Murray Bartlett Talks Scene-Stealing 'White Lotus' Role and Facing Off With Jake Lacy (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
After breaking out with the short-lived series Looking, Australian actor Murray Bartlett is back on HBO in Mike White’s dramedy and social satire, The White Lotus, as the much put-upon Hawaiian resort manager Armond. While just one of many stars in the ensemble, which includes Connie Britton, Jake Lacy, Jennifer Coolidge, Molly Shannon, Natasha Rothwell and Steve Zahn, Murray delivers a scene-stealing performance that becomes increasingly more unhinged over the course of the limited series’ six episodes -- and it’s one not to be missed.
“I’m often asked to play characters that are much closer to myself. And so this was really exciting for me to step out of that,” Bartlett tells ET over Zoom, crediting White for his “brilliant” writing and ability to come up with such complicated characters in an interwoven story about what happens to various guests and employees over the span of one week.
When it comes to Armond, “He’s this showman and someone who has to be completely together. He has to take care of these really difficult guests often, and so, he has to present himself as a professional and hold it together,” the actor explains. “But underneath, we find out everything is sort of unraveling.”
Bartlett adds that “his inner life is sort of running in opposition with what he's presenting to the world.” And it’s how that inner life sabotages his professional one is what’s so much fun to watch.
Soon after an unexpected incident involving Lani, an employee played by Jolene Purdy, and the arrival of all the guests in the premiere, Armond, a recovering addict, is already on edge. And once he finds a bag of drugs left behind by Olivia (Sydney Sweeney) and Paula (Brittany O'Grady), the hotel manager starts making one poor decision after the next.
Having only read one episode when he signed on for the series, Bartlett was admittedly surprised by what his character does, especially in the latter three episodes, as things come to a head with one particularly disgruntled guest named Shane (Lacy). An entitled man-boy staying at the resort with his bride, Rachel (Alexandra Daddario), who resorts to calling upon his mother, Kitty (Shannon), when he doesn’t get the room he requested, Shane focuses his rage on Armond instead of enjoying his honeymoon.
Admitting that they both shared a similar trait in being “overprepared,” Bartlett says that he and Lacy hit the ground running in their scenes together. “It was very bonding, actually, because we were both so excited and so into it,” he explains, noting that they “just immediately plugged into” the dynamic of the feuding characters.
Bartlett adds, “Those were some of my favorite scenes because that conflict is just so present and so great to play. And Jake is such an awesome scene partner.”
When it comes to the rest of the ensemble, Bartlett was one of the few actors who had scenes with just about everyone. “My character gets to dip into all the stories,” he says, noting that the rest of the cast did not disappoint. When it comes to Coolidge in particular (“I’m such a diehard, well, never-die fan of hers”), he says it was difficult to be in scenes with her because “she’s so funny and so charming and kind of riveting… and so, it was hard to keep your sh*t together.”
But Bartlett’s more unexpected moments happen when Armond encounters another guest, Mark (Zahn), at the bar and later gets caught in a precarious situation with his co-worker, Dillon (Lukas Gage). And when it comes to filming the latter with Gage, the actor jokes “there’s certainly a level of intimacy in that friendship that I wasn’t expecting.”
While unable to say much else over fears of giving too much away, Bartlett says the rest of the series will keep audiences on their toes “because you’re on one story and then it switches to the next one and then the next one.” What starts off as “a slow burn in the beginning, really ramps up.”
“And once it does, get ready,” he teases.
Even with the remaining episodes still to come, he couldn’t be more content with his experience playing Armond on The White Lotus. “This isn’t a subtle character and it’s a little scary sometimes to play big because you don’t want to go over the top. But also there’s freedom in it,” Bartlett says, adding that “it’s so satisfying to play a character that fully follows through on any impulses, even if it’s outrageous and ugly. That’s something we often don’t get to do as humans.”