‘White Lotus’ Star Murray Bartlett Cast in ‘Physical’ as Rose Byrne’s Rival (EXCLUSIVE)

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Get ready for the possibility of Murray Bartlett in short-shorts and leg warmers.

The White Lotus” star tells me on this week’s episode of the “Just for Variety” podcast that he has been cast in Season 2 of “Physical,” the Apple TV Plus series starring Rose Byrne as Sheila, a 1980s San Diego housewife who begins to find herself after being introduced to aerobics.

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“The writing in this season is really fantastic,” Bartlett says. “That stuff that I get to do is really fun, but it’s twisted and smart. It’s interesting because it’s got that whole like ’80s fun thing, but there’s a depth to this show that’s really moving.”

Bartlett wasn’t able to share too much about his character when we spoke, but Apple has now provided some details. He’ll play Vincent “Vinnie” Green, a charismatic fitness instructor, weight loss guru and late-night infomercial pioneer. He and Sheila are both friends and rivals who struggle privately with personal demons.

Bartlett certainly knows how to play a character with demons. In “White Lotus,” he stars as resort manager Armond, whose life implodes when he falls off the wagon. Not only is he caught in his office having sex with a much younger employee (Lukas Gage) during a night of drugs and alcohol, but he also seeks revenge on a guest (Jake Lacy) by defecating in his suitcase.

So, which scene was more challenging to shoot? “I don’t know. That’s a really difficult question. I think any of those kind of intimate scenes that you do are just weird,” Bartlett says. “There’s an element of it that is always going to be weird and sort of slightly awkward, but Mike creates this incredible feeling of play on set, and we were having so much fun. We were all throwing ourselves into the spirit of that, and so they weren’t that difficult to do, those scenes.”

The suitcase sequence was shot sooner than Bartlett anticipated. “We were doing it in two weeks or something and then something happened — I think maybe we had a COVID scare or something — and all of a sudden we were doing that,” he recalls. “I think that was really good because I couldn’t think about it. I’m like, ‘Alright, let’s shit in a suitcase!’”

Bartlett’s work on “White Lotus” has earned him critical acclaim as well as nominations for SAG and Critics Choice awards. I can also reveal that the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts exclusively tells me that the actor has received this year’s International Award for best actor in a series. The full list of winners will be announced tomorrow.

Bartlett is repped by Paradigm Talent Agency, Anonymous Content, Relevant, Goodman Genow Schenkman Smelkinson & Christopher.

Bartlett recently drove with his boyfriend and their dog from their home in Provincetown, Mass. to Los Angeles. After filming “Physical,” he’ll shoot “Immigrant,” Hulu’s limited series about Chippendales founder Somen “Steve” Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani). Bartlett will co-star as producer-choreographer Nick De Noia.

Did you have any idea while you were making “The White Lotus” that it was going to become this cultural moment?

Mike White is a genius. These scripts — he wrote them in two months, by the way — were just incredible. And the characters that he’d written were really amazing. I had no doubt that some people would absolutely love it, because it’s brilliantly written. … But yeah, you can never tell how a show is going to hit, right?

Will we see a prequel and see what got Armond sober? I want to see Armond getting sober and what happened that made him get sober.

The night before we started shooting, Mike made a joke. He was saying, “Whoever is the nicest person and the best actor gets a spin-off series.” And I was like, “Excuse me, what about me? I die.” He was like, “We’ll go back in time, not a problem.” He was joking, but wouldn’t that be fun? When they said that they were going to do a second season, I was like, “Maybe 2008?”

Did you or Mike create a backstory for Armond?

There was more of a backstory written into the script and some of those pieces fell away, which makes sense in the final cut. But one of the things that I found really useful was that he wanted to be an actor, and I relate to that. I worked in hospitality. I know a lot of people who work in hospitality. I know people who started out as performers and have moved into hospitality. Some people who have done are perfectly happy and others who have, have this broken dream of having wanting to be a performer.

What celebrity has slipped into your DMs on Instagram to tell you how much they love Armond and your performance?

When the show came out, I got a random message from Sarah Paulson, who I absolutely adore and admire. Very beautifully polite, like, “Excuse me for intruding, but I just … ” And I was like, “Are you kidding?” It inspired me so much. It was a surreal experience for this person who I adore and admire so much reaching out to me. It is all very surreal, but wonderful.

What does the AACTA award mean to you?

It’s not that the other awards don’t count, but there’s something about the SAG Awards, which is voted on by your peers, [it’s] such a beautiful thing. And your home country celebrating you and acknowledging you is such a moving thing. I don’t spend as much time in Australia as I would love to these days because work stuff has happened for me here, but it’s my home, and it’s my people, and I love that industry so much and I love what that industry produces. It’s a big country, but it’s funny when you meet other Australians. I’m working with Rose Byrne at the moment in “Physical.” When you meet other Australians, [it] does feel like this kind of beautiful community that feels a little — it’s not small town, but it’s got that small town feel, like we know each other kind of thing. It is a much smaller industry in Australia, so you do tend to kind of cross paths with more people more often. There’s a different kind of intimacy to it, and a sort of a kinship that you feel with other Australians.

What aerobics outfits are you wearing in “Physical?”

You’ll just have to wait and see.

Leg warmers?

I can’t give anything away, but you won’t be disappointed.

Listen to the full interview with Bartlett above. You can also find “Just for Variety” at Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your favorite podcasts.

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