Bryan Batt Raises the Roof
How do you know Bryan Batt? If you're a longtime New York theater fan, you probably recall the handsome, multitalented actor's presence from such hit Broadway musicals as "La Cage Aux Folles," "Sunset Bouelvard," and "Cats" - not to mention his career-defining performance as the vain young thespian Darius in the hit Off-Broadway play "Jeffrey," a role he repeated on film opposite Sir Patrick Stewart. Meanwhile, TV viewers know Batt best from his three-season run as closeted gay advertising executive Salvatore Romano on AMC's Emmy-winning series "Mad Men".
But if you're from New Orleans, you may think of Batt as your personal style guru. For 10 years, he and his longtime partner Tom Cianfichi have owned the popular home-décor store Hazelnut on trendy Magazine Street - which has just undergone a small renovation to freshen its look. Last year, the couple opened a second, larger outpost of the shop in the coastal town of Mandeville, and Batt also penned well-received style book called "Big Easy Style: Creating Rooms You Love to Live In."
Batt admits he wasn't 100 percent sure NOLA natives would embrace the shop, but he's thrilled that he took the plunge. "I always wanted to have a store like this with Tom, and now people come from all over the country just to see it," he says. "I think part of our success is that Magazine Street is this great concentrated area of shopping with lots of mom-and-pop run stores, and it's really hard to find a place like this anywhere else in the country. And NOLA has come back from Hurricane Katrina with a vengeance. It's the number one growing city in the country economically."
Hazelnut's success also springs from its beautifully curated mix of goods, including stunning tabletop accessories, such as Vietri flatware, Laurel Wilder trays, Lion's Head barware; custom-designed toile bedding, towels, and napkins; a generous selection of the latest style books; as well as jewelry, picture frames, and lighting.
"Most stores have to choose their offerings by committee, or feel that they have offer customers what they think will sell even if the owners don't like it," says Batt. "But there is nothing in either of our stores that I don't personally like. I have to appreciate the design or craftsmanship of every piece I choose, even if it's not something I would put inside my home."
A little naked
While Batt can often be found inside the shop (as I can personally attest from a surprise visit last February), the performer often leaves the day-to-day operation of Hazelnut to Cianfichi and the staff as he continues his acting career. For example, this month, he’ll be away from NOLA as he takes his critically acclaimed cabaret show "Batt on a Hot Tin Roof" to London’s Crazy Coqs (August 6-10) and then San Francisco’s Hotel Rex (August 15-17).
"I never seriously thought about doing cabaret," says Batt. "In fact, back when I was on Broadway, every call board was chock full of post cards for all these cabaret shows, which were essentially just ways for people to showcase their talent or have other people pay for their therapy. It got to the point where I would say to someone, ’I’ll give you $20 if I don’t have to go see your show.’"
However, a few years back, he was asked to concoct an act as a benefit for the New Orleans cabaret Le Chat Noir, and he got hooked. Since then, he’s performed various cabaret shows in NOLA, New York, and elsewhere. "It reminds me a little bit of the years I spent working in ’Forbidden Broadway,’ because it uses every skill I have as an actor, singer, and storyteller," he says.
"And I love the fact that there are no sets, no hydraulics. You’re a little naked, metaphorically, but you instantly know what’s working and what’s not. I get to tell my favorite anecdotes about my crazy childhood, and sing this great eclectic group of songs from Cole Porter to Kander & Ebb to Burt Bacharach. The audiences have been so receptive, but unlike a lot of people in show business who worry all the time about how they come across, I really don’t care. You like me or you don’t."
More ’Mad Men’?
For the past couple of years, Batt has also kept busy filming small parts in some upcoming high-profile movies, including Steve McQueen’s "12 Years A Slave," a drama starring Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Chiwetel Ejifor in which he plays "the world’s nicest slave owner,"; "Parkland," which takes place in the Dallas hospital where John F. Kennedy was brought after he was assassinated and which stars teen idol Zac Efron; and most notably, "The Last Days of Robin Hood," starring Kevin Kline, Susan Sarandon, and Dakota Fanning, in which he plays famed costume designer Orry Kelly - who introduced Flynn (played by Kline) to his last girlfriend, teen starlet Beverly Aadland (played by Fanning). "I was in Atlanta for two weeks, although I only filmed about three scenes," he notes. "But it was great. Kevin is just as amazing as Errol Flynn, and Susan, who plays Dakota’s mother, is just the coolest person in the world."
About the only place one isn’t seeing Batt these days is back on "Mad Men," and the actor admits he has no idea if he’ll ever get another opportunity to step into Sal’s shoes. "Matthew Weiner (the show’s creator) could just call on a moment’s notice and tell me to come over to the set, and I would be there in a second. Being on that show was such a great experience," he says. "I don’t know where Sal would be; I’m not even sure what year season 7 will begin with. But it doesn’t matter, because anything they would come up with for Sal is better than anything in my imagination."
For more about Brian Batt, visit his website.