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Photo Courtesy of Emil Cohen

Acting Up: Murray Bartlett


Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.

 

The Snapshot:

Murray Bartlett stars as a luxury hotel resort manager playing host to a bunch of over-privileged guests in the HBO limited series The White Lotus. (Series premiered July 11th.)

 

The Performance:

When we first meet White Lotus resort manager Armond (Murray Bartlett), a flock of first-class guests are approaching him after a long yacht ride to his luxury tropical oasis (think Four Seasons Resort Maui in Wailea, which is actually where the show was shot). Armond gives a quick crash course on how to deal with them to guest-service trainee, Lani (Jolene Purdy):

Armond: You don’t want to be too specific as a presence, as an identity. You want to be more… generic… The goal is to create for the guests an overall impression of vagueness. That can be very satisfying – where they get everything they want, but they don’t even know what they want, or what day it is, or where they are, or who we are, or what the fuck is going on.

What ensues, rather comically, from that point on is a series of events that test Armond’s patience, dedication to his job, even his sobriety. Bartlett embodies the inner conflict of this role to relative perfection – his happy, almost-forced smile exudes outward-facing warmth to the guests, screaming hospitality hero – while his gooey center seethes with just a smidge of disdain.

For example, one particularly tense exchange happens with the honeymooning white preppy Shane (Jake Lacy), who needs Armond to admit they put he and his newlywed wife Rachel (Alexandra Daddario) in the wrong room, not the honeymoon suite as booked. When Shane doesn’t get exactly what he wants – an admission from Armond that the hotel screwed up – it nags at him to comical ends, proving that the need to be right can sometimes fuel one’s undoing.

As the show’s tagline reads, “Paradise is no vacation.” It’s a line that applies to Armond as much as anyone at the White Lotus (guest or otherwise) as he begins questioning his role in the order of things. In the past, being content treating the guests “like sensitive children” seemed to work out well enough, but this is not the past – and this set of guests has Armond straddling a fine line.

It’s the present and in it, Armond’s treacherous guest service journey is about to hit a few speedbumps. For the viewer, it’s intensely satisfying and entertaining to watch. For Armond, maybe not so much. Lucky for us, we have the wildly talented Aussie Bartlett to take us there.

 

The Career:

If you’re looking around IMDB wondering where you know the 50-year-old, Sydney-born Bartlett from, you have a wide assortment of options to jog the memory. For many, chances are quite good it’s from the short-lived, critically acclaimed series Looking (2014-2016) on HBO, that ran for two seasons before culminating in a HBO film that put a nice ribbon on the series.

In Looking, Bartlett played Dom Basaluzzo, a late-30s career waiter who’s a mainstay at Zuni in San Francisco as he searches for what he wants in this world. Namely, younger men.

Others may remember Bartlett from another HBO project Sex and the City (2002), where Bartlett played Carrie’s openly gay shoe-selling friend, Oliver Spencer in the “All That Glitters” episode. It’s a role that reportedly got him recognized on the streets for a decade after the episode aired.

Still no bells ringing? Well, Bartlett has also had notable roles in series such as the even more short-lived HBO series, Flight of the Conchords (2007), Damages (2011) and a recurring role on Marvel/Netflix’s Iron Fist (2017-2018). And if melodrama is your thing, you might know Bartlett from his roughly 250 episodes as Cyrus Foley in the soap opera Guiding Light (2007-2009).

Bartlett has also had an impressive life in theater, since graduating from Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) with a degree in Performing Arts (1991). Notably, Bartlett originated the role of Greg Connell opposite Hugh Jackman in the Australian Tour of The Boy from Oz. He also starred in the revival of M Butterfly on Broadway, directed by Julie Taymor.

Recently, you may’ve seen Bartlett in Netflix’s Tales of the City (2019) as Michael ‘Mouse’ Tolliver, based on the Armistead Maupin books, opposite Laura Linney and Elliot Page.

As for Bartlett’s next role, it will be even darker than Armond as he will star in HBO’s upcoming big-budget drama, The Last of Us. Based on a popular Sony PlayStation game, the series is about a pair of people “enduring brutal circumstances and ruthless killers in post-pandemic America,” says IMDB. In it, Bartlett will play a post-apocalyptic survivalist living in an isolated town.

Should be fun – if not a wee bit closer to home than we all want to admit.

Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.