Murray Bartlett plays Dom in Looking, SoHo’s comedy drama about three gay friends living in San Francisco. Bartlett (DoB: 20/03/71) was born in Sydney, Australia, and started his career on shows like Neighbours. He moved to LA in 2000 and won roles in Sex And The City, Farscape, Guiding Light and Girl Most Likely.
Tell us about playing Dom?
MB: Dom is hurtling towards 40 and completely freaking out. He’s looking for a solid relationship and career, a house and all the things that mark you as being a success or having kind of made something of your life and he doesn’t have any of them. So the ground is falling from beneath him and he’s looking for meaning. Like he had a really shitty relationship but he’s starting to re-consider it ‘cause it’s really the only significant relationship that he had…
Q: Did you know San Francisco or did you have to research San Francisco life?
MB: I’ve been there like a bunch of times before, not for long periods, but I had a sense of the city. Fortunately before we shot the pilot they took the three of us up to San Francisco ten days before we started. The three of us had a really great connection from the beginning, which was really… I don’t know, sort of unusual. We threw ourselves into the city and did a San Francisco crash course. As we spent more time there we got a greater sense of the city, and it’s an amazing place.
Q: It looks like you shot on location a lot…
MB: We only had two studio sets – an apartment and a work place. San Francisco really opened the doors for us. That was amazing for us as actors, you know, just experiencing San Francisco. We were shooting in all the real places you see in the show.
Q: How did you get the part?
MB: I sent my first audition in from Egypt where I was at the time, which is why I had a moustache because I was trying to look less like a foreigner – and they asked me to keep it. I’d met Andrew a few years before when his film Weekend was at some festivals and was kind of in awe of him. And Michael I’d met socially a few times before. The last time we met for a beer in Brooklyn he was like – oh I’ve developed this project and I’m pitching it to HBO but that was 18 months before. I didn’t get any short cuts or anything.
Q: How do you feel this show depicts gay life as opposed to previous shows?
MB: Well, it’s certainly not trying to hide or sanitise the fact these characters are gay but it was never meant to be a show that necessarily focused on issues or gay issues for the sake of it. That was the amazing thing about Weekend that a lot of us responded to, gay and straight, is that these were specifically gay characters but it was a very universal film about this incredible connection that these two people have and this weekend that they spend together. That’s a really great shift – because there’s gay characters it doesn’t mean that it’s a gay issues show. It’s just people who are gay dealing with their lives. I think that’s great.
Q: Is there a back story to how the three characters know each other?
MB: Yeah, Patrick and I were involved. Years before we had a hook up and then we became friends. And I met Augustine through Patrick. I mean a lot of this stuff was stuff that we just made up. It’s not necessarily referenced.
Q: Because it feels like you actors jam stuff and make stuff up in this show…
MB: Yeah, yeah, quite a lot. There’s a scene where we move Augustine, Frankie’s character, to Oakland. Jonathan’s character Patrick starts to hum the theme song from Golden Girls. We riffed on that and at the end I say “get in the car, Ros.” There were a lot of little things like that.
Q: I guess Looking is kind of like Golden Girls isn’t it? Although people also compare it to Girls and Sex and the City – and those people are saying you’re the Samantha character.
MB: (Laughs) No they’re not, are they? I’m the slutty one?
Q: I read it in the newspaper.
MB: No disrespect to Samantha whatsoever, but she was a great slut. [Laughter] First of all it’s really flattering. I did an episode of Sex and the City. I was Carrie’s gay best friend for an episode. Hopefully ours is as great a show.
Q: There’s a grindr scene – where you pick someone up online and they turn out to be your neighbour – and it’s sort of messy but beautiful. I think it’s quite unusual to see as honest a depiction of gay sex on TV.
MB: Yeah, I think it’s pretty new. That’s Andrew, you know. He’s brilliant at showing naked moments – I don’t just mean just physically naked, but very honest moments. It’s quite explicit, but you feel a little embarrassed to be in the room ‘cause it’s so honest. I love that. Like all sex is beautiful in some ways but it can be a bit awkward and there’s a reality to it.
Q: Did you buff up when you knew there were shirt-off scenes?
MB: My character is very body focused, so it made sense for me to try and be buff. None of us are super muscle guys or anything, but it’s a reality for these characters. I mean, as an actor you’re aware that you’re going to be naked but hopefully the character overshadows your vanity. It so happens though that my character is kind of vain and his currency has been getting by on getting laid and being attractive… (laughs) …so it’s like an integral part of his life.
Article | Oliver Hall
The entire first season of Looking will be screened from 12.30pm on Saturday 14 June on SoHo.