The White Lotus' Murray Bartlett on playing a control freak who's 'lost his s---' and that shocking sex scene
Murray Bartlett and Lukas Gage knew they had to do something jaw-dropping for their two-person party scene in the fourth episode of The White Lotus. The script wasn't specific about what resort manager Armond and hotel employee Dillon would be doing when guest Armond nemesis Shane (Jake Lacy) and spa manager Belinda (Natasha Rothwell) walk in on them in Armond's office. Creator-writer-director Mike White left it to Bartlett and Gage to decide what they were comfortable with — and they ultimately put their hope in analingus eliciting the perfect reaction.
"Not that [Mike] hadn't thought of what we ended up doing necessarily, but Lucas and I discussed the options and we decided that that would be probably one of the most shocking things for those two people walking in to see," Bartley explains on the latest episode of EW's The Awardist podcast. "It would be super unexpected, and that's what that scene is about — you want to create this shock for both of them. It gives Shane this incredible fuel for his take-down of Armond."
They knew they were on to something when White, upon initially hearing their idea, reacted with "glee and shock," according to Barlett. "[He] said, 'Can we do that?'" the actor recalls, laughing. They did, of course, and fortunately for them, they could: it was the only version of the scene they filmed.
It capped an episode that saw Armond — normally a cool, calm, collected guy who's five years sober when we meet him — ride a rollercoaster of emotions after falling off the wagon at the end of episode 3. "He's already starting to slip over the edge, hasn't completely fallen yet, and then he's scrambling to pull it back together and by the end of [episode 4] he's failed," Barlett says of the installment, which he submitted for final Emmy voting. "I like that you get an arc in that episode of seeing him having lost his s--- and then really trying to reel it in."
Bartlett is quick to credit White's "brilliant writing" and for creating a perfectionist, control freak who's "on the verge of a nervous breakdown" — exacerbated by a mistake he's made, a mistake he won't own up to but that Lacy's Shane fully realizes and is determined to punish him for.
Every character on the first season of the HBO series — which will return for a second season and set in Sicily with an entirely new cast of characters except for Jennifer Coolidge's Tanya — had a complicated journey over the course of the show's six episodes. While Bartlett calls what Coolidge did in her scenes "magical," he says there's another actress who especially blew him away.
"I wasn't prepared for how intense Sydney Sweeney's character would be. She was scary," he says, laughing, of her college-aged Olivia. "It's amazing with her — with a lot of these actors, Sydney just comes to mind at the moment — she's so subtle when you're working with her and so brilliant and a great scene partner, and then you see her on screen and you see what the camera catches, especially in close-up that is just so exciting."
You can listen to Bartlett's full interview below, where he also explains Armond's mustache and reveals what it's been like attending various awards shows and events in recent months. Plus, Ted Lasso stars Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein go "Three Rounds" with EW Sr. TV Editor Samantha Highfill, who joins me to discuss this year's comedy category contenders.
This HBO comedy revolves around a bunch of rich white tourists arriving at a luxurious Hawaiian resort for the trip of a lifetime. Over the course of a week, they manage to antagonize various hotel workers, rip band-aids off their personal wounds, and spend a lot of time thinking about sex and death.