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Bryan Batt talks almost not playing Sal on Mad Men and earning Meryl Streep's fandom

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Carin Baer/AMC

Few Mad Men characters are more beloved than Salvatore Romano, brought to life onscreen by Bryan Batt. Which is sort of surprising, considering he hasn’t appeared in an episode in this decade. Bratt’s last appearance on the show came in October 2009, when Sterling Cooper fired him for refusing the sexual advances of Lucky Strike exec Lee Garner, Jr.

That makes five and a half years that fans have clamored for Batt’s return to the show, or at least for closure of his character’s storyline. Alas, according to an Esquire.com essay by Batt himself, Sal lovers shouldn’t hold their breath for an appearance on Sunday’s finale. “Matt [Weiner] is not one of those people who would let the public tell him what story to tell,” Batt says in the piece. “The show is a success because no one pandered to the opinions of anyone else but the storyteller himself.”

Here’s what else we learned fromt he essay:

He got the role in one audition—that he almost blew offAfter Batt’s goddaughter helped to save goods from the store Batt and his husband owned in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, the couple decided to take her to Paris.

A week before we were set to leave, my agent called. “There’s this audition for this TV show and they really want to see you,” he said. “It’s called Mad Men and you’d play an art director in 1960.” I never got television auditions, but I couldn’t cancel this trip. I pushed for another audition time. Not an option. So I let it go, the first time in my memory when I chose life over show business.

I returned home from Paris […] and received another call from my agent. “You know,” he went on, “they never found who they wanted for Mad Men.” So I put on a little ascot and a blazer and went into the audition […] and I got it… in one audition. That does not happen.

Batt was at Christina Hendricks’ wedding the night Sal’s final episode aired. “A beautiful wedding,” Batt says. “The most gorgeous glowing bride. Sal wasn’t even on my mind.”

Sal’s departure wasn’t always seen as final. Weiner wanted to tell Batt the Sal news in person, but because Batt wasn’t in New York he “asked to bite the bullet over the phone.”

He explained that this was the course for the character, but that I shouldn’t worry: Sal would come back. He kept saying that, a few times at awards shows after we finished shooting, which was quite interesting. I knew how much Matt loved all of his characters and the actors he cast in them, and how difficult it must have been to do the inevitable. […] Matt mentioned along the way that Sal could come back as a big director, but I think the storyline took a different route. 

Batt knew before the pilot that Sal’s homosexuality would become a plot point. According to Batt’s account, Weiner approached him at a makeup and wardrobe test in 2006 to tell him that Sal would go on a business trip with Don—an episode that ended up in the third season—and have sex with a man, adding to Batt that “it’s not going to matter.”

Meryl Streep is a Mad Men fan. One year at the SAG Awards, someone introduced Batt to Streep, who remarked, “I love Mad Men! My husband and I watch it every Sunday.” Batt’s reaction? “I can die now. Meryl Streep has seen my work.”

Read Batt’s full essay on Esquire.com.