Yes, Murray Bartlett Is Aware of the Memes
Have you seen The White Lotus?" "Have you seen The White Lotus?" "Seriously, you haven't seen The White Lotus?" This was standard dinner conversation throughout the summer, as the HBO series, about privileged Hawaiian hotel guests and the staff who tend to them, skyrocketed from critical acclaim to full-blown cultural cult. And in a cast featuring Jennifer Coolidge, Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, and others, few performances have gotten more attention than that of Australian actor Murray Bartlett, who played the hotel's manager, Armond. Armond, straining from pleasing people who do not see him and the struggle of sobriety, became something of a new-millennium Howard Beale. When he couldn't take it anymore, we were right there with him.
It's a complex performance, veering from hospitable gleam to gurning debauchery, and the actor nailed every note. Not only is Bartlett a shoo-in for an Emmy Award nomination, Armond also starred in the funniest meme of the year, involving a certain suitcase as a metaphor for the Delta variant. And the low-key Bartlett, 50 — who had previously starred in Looking and Tales of the City — is enjoying his trip.
Laura Brown: Let's just cut to the night the final episode aired in August. Did your phone blow up?
Murray Bartlett: I got so many messages the next day. A lot happens in that last episode — it's pretty epic. The wonderful response to the show has been overwhelming, in a great way. It's even sweeter because shooting it was such a joyful experience with a great group of people.
LB: It could have been so hard in COVID. Not an easy thing to shoot.
MB: I think the unique thing about this show, which may never happen again, hopefully, is we were thrust together. We couldn't leave the resort that we were in, but we felt incredibly lucky to be plucked out of our COVID pods and taken to Hawaii with these people who were all lovely. It could have been a total nightmare if they hadn't been.
LB: Did you ever think your performance was going to become a million memes?
MB: It did cross my mind at the time. [Creator-producer-director] Mike White is a genius, and the complexity of the character is all in the script. We wanted that character to be larger than life, but we didn't ever want it to feel untethered from reality. Mike is amazing at giving you a lot of freedom and a sense of play. Armond is not two-dimensional. We really explored that and tried to plot those points where you can drop in with this character and see some sensitivity and vulnerability and the stuff underneath the showy aspects.
LB: And touching that feeling when you have to smile even when you don't want to.
MB: And just following it through to the point where you can't do that shit anymore. You can't hold it together. Which, I think, to a certain extent, we can all relate to. That's just kind of life. Being in the world.
LB: My favorite meme of you was the suitcase scene: "My summer plans/the Delta variant." Did you have a favorite one?
MB: The ass-eating meme as my summer plans and then the suitcase scene as Delta. [laughs] That was pretty good.
LB: You're absolutely going to have an awards moment. Are you fond of red carpets and events?
MB: I don't mind it. It's kind of an adventure. My idea of an awesome night is sitting around a firepit with friends, so it's certainly not that. But I love dressing up, and there's something wonderful about those events. It's a celebration, and I think if you get too bogged down in some of the elements, it can feel a bit heavy. But if you just relish the adventure of it and the fun of dressing up and all that, it's a good time.
LB: In American self-help language, it would be called stepping into your power.
MB: Exactly. That's what I'm trying to do, step into that power.
LB: Armond is a chic gentleman. Do you wear Hawaiian shirts, or do you want to burn them all now?
MB: No, not at all. I used to be kind of a hippie when I was younger. I did a lot of vintage shopping, and I loved a good Hawaiian shirt. When we were shooting, there were a couple of shirts I wore that were made locally, and they're just gorgeous.
LB: Did you get to keep any?
MB: I didn't. It was such a whirlwind, and then it all seemed like a dream. I didn't feel like I could take things from the dream back into reality.
LB: What does style mean to you, and who do you think has great style?
MB: The style that I respond to is connected to something at the essence of what a person is. Someone who's always incredibly stylish to me is Tilda Swinton. I feel like she can wear these elaborate, amazing things, but it's connected to her extraordinary essence.
LB: Your look seems kind of chic utility.
MB: Yeah, that was very well coined. I was thinking about this Best Dressed Issue like, "Do I have a style?" And I think it's that. I love sturdy, utility-type stuff that's got style to it. I love vintage items that last for years. I love things that are well-made and look better as they get older.
LB: So you're like, "I'm superhot, but I could also fix your car"?
MB: I mean, I'm not sure that I could, but that's the impression I'm trying to give.
LB: When did you first wear a mustache?
MB: I was in Egypt in 2012. As way of trying to fit in, because I was the odd white guy, I grew a mustache. It didn't work in terms of fitting in, but I liked it, and when I auditioned for Looking, a show I did a few years ago, they loved the mustache. It served me well.
LB: Did you ever watch Magnum P.I. when you were growing up?
MB: Oh my god, yeah.
LB: Did Tom Selleck ever give you feelings?
MB: I mean, he gave everyone feelings. When I got the mustache, I was like, "I feel like I'm stepping into a tiny bit of what that feels like." That gave me the confidence to wear that mustache with pride.
LB: How vain are you, by the way?
MB: I'm sort of in the middle of the spectrum of vanity. I'm aware of how I look and how I present to the world, and I put energy into it, but I'm not obsessed by it. I don't always have to see my abs, you know what I mean?
LB: I'm gifted, but I'm also balanced.
MB: The thing is, Armond truly lives in my mind. He doesn't get expressed fully in my life, but there is an anxious man on the verge of a nervous breakdown inside me. So I like to strive for balance, and I'm often pretty good at it, but I definitely don't always hit the mark.
LB: What sort of hotel guest are you?
MB: I'm honestly more a shack-on-the-beach, cabin-in-the-woods type of guy, so I don't spend a lot of time in hotels, except for work. It was interesting doing The White Lotus because we were living and working in that resort. It made me very aware of my tendency to be a little bit like some of the characters in the show. My laundry hadn't come back for a couple of days, and I'm like, "Where's my laundry?" But then I thought, "What are you talking about?" I worked in the service industry when I was a young actor, so when you do that, it's embedded in your psyche to not be a dick to people who are in those positions. Because you know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of obnoxious behavior. So I try my best to be mindful.
LB: But after the success of this show, you're going to become a horrendous diva.
LB: What would be in your rider?
MB: I just want a guarantee that there's going to be a base level of kindness around me. Because I thrive in that environment, and I tend to wither when it's not there.
LB: Fair. Kindness and white candles. Got it.
MB: Yes, exactly. White candles and great incense!
Photography by Carter Smith/Copious Management. Styling by Matthew Marden/See Management. Grooming by Tony Kelley/Art Department. Production by Viewfinders.
For more stories like this, pick up the November 2021 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Oct. 22nd.