Murray Bartlett interview: ‘The White Lotus’
“It feels very surreal! I have never been in this position before, so it’s very sweet,” admits Murray Bartlett, who after years playing various memorable characters in film and television, has finally scored his first ever Emmy nomination for his arguably best-in-show role on “The White Lotus.” For our recent webchat he adds, “I feel very fortunate to have had a long career of doing mostly stuff that I’ve really loved with people that I’ve enjoyed working with, so this is another chapter for me that I’m really loving and embracing. It’s always nice to get acknowledgement for the work that you do.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
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HBO’s “The White Lotus” was created by Mike White, who wrote and directed all six episodes of the anthology drama. The series follows a week in the life of the employees of the fictional White Lotus resort in Maui and the guests looking forward to a week of rest and relaxation among the swaying palm trees, cocktails and idyllic sunsets of this tropical island getaway. However, things are not quite as they seem at first, as we learn more about the dysfunctional vacationers and the resort’s beleaguered staff members, all of which comes to a head in the series’ dynamite finale as the identity of the mysterious dead body that features in the show’s first scene is finally revealed. Originally intended as a six-part limited series, “The White Lotus” became a critical and commercial sensation last year, leading HBO to renew it for a second season, this time set in Sicily and with only Coolidge returning from the first season’s cast.
Bartlett has had a good year coming off his acclaimed performance in the series, scoring a SAG nomination for Best Limited Series/Movie Actor and winning the same category at the Critics Choice Awards along with a win from his compatriots in the Australian Academy. He now competes in the Best Limited Series/Movie Supporting Actor race alongside his co-stars Jake Lacy and Steve Zahn, all of whom are first-timers at the Emmys, while legendary comedienne Jennifer Coolidge, Connie Britton, Alexandra Daddario, Natasha Rothwell and Sydney Sweeney take up all but two spots in the corresponding female lineup (marking the first time ever that five women have been nominated from a single series in one category).
The Australian actor portrays hotel manager Armond, a seemingly unflappable go-getter, jovially greeting the hotel’s guests with a friendly wave and “aloha” as they disembark onto the island. He’s the ringleader of this circus in paradise; juggling arrivals, requests, complaints and the day’s activities with aplomb. Bartlett was keen to flesh out the larger-than-life hotel manager so that he was “tethered to reality in a way that made him feel authentically human rather than a caricature. It is a very big character and a lot of ways and he’s a real showman, so when I read it, I loved what Mike had written. I wanted there to be moments of vulnerability with this character, I want us to understand what’s going on behind the facade and it’s not just all craziness, there’s quiet moments,” he says, clarifying that he wanted those moments to be slightly “confronting and unsettling, so it’s finding that balance, because Armond goes on such a roller coaster ride.”
That roller coaster ride kicks into high gear relatively quickly for Armond, as he becomes more and more unhinged with each episode, as everything around him begins to spirals out of control. His uncomfortable interactions with entitled whiner Shane (Lacy) escalate into an obsessive tit-for-tat feud, leading Armond to succumb to temptation and fall off the wagon, as he overindulges in the stash of drug paraphernalia that has been misplaced by another guest on the island. The series steamrolls towards its big reveal, as we learn that the death teased in the first scene of the series is none other than Armond himself. After euphorically completing the night’s dinner service on a cocaine-induced high, he defecates in Shane’s suitcase in a fit of drug and booze-fueled vengeance. But after Armond hears Shane approaching his hotel suite and then hides, he is eventually discovered by the defiant knife-wielding guest-from-hell, who inadvertently stabs Armond in his chest, leaving him to bleed out after he slinks into a nearby bathtub.
“I was shocked when I read that it was him,” Bartlett admits. “I was devastated because I identified with him as the part of myself and I think the part of all of us that is like ‘this world is just insane and it’s spiraling out of control and I can’t deal with it anymore,'” he explains, adding that in the last moments when Armond is dying, “even though it’s a tragedy and it’s sad and devastating, it’s also a relief to be out of that toxic cycle that he’s in,” he says. “I think it’s a brilliant part of the show and I wanted to put a lot of things into that moment that are a little bit confusing or contradictory in the things that he’s feeling, because there is a lot of release, but sadness and tragedy in that moment.”