Murray Bartlett interview: ‘Welcome to Chippendales,’ ‘The Last of Us’
“Maybe people see me as a guy heading for an untimely ending,” jokes Emmy winner Murray Bartlett about three of his most recent roles in which his characters have either been accidentally stabbed to death (Armond in Season 1 of “The White Lotus”), murdered in cold blood (Nick in “Welcome to Chippendales”) or tragically died in the arms of his life partner (Frank in “The Last of Us”). For our recent webchat he adds, “There is a silver lining, I guess, for me,” he smiles. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m not complaining, because it’s allowed me to do some really great stuff, and not have to stay alive as one character to stop me from playing the next!” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
SEE How Murray Bartlett can make Emmy history with ‘Welcome to Chippendales’
In “Welcome to Chippendales,” Bartlett follows up his Emmy-winning “White Lotus” role with his acclaimed portrayal of Emmy-winning choreographer Nick De Noia. The eight-episode Hulu limited series was created by Robert Siegel (“Pam & Tommy”), inspired by the book “Deadly Dance: The Chippendales Murders” by K. Scot Macdonald and Patrick MontesDeOca, starring Oscar and Emmy nominee Kumail Nanjiani as Steve Banerjee, who founded the famed Chippendales stripper troupe. It charts his rise from an ambitious immigrant gas station attendant to entrepreneur and his eventual fall from grace as he masterminds business partner and ultimate rival De Noia’s murder.
Bartlett also features in the acclaimed third episode of HBO’s “The Last of Us” (entitled “Long, Long Time”) this season. The post-apocalyptic blockbuster thriller is based on the video game franchise of the same name, created and written by Emmy winner Craig Mazin (“Chernobyl”) and Neil Druckmann. It stars Pedro Pascal (“The Mandalorian”) and Bella Ramsey (“Game of Thrones”) as Joel and Ellie, who embark on a perilous trek across a plague-devastated America against a tide of deadly fungus-infected zombies. In the episode, the duo travel to Massachusetts to locate mysterious survivalist Bill (Nick Offerman). In flashbacks to over 20 years earlier, Bill survives the onslaught of the deadly plague and meets his partner Frank (Bartlett). What follows is a touching and timeless queer love story that became universally praised as a benchmark for television storytelling.
All joking aside about his characters meeting an untimely death over the last couple of years, Bartlett has demonstrated how adept he is at sparking a palpable rapport and connection with scene partners of late. This is particularly so in moments that require emotional vulnerability, like when his character in “Chippendales” goes toe to toe with Steve (Nanjiani) or connects with Bradford (Rannells), and of course as his character in “The Last of Us” falls in love with Bill (Offerman). “Jumping off the cliff with your scene partner, I think that’s the that’s the whole point for me. That’s where the magic happens or where it can happen. It’s the feeling that you want when you’re an actor. Being fully there in the moment, creating something spontaneously with somebody,” Bartlett explains. “That’s what it’s all about. You know, I tend to over-prepare. I think initially, that came from fear of like not being prepared. But now I just love to dig in, and find as much as I can, and bring as much as I can to set,” he says.
“It is easy to forget that acting is talking and listening and if you can bring yourself back to that,” he explains, adding, “that’s where my performance comes from. What am I getting from this person? And what are we creating in this moment together? And if they’re giving me something for me to bounce off, then that’s where we’re trying to create life happening in the moment, on camera. And so, if you can release into that and just let yourself surrender to that, then I feel like you’ve got a good chance of it feeling real and being surprised by what happens. People are inevitably going fire things at you that you don’t expect and to go with that and see what comes from it, I think, is the thing that is most enjoyable for me.”