TheBacklot Interview: "Looking" Actor Murray Bartlett

Looking actor Murray Bartlett

Murray Bartlett photographed by Clinton Gaughran for TheBacklot

This Sunday HBO will air the eighth episode of the ten-episode second season of Looking. From the preview description we know that Kevin (Russell Tovey) and Patrick (Jonathan Groff) attend a gamer convention to try and sell their new app. While there they bump into Richie (Raul Castillo) and his new BF. Meanwhile, Dom (Murray Bartlett) is trying to get his new restaurant up and running and best friend Doris (Lauren Weedman) is not as available as Dom would like her to be.

To get the lowdown on Dom's journey this season, TheBacklot sat down a few weeks ago with sexy Australian actor Murray Bartlett to talk about the relationship between Dom and Doris, his fabulous He-Man outfit in the recent Halloween episode-- as well as the actor's own coming out process.

Looking actor Murray Bartlett

The Backlot: We learned more about Dom and some of his past in the last episode. How was that for you-- or was it information you already knew?

Murray Bartlett: It was actually in the original character breakdown…there was a whole thing with my father. He had this Portuguese diner back in the day in Modesto. And there was this whole back story about the relationship between Dom and his father-- that it was significant and that his father got sick and couldn’t carry on the restaurant. Dom felt bad about not being able to carry the torch, and so that was always in my mind.

It’s interesting, there’s an Orphan Andy's café scene in season one where they wanted me to improv a bit. So I improv’d some of that back story that they’d given me. And then, in season two they fleshed it out. It’s a wonderful thing for us when you get an episode like [episode] seven. Particularly for Dom and Doris since we don’t know a lot of their back story.

As actors, we’ve might have explored that some and created it for ourselves-- and talked to Michael [Lannan], Andrew [Haigh] and the writers about what that might be, but it’s kind of a revelation for us is when you get a script like that and you’re like, “Wow, this is a real insight into who these characters are.” You can use all the stuff that you’ve created to fill in this more specific back story of the characters.

It deepens your relationship as actors and as characters. We were working intensely together in Modesto... in the trenches... and really connected in a different way... an interesting sort of merging of life and work, where you’re having this kind of intense experience together. It was really wonderful.

You, Jonathan and Lauren didn’t really stay at that Clarion Inn, did you?

MB: We did! It’s like this incredible 80s convention motel kind of thing. Inside there’s this huge atrium roof and pools and hot tubs and stuff. Also, going back to Modesto, it’s got a very specific sort of vibe there, so going back and kind of feeling that and getting a sense of it was really great.

bartlett-weedmanLauren Weedman and Bartlett at the Looking Season 2 premiere

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

Tell me about working with Lauren in this episode. Even though you two have done tons of scenes together, these are heavier scenes.

MB: I absolutely love working with Lauren. She’s fantastic and, particularly by this stage, we have spent a fair amount of time together so it’s easy and comfortable. A lot of the stuff with Dom and Doris, particularly in the first season, it was kind of light and funny stuff. It was incredibly fun to play with Lauren, but particularly in episode seven-- particularly in the second half of season two-- we get to do some more dramatic stuff. And Lauren is so fantastic at that. It was a thrill for me to have the opportunity to do that kind of stuff with her, because she’s so good at it.

She’s so connected in all the comedic stuff, it was really wonderful to take that into another sort of dimension with [the episode in Modesto]. We were all very nostalgic for episode seven when it finished, because it was such a fantastic script. And we were so excited to be working on it. Andrew was directing, which is always a wonderful thing. So we all had sort of pangs of missing it when it was over.

What’s coming up between Dom and Doris? They seem to be changing now that Doris is in this relationship with Malik.

MB: Dom is figuring out who he is as a man in his 40s and having to let go of a lot of old versions of himself and old habits. And part of that is reexamining the relationships in his life. And in a lot of ways, the relationship with Dom and Doris.

They’ve known each other since they were teenagers and to a certain extent it still has some of that dynamic in it. It hasn’t necessarily matured in ways which could be probably healthy for them. And so it can potentially take up that space that another kind of intimate relationship might fill. So I think there are elements of that.

As Doris is getting involved with Malik, she’s realizing that that’s something that she wanted. But it’s sort of shining the light on the fact that Dom and Doris have this very close, intimate relationship and how does that play when they start to have intimate relationships with other people? So there’s a lot more exploring of that.

Looking actor Murray Bartlett

We have to talk about the He-Man outfit in the Halloween episode. How did that come together?

MB: Yeah, it’s phenomenal. The costume thing was scripted, there was the idea that Dom and Doris were going to go as He-Man and She-Ra…but he is without his She-Ra because Doris is going with Malik, in their couple’s costume. Like with everything, [costume designer] Danny Glicker takes all the costuming to another level and it’s multi-dimensional and brilliant.

I have to say, the wig that I wear as He-Man, it was a great wig. And I became a little possessed by it. That whole week, there was a whole other sort of feminine side that came out of hair-flipping. It was kind of interesting.

You did the hair flipping very well, I noticed.

MB: It wasn’t intentional. It just sort of happened to me. It was a little bit scary. It was funny to other people and a little bit confronting for me that it felt so right. [laughs]


Bartlett (right) with Frankie J. Alvarez (left) and Daniel Franzese (center)

Photo: HBO

I want to ask about the Dom/Lynn relationship from the first part of the season. I felt like that really helped Dom grow up a bit from where we saw him in the first season. And, of course, you were working with Scott Bakula!

MB: Working with Scott is phenomenal. He’s a lovely man and an incredible actor so you just kind of surrender to that basically and go with it. What I loved about the way that relationship developed in season two is at the end of season one, he’s such a charming, grounded, wonderful character. This older gay man who sort of feels like he’s got his s*** together. But I love how in the second season, it became more complicated-- as it does when you get to know somebody. It’s not as simple as you might think it is. There are a lot of really wonderful, grounded things about Lynn, but there’s also other stuff. Like, commitment and intimacy issues that make it tricky for Dom.

Dom starts off in season one as this character on the verge of a transformation, realizing that all the old stuff, the old patterns that he’s been in are not working and are not satisfying or not fulfilling. And then he has to start looking at what else he could be as a man in his 40s.

looking-bakula-bartlettScott Bakula (left) and Bartlett in a scene from Looking

Photo: HBO

In season two, I think he's heading more in that direction but kind of tripping and falling. I think that’s the great thing about the Dom/Lynn relationship in season two, is that that’s what it is. It’s like, the end of season one, it’s like, “Oh my God, this guy could be my savior.” And then season two, it’s not the fantasy that he thought it possibly could have been.

MB: I didn’t really have a coming out. I guess there were times when I didn’t talk about it, but not because I didn’t want to. It just didn’t feel like it was relevant in an interview because we were talking about work. But I’ve never hidden it. So there was never really a coming out thing for me.

I’ve fortunately had a mother who was very open-minded and supportive. She was just phenomenal. She actually asked me at one point whether I thought I might be gay, which made it very easy for me. I’m one of those lucky people. There was never an issue for me. There were times at school where I felt a little self-conscious or whatever, but it was never a big issue for me.

Assuming you guys get a season three, what would be your hope for Dom?

MB: It’s a difficult question because whatever I think of, I’m sure the writers will come up with something ten times better, so I defer to them. But I’d like Dom to have an intimate connection with someone that works, for a little bit of time at least, to see him really kind of go there. I feel like he had a little bit of that with Lynn but not really. I feel like we missed that stage of their relationship. It kind of picked up when things were starting to get a little complicated. I’d like to see Dom have something that really works and then maybe it gets turned on its head. I think that would be interesting.

Looking actor Murray Bartlett

Looking airs Sundays at 10pm on HBO.

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