If David Sedaris was raised on parades and Camellia Grill chocolate freezes, he might sound a little like Bryan Batt. The stage and television actor (Mad Men), philanthropist, designer and business owner (Hazelnut on Magazine Street) adds "author" to his growing list of titles with his book She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother (Harmony Books), a love letter to Gayle Batt, the quintessential New Orleans mom.
Batt's wittily observed tales range from the humorous — his stint as the first male page at the New Orleans Spring Fiesta — to the more heavy: growing up gay, his father's infidelity and mother's battle with cancer.
Gambit: Did you ever think you'd write a book? How did the idea come about?
Bryan Batt: It wasn't on the list of things to do. It started years ago when I was at a dinner party. We were having some wine and talking about our childhoods, and all these memories came flooding back and I started to tell these stories, and they were doubled over in hysterics. One of my friends at the party who's a producer said, "If you don't write those (stories) down, I will." Through friends of friends ... I showed it to a book agent. He said, "Just keep on writing." I didn't really follow his advice. I just let it sit there for a long time and last year, out of the blue, I get this call from him and he said, "Remember those stories you were writing? I think I can sell them." I had one meeting with Crown [Publishing Group], and that was it.
You're a stage actor, television actor, designer and business owner. How is it now being an author?
It's a little daunting. But I'm a firm believer in, this isn't a dress rehearsal — you've got to try everything. If you're moved or inspired to do something, you have to try. Life is — I say it in the book — it's an "and" proposition, not an "or" proposition. And being an actor, I get so much rejection anyway, so if someone doesn't like it — who cares? You didn't write a book.
What was your mom's reaction to the book?
Initially, she was a little ... shocked, but complimentary at the same time. Then I said, "Mom, It can't be just all sweet and syrupy and happiness. Without the hurt the heart is hollow. You have to have the hard times to appreciate the good times." I was so honored by the fact that she really liked it. The biggest compliment I get from people who know my mother and who have read it say, "I hear her." What I love about my mom is that she's hysterical, but she doesn't know it. She'll say something or do something that's so insanely funny, but she doesn't know it. But on the flip side, she's so kind, so generous, so giving ... just innately a lovely lady. There's no pretense; she's not fake. And she doesn't realize that either.
How do you feel about your upcoming book signings? This is new territory for you.
I just don't know what to expect. I think they want me to do a talk back ... I love to blab, so I can do that. I get a little nervous if I have to read. But I just hope people come (laughs). I would feel like such a failure if no one showed up. It's the actor thing — you do your work, do the best that you can, and hope that people like it. And you hope people show up and buy a ticket.
Are you planning on writing more books?
I'm already working on another one. It's completely different. It's a coffee table book and it's called Mad for Design, and it celebrates rooms that I like and the designers who created them. I thought it would be so easy — wrong! What it entails is I have to arrange the photographers, scout the locations, make the arrangements for the shoot to happen, have the shoot styled — everything. It's completely different than just sitting in front of your computer writing.
Sal [Batt's character] got fired on Mad Men at the end of season 3. Do you know if you'll be back on at this point?
(Mad Men creator) Matt Weiner in an interview said, "We don't kill people on Mad Men," so I'm just praying that I'm still not dead. But the show is so blanketed in secrecy that even if I did know, I wouldn't be able to say. But if not, I've loved the last three years on the show. It's just been magical. I get to play such a great character with such brilliant writing — it's such a gift. So I'm lighting candles, but I really don't know.
Bryan Batt signs She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother
6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 8
Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St., 899-7323; www.octaviabooks.com
7 p.m. Monday, May 10
Barnes & Noble, 3721 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 455-4929; www.barnesandnoble.com
7 p.m. Tuesday, May 11
Borders, 3338 St. Charles Ave., 899-1501; www.borders.com