Murray Bartlett on Going From The White Lotus to Welcome to Chippendales
Dec 20, 2022
[Editor’s note: The following contains some spoilers for Welcome to Chippendales.]
Welcome to Chippendales, a Hulu original series, is one of those stories where the truth truly is stranger and wilder than fiction, as it lays out the story of how Indian immigrant Somen “Steve” Banerjee (Kumail Nanjiani) became the founder of the famous male-stripping empire, only to then go down a very dark path. So focused on success that he refused to allow anything to stand in his way, Steve finds himself embroiled in a true-crime saga of his own making that would inevitably be his downfall.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Murray Bartlett (who plays Nick De Noia, an artistic visionary and the lead choreographer for the Chippendales dance troupe) talked about what most struck him about this crazy story, the unpredictability of being an actor and never knowing what the next role will be, playing someone whose ambition is also their downfall, how the dancing in Chippendales compared to the dancing in Physical, figuring out the snowball fight, and what made this such a joyful job. He also talked about his experience making the upcoming HBO series The Last of Us, and the beautiful hour of television that he got to be a part of.
COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY
COLLIDER: What was it that most struck you about this story about Steve Banerjee and about your character?
MURRAY BARTLETT: There were so many things. First of all, I had no idea that there was this rich and very dark backstory to the whole Chippendales phenomenon, so that was fascinating to me. This is the immigrant story of Steve Banerjee, who created Chippendales, initially, and a really fascinating immigrant story, full of all the complexities of his specific immigrant story, woven into the story of his American dream, and how that plays out.
And then, it was seeing an American dream get hijacked by all the darker elements of capitalism, of just being consumed by making more and more and more. That’s where my character, Nick, comes into it. These two characters have endless, fierce ambition that is their downfall, and I think those things are probably universally human, throughout time, and feel particularly pertinent now. We’re questioning some elements of what we’re sold as the American dream. Is that what the American dream is to us? This show asks questions that are really fascinating. The American dream can get hijacked by things that can really take you to your downfall. And then, there’s this fierce ambition that these characters have, and this rivalry and competitiveness that just drives them out of their minds. These are all things that are worth having conversations about and are very present in our social structure.
Image via Hulu
You’ve really been on fire, in recent years, with the roles that you’re doing. From The White Lotus to Physical to Welcome to Chippendales, you’re playing these really standout, memorable characters that you’re just so good in, and it seems like you’re having so much fun with. When you finish playing a character, do you ever get a moment of concern about finding the next character that will be as rich and exciting to play?
BARTLETT: Yeah, I guess. I haven’t really had that thought. I do have the thought of, “I wonder what’s next?” One of the things that I love about being an actor is that it’s always unpredictable. You don’t know what’s next. I’ve never really known what’s next. I’ve been really fortunate, in the last year or so, to have some choices and to have these amazing roles come my way. It’s felt like this treasure chest to me. Honestly, in the last year, I haven’t had a lot of time in between to think, which has been a new experience for me, and really thrilling. All I can say to answer that question is that I feel very lucky that I have and do have choices because it’s a new thing for me to be able to choose a role that I want to play, or have a few choices. I’m relishing that, and I’m thrilled that these amazing characters have come my way.
As a dancer myself, I’ve had many dance teachers and worked with many choreographers, over my dance lifetime. I particularly enjoyed the moments we get to see of your character auditioning dancers and working with them. What were those moments like to shoot? Did you have time to prepare for those?
BARTLETT: Oh, yeah, I needed some time to prepare. Those dancers were brilliant, and they rehearsed, as well. They’re professional dancers. I needed some good, structured rehearsal, but I also love a challenge, so I spent a long time in my living room going through that stuff to make sure I felt like I was carrying it off. We had great choreographers. It was so fun to be able to do that stuff.
That scene where I’m auditioning dancers in the car park, it’s his first chance to pick his own dancers for Chippendales, and that was really fun. We shot the whole day in this car park, and it felt like being in Footloose or Dirty Dancing, or one of those dance movies from the ’70s and ’80s. It’s like living your dance movie fantasy. It was also challenging for me to be a dancer and the choreographer. I had to mirror them, and then turn around and do the routine with them, at times. That was a great challenge for me. It was not easy, but it was fun.
You reminded me of so many choreographers and dance teachers that I’ve had, so I enjoyed that tremendously.
BARTLETT: Good to know. I watched All That Jazz many times.
Image via Hulu
How did the dancing you got to do in this compare to the aerobics you did in Physical? Was one of them more challenging to do?
BARTLETT: The dancing in Physical took me by surprise because I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. I had a great choreographer. I was like, “Aerobics is gonna be easy.” It’s actually a really great workout, and I was exhausted on the day that we were shooting. I had to do not only a whole aerobic scene, but to “Proud Mary,” which is a really fast song, so it was really challenging. By the time I got to work on Chippendales, I’d been through the fire on Physical, so I was a little more prepared, mentally, and I had a bit more time to work with the choreographer, which was helpful. But both were super fun to do.
Even when things aren’t business related, we can still see how different Nick and Steve are, in something like the snowball fight they have. It starts out as a light moment and, when Steve’s not winning, he just wants to be done and walk away from it. What was that like to shoot? How was it to figure out that snowball fight?
BARTLETT: Partly because we were shooting a snowball fight in the summer in L.A., we had to choreograph it so that we weren’t falling over on the melting ice. The dynamic of those two characters together is just so fun to play. And Kumail [Nanjiani] is a wonderful actor, and he’s so amazing in this role. He really transforms, and he’s a wonderful person to act with. We really relished the rivalry and the dynamic between them, especially in those scenes. They’re two little boys together, in the way that their tempers ramp up really quickly, and they’re fiery. They push each other’s buttons and just take it way beyond what it should be, in terms of the way they’re pushing each other. That stuff is really fun to play, and we loved playing it together anyway. It was pretty dreamy, doing those scenes.
There’s quite a dynamic going on between your character and Steve, along with Irene and Denise. It’s a really interesting foursome. What was the vibe like, during those days when everything was really firing on all cylinders, before it all just completely collapsed?
BARTLETT: It was a really joyful job, for all of us. I can speak for all of us, because I know everybody felt the same. We all had these great characters. The story was such a rollercoaster, so we all had great stuff to play. The relationships were really beautifully written. We had a ton of fun together. There are times that you have scenes that you need to navigate through, but everyone was so up for the challenge and really into it, and we all had a great time together. It was a fun troupe of actors, playing together. There are the scenes when we’re doing the stuff in the club, and they were incredibly unexpectedly dynamic because you got a real sense of what it would’ve been like to be in the Chippendale’s Club, with 200 background actors, losing their minds over these strippers. There was a really electric feeling in the air, so those scenes were particularly fun to do.
It’s definitely not a usual day at the office when you’re surrounded by people with breakaway pants.
BARTLETT: Right? I don’t know that I’ll ever get over the joy of seeing breakaway pants. There were no bad takes in those scenes.
Image via Hulu
What I love about something like this is that you go into this show expecting to see male dancers stripping, but there are so many things going on and there’s such a dramatic story. There are so many layers to the story, beyond what you think you’re going to get, and there are all these other things happening. It feels like you get that a lot in the work you do now.
BARTLETT: Yeah, maybe you’re right. Maybe I subconsciously look for that. It’s definitely one of the things that’s so unique about this. It’s gonna really have an impact on people, watching Welcome to Chippendales, because most people don’t know the backstory, as I didn’t when I came to the story. It’s really surprising and really beautifully balanced, in this fun ’70s and ’80s world of Chippendales, with this dark undercurrent of what was also going on behind the scenes. It’s endlessly surprising, and a great ride to go on. Historically, it’s an important show.
You’re also doing The Last of Us, which is inspired by a video game. When you do something like that, do you have to play the game to prepare? What was your preparation for doing that?
BARTLETT: I’m embarrassed to say I’m not a gamer. I wish I was, so I could have played it. People who are gamers seem to adore that game, for many of the reasons why I think they’ll enjoy the show. As far as I know, in my research, because I went into a deep-dive on what the game is, it’s incredibly cinematic. The characters are really fantastic. It’s an amazing, complicated story with really deep themes in it. It’s an amazing creation. They’ve really beautifully adapted all of those elements into this show. It’s an incredible team. Part of the team created Chernobyl, which is another amazing piece of TV. There’s an amazing cast. They’ve put a lot of love and resources behind it.
I think it’s gonna be a fantastic show. The scripts that I had to work with, one particular script is one of the best hours of television I’ve ever read. It’s beautiful. It’s beautifully written. There are these zombie creatures in it, but it’s tender, and it’s human. I think it’s gonna be really special. I haven’t seen any of it yet, but I’m really proud of the work we did, and I think it could be really, really wonderful. It will be really wonderful.
Welcome to Chippendales is available to stream at Hulu.
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