at Hazelnut. It’s one of the great things about having a shop, going to market. Tom is the main buyer for the store. I help pick out things. We have different things at different price points. We just kind of buy what we really like, and we have designers that we can recommend. We just moved into our new home uptown. It’s a raised West Indies cottage. We used to live in a carriage house. It is really beautifully renovated. We have modern, old, East, West, and some whimsical. It’s everything.

Tell me about the fabric you designed.

It has many uses. We were doing it for the opening of the store; we wanted something unique. My shower curtains in New York were made with an Asian toile, so I thought, why not French Quarter scenes? New Orleans is so rich with history. I drew the pictures, and a friend of mine who is an artist did the scenes.

How is it that you were invited to participate in a cabaret festival in Australia to stage Batt on a Hot Tin Roof? I didn’t know you had a following in Australia.

Mad Men is a big hit over there. They called my agent and asked if I would perform the show. I created Batt on a Hot Tin Roof when a friend of mine, who owns Le Chat Noir in New Orleans, asked me if I would do a one-man show. I had never done anything like that before. It just sort of morphed into this really fun thing. I found that I truly enjoyed it. Le Chat Noir started out as a venue for displaced actors after Katrina and I wanted to help out.

Was your recent performance of Love Letters with Patricia Clarkson a hit, and were you successful at raising funds for the theatre?

Yes, it went very well. We also received a wonderful message from the playwright, A.R. Gurney, about the show. We have an annual auction and we always try to get items that no one else can offer. New Orleanians realize how precious Le Petit Theatre is to our community, and they have rallied to save it. My friends in New York are always jealous when I tell them that Le Petit is where I got my start.

Where do you spend most of your time, New York or New Orleans?

I was born and raised in New Orleans, and moved to New York after college. Over the years, I have been weaned off the craziness of New York. I now find myself preferring the slower pace of New Orleans. It is pretty much my primary base now. It is so culturally rich, and there are so many things going on here all the time in the arts. I am really excited to be here. There is no other city like it in the world.