Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bryan Batt Says "She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother"

Part One of Our Four Part Interview with Bryan Batt

Photo by greginhollywood

You most likely know Bryan Batt as Salvatore Romano on Mad Men or Amanda’s long lost dad on Ugly Betty. But if you read his new memoir She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother: A Memoir, you’ll find that there are many sides to Batt.

Yes, he’s an accomplished TV actor. But the New Orlean’s native is also a Broadway musical star, an interior designer, the co-owner of Hazelnut New Orleans home décor store, an activist, and, now, an author. Plus, he’s a really nice guy who loves his mother.

We had the good fortune of talking with Batt recently about his heart-warming and hilarious book, which tells his story growing up with a fabulous and supportive mother in the Big Easy. In She Ain’t Heavy Batt chronicles what it was like to grow up with a creative flair, to struggle through his parents’ sometimes rocky relationship, and to keep his square jaw up through his mother’s ongoing battle with cancer.

If you haven’t picked up a present for Mother’s Day yet we couldn’t think of a more perfect gift than this enchanting story of enduring love between a mother and child. Here’s what Batt had to say about his mother’s health, the difficult moments writing the book, and the very special guest who might join him on the New Orleans stop of his book tour.

PASSIONISTAS: How’s your Mom doing?

BRYAN: We just got a little good news. This new protocol seems to be working. So things have not grown so that’s a good thing.

The cancer spread just a little bit, but this new protocol has from what we understand now, some of the tumors have shrunk in size. And it’s really only spread a little to the liver but now the liver’s in macosis, it’s fighting the lesions. So that’s a good sign. So there’s good positive news.

Mom’s looking forward to being at the signing. She wants to sign the book with me here in New Orleans. So I thinks that’s gonna be fun.

PASSIONISTAS: Is she in New Orleans still?

BRYAN: Yes, Mom’s in New Orleans, yes. That’s [why] we’re just kind of based out of here right now. I love New York and I love Los Angeles but I really want to be here more right now especially because my nieces are growing up before my eyes and my mom, we don’t know how much time we have. So I might have to go out for work to New York or Los Angeles. There’s plane rides. It’s not that long. But day in and day out though when you’re sitting around waiting for the next job, I’m here, doing what I can.

PASSIONISTAS: So obviously a lot has happened since you finished writing the book – leaving Mad Men and doing Ugly Betty. So if you could write a brief epilogue to the book what would it be?

BRYAN: "I Never Knew What I Was Getting Into" would be name of the chapter. Be careful what you wish for. It’s been a wonderful learning experience. I had no idea what went into writing a book and a lot of people are asking, “Did you really write it?” And yes, I wrote it. I wrote it.

I have a wonderful editor who kept me on deadline and made suggestions as far as structure and a couple of changes. But I didn’t realize how much I would actually be editing the book and changing grammatical mistakes and everything else. Even right before the last pass, [Batt's partner] Tom Cianfichi was proofreading one of the beginning chapters and he said, “Are you sure you want to say your mother’s ‘clamming’ voice?” I went, “How did that get past everybody?” Everything is done so on the computer that “clamming” would be a word. So you have to be very careful nowadays. Spell check doesn’t get everything.

We all have in high school and college dreaded term paper deadlines, “Will I ever get it ready?” And just that pressure. I never dealt with that well… For theater, you have to learn your lines as quick as possible. There isn’t a lot of time. Preparation has to be intensified in the rehearsal period. So you’re focused that strongly but when you have four months or five months to write this book, you go “It will be fine. I’ll just do it.” And then life starts happening around you and then “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I have to have at least three chapters done by this week.”

It was daunting at times but you know it was really a wonderful learning experience.

PASSIONISTAS: Well you did a great job.

BRYAN: Thank you. I hope people like it. I really do.

You know when I wrote the book I really tried to concentrate on paying tribute to and honoring my mother with faults and all. I mean there were some hard times in the book. Because I believe some people just sit there and blame their parents for everything that goes wrong with their lives. And if you’re gonna do that you have to thank them for everything good that happens in your life… You have to say, “You know what, they did the best they could.” I refuse to believe that any parent looks at their newborn child and says, “Now how can I mess this child’s life up?” They all do the best that they can.

PASSIONISTAS: Well it seems like your mom did even better than most. She seems so supportive.

BRYAN: Always with a smile and very supportive. One thing I was told early on and I mentioned that I knew that I was loved. But I was told I could do anything. When push came to shove they were very, very supportive.

PASSIONISTAS: Was there anything that was hard to tell your mother you were including in the book or something that she really wanted you to leave out?
BRYAN: The two things that were difficult to write about were when my mother had cancer for the first time and then my father was so ill. Because I didn’t know throughout my entire high school and college life which one was going to die first or was I going to be an orphan… I was constantly being called to the hospital and I had to relive that, those emotions and just the uncertainty for so many years. When I finished writing that chapter I burst into tears. It was really emotional.

In fact, my publicist Cynthia said when she was reading one of the rough drafts on the plane coming to L.A., she said she read the last line of that and she said she just started crying.

And then the other time that it was difficult was the infidelity jewelry. Mainly because it was such a hard thing for mother, they broke her heart… And I’ve never pressed her for any things or situations. She said “Honey, that’s so far in the past. Let’s just let it be. There’s no reason for anyone to get hurt anymore.”

But the reason why I wanted to include that was because it was such a wake up call for my mother. And such a pivotal moment, I believe in her life. That she didn’t just lay down and pretend like it didn’t happen. She didn’t walk away from her marriage, which she fought to keep and hold on to.

To the point where, before he died… there was a lot of fighting and everything… but to the point where I would come home from a dance or from a party or from school and she’d be sitting on my father’s lap and they’d be watching TV like newlyweds. And I went, “Good for you.”

As much as you don’t want to see your parents canoodle, it was just this heartwarming thing like oh, forgiveness is possible. Or you can have a relationship grow and go like a rollercoaster ride and enjoy the peaks, and understand the valleys, but enjoy the peaks.

One of my dear friends, Rachel, who her parents had very much difficulty, she used to love to come over to my house and just hang out with my mom and dad. Because she just loved that presence that they had.

Some people would crumble or let it ruin them or ruin their lives or break their hearts completely. And mom saw a light at the end of the tunnel that she would get through this… It also made her stronger, it strengthened her in a way that it helped her ever since.

PASSIONISTAS: Is there a moment in the book that you consider the quintessential Gayle Batt moment?

BRYAN: Oh my gosh. Oh there’s so many.

One of the biggest compliments I’ve gotten though is my friends who have read it who know her just say, “You’ve captured her so perfectly.” They say you can hear her. That is how she speaks.

There’s so many. Like one of them is when she’s trying to get the tickets for me to go see the play, to see “Gilda Radner – Live From New York.” She was not leaving... There was no way. She was going to try every angle with the batting of the eyes, telling her story. That is one.

There’s another at the end. Where we’re sitting, it's the last moment of the book, that is very much her. She has always, whether she’s had good news or bad news as well, she’s going to tell it with a smile and we’re going to get through it.

And also when she came back from M.D. Anderson and she just stood there and like put on a show – told us, this is what’s gonna happen. This is what I’ve decided.

One of my favorite moments that is so my mother is when we were very young for the Rudolph story. She told me, “You’re just like Rudolph. You’re a very special boy.”

BRYAN: My mother’s so excited about the book. She love’s it. You know, that also makes me happy.

PASSIONISTAS: Well it’s such a great tribute to her and such an amazing relationship between a son and a mother. You don’t get a look at that very often.

BRYAN: You know what I love about it, it’s true. I just adore her.

PASSIONISTAS: And rightly so from everything you wrote about her.

Will She Ain't Heavy, She's My Mother make it to the big screen or Broadway stage? Read more of our interview with Bryan Batt to find out.

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